A Travellerspoint blog

Ordering take out around the world

sunny 32 °C
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Once thing that has struck me around the major cities I have visited so far in China and Korea is the delivery bikes for McDonalds, KFC and various other fast food places. I can't believe these places do a delivery service!

It raised a question in my mind. Are there homes around Asia where people of an evening say “Mmmm I'm hunger, do you fancy ordering some food?”, “how do you feel about getting some American – I have the leaflet for the local McDonalds here”.

Different but yet the same!

Posted by ronanm32 02:27 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (0)

Three Gorges Dam

A modern engineering wonder of the world

rain 14 °C
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After Chengdu I got a train to Chongqing where I intended to get a ferry up the mighty Yangtze river through the famous three gorges and up to the newly created Three Gorges Dam. The four hour train ride was actually quite interesting as the scenery was that of what you imagine rural China to be. It was all these small hills covered in thick vegetation which was bathed in a slight mist. This bucolic and unblemished scenery was periodically broken by a small village surrounded by paddy fields and lotus plantations.

In Chongqing I intended to get a cruise ship that would travel through up the river past the dam and finish in the city of Yican. In Chengdu I had just checked my bank account and noticed that the government and just refunded to my account all the tax I had paid so far this year so I decided “Sod it I'm going first class”! And first class I went. Let me give you an idea of the boat I randomly chose. It was designed and constructed to be the ship that would be the first boat through the Three Gorges Dam and the one that would hold Premier Zemin and the rest of the dignitaries. To this end not alone was the boat quite opulent but it was also very safe. All the cabin doors were bullet proof and all the windows were missile proof. That was good to know, a missile attack by terrorists was one less thing I had to worry about on my cruise :-).

The cruise was to take three days and three nights and all I had to do for that time was sit back, relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery as it passed by. I could eat as much as I wanted from the very generous buffet meals apart from the final night when the captains farewell dinner was held where the dinner was full table service. I could also avail of the many of amenities ranging from massage and acupuncture to tai chi lessons and shows. To be honest apart from the off boat excursions I mainly stayed in the bar with a beer and watched the scenery. It was a very relaxing trip!

The pinnacle of the trip was seeing and learning more about the wonder that is the Three Gorges Dam. This colossal feat of engineering is simply amazing. They flooded an entire valley with water to a depth of 175 metres, relocated over 1.2 million people to other cities, built several cities from scratch and of course constructed a dam over 2km long across a gorge. The ferry passed through 5 locks each taking over an hour to go through and each of them lowering the water level by 20 metres. There is very little the Chinese people can't do if they put their mind to it.

Posted by ronanm32 17:37 Archived in China Tagged boating Comments (0)

Chengdu

Pandas and ear cleaning

sunny 26 °C

Well I arrived in the heart of the Sichuan province in the town of Chengdu after my flight from Tibet.

I spent the afternoon wandering around the city and it's beautiful parks. This city certainly push home the fact that China is the world's most populous country. It was Saturday afternoon so the crowds were certainly out in force. The sheer volume of people was something I hadn't really experienced, even in Beijing! After a bit I took refuge in the main park in the city. This oasis of calm was a wonderful place to wander in the evening sunshine. We were sitting in the main tea house in the heart of the park enjoying the serenity of the lake and doing some people watching and drinking tea. It seems to be a tradition in this area to have your ears cleaned or get a massage while in the tea house. A lot of the locals were indulging so when in Rome I thought.

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There was I was in the evening sunshine of Chengdu drinking my jasmine tea and getting my ears cleaned, I also indulged in a back massage which was most effective and relaxing. A pleasant way to spend your evening and all for about 6 euro!

The Sichuan province is known around China as being the capital of spice, it's being the place where even the mildest of food is laced with chillies and spices. We decided on getting a traditional hot pot that night and ordered a mild and a hot dish. Now I have eaten very well since I've arrived in China. I have also been more adventurous, it's a bye product from often ordering blind from menus that mean nothing to me. I have often eaten things that I was informed were hot but that I managed quite well and I'm not a man who craves incredibly spicy food. It was with this foolish experience that I dived straight into the hot dish. It was carnage. I was like a cartoon character who's head expands and turns read, who's ears shoot steam and who eventually explodes while frantically searching for a bucket of water. I couldn't eat a thing for the next ten minutes or so. I sat their sipping my beer as my entire head throbbed and my eyes began to water. It was phenomenal how hot the dish was, I don't think I've ever had anything as spicy in my life. It's fine now though as I can now eat anything without fear, my taste buds have been irreparably damaged so I won't be able to taste anything never mind anything hot for a long time to come.

That evening was spent in the Shamrock bar watching Leinster winning the Heineken cup. Due to the time difference between Chengdu and Murrayfield it was about half four when I returned back to my accommodation which was unfortunate as I had one of my earliest starts the next day! The reason for my early start was I wanted to get out to the Panda Sanctuary early as that is when the Pandas are the most active. In the afternoon Pandas do what they do best and that is sleep! It was just as well I arrived early as they seemed to be in a very playful mood and were very active.

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There are over 60 pandas in the sanctuary and they are housed in a beautifully laid out and very natural habitat area. The pandas are almost hypnotic – you just find yourself staring at them and you end up losing track of of how long you have been watching. They aren't doing anything amazing – they wrestle, they eat, they climb a bit and they wander around. Yet you can't keep your eyes off them. I don't know how many photos I took off them but it was quite a lot and yet I probably would go back and take more. They are simply beautiful animals.

Posted by ronanm32 07:38 Archived in China Tagged animal Comments (0)

Namaste from Shangri-La

Reports from the rooftop of the world

sunny 25 °C

I landed in Lhasa airport after a flight through some spectacular scenery.
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We seemed to travel for a long time through a valley barely above the surface until we finally touched down among the mountains.
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Welcomed to the roof top of the world!

Lhasa itself stands at about 3700 metres above sea level so there was a noticeable difference in the air when I emerged from the airport. Indeed my accommodation had oxygen canisters and mountain sickness tablets for sale. Thankfully the altitude had no ill effects on my and I didn't suffer from as much as a headache during my stay in Tibet.

The first striking thing about Lhasa is the military and police.
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At virtually every street corner there are four to five soldiers in fully riot gear armed with sawn off shot guns. You can also spot soldiers on along of the rooftops surveying all below them. It seems China is ensuring there will be no repeat of the rioting from last March from the Tibetan monks. Indeed travel to Tibet by tourists and Chinese people at large was only just permitted recently as Tibet was closed for several months following the rioting. The rather arduous and bureaucratic special travel permit you have to obtain to travel to Tibet also puts off along of tourists I imagine.

My first sight seeing stop was the Potala Palace which was the former seat of the Tibetan government and was the residence of the Dalai Llama. This spectacular 13 story building sits atop the red hill in Lhasa and dominates the city from its vantage point.
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It was quite interesting to see the throne room of the Dalai Llama and the rooms where he lived (no photos are allowed inside any of the temples and monasteries though) and the chapels where he would mediate and pray. The most striking elements of the palace are the tombs of 13 of previous Dalai Llamas. Their hugely ornate tombs are decadent in the extreme. The 5th Dalai Llama rests in a stuma make out of 3.5 tonnes (yes tonnes) of pure gold and is ornately decorated with over 1000 precious stones. The rest of the Dalai Llamas' tombs are no less opulent. It seems that Buddhism isn't all that averse to material goods after all. One has to imagine that some of the wealth in the palace could have improved the lives of the poorest people in Tibet. Nevertheless a constant stream of pilgrims shuffle through the palace leaving money and praying at various important statutes of Buddha. Indeed several hundred people every morning circumnavigate the palace every morning swinging their prayer wheels in homage to the Shakyamuni Buddha. What is striking about the palace is the fact that is just an empty shell now. The Chinese flag flying proudly outside the palace and the various Chinese soldiers stationed around it ensuring it will forever remain a virtual museum and not a working seat of government.
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However if I thought that those pilgrims were devout it was nothing compared to what I saw at the Jokhang Temple. This 1300 year old temple is the spiritual home of Tibetan Buddhism. Once again there is a constant stream of pilgrims circumnavigating the temple along with dozens of people prostrating themselves outside the entrance. Inside is a large chamber where various monks were praying and chanting in attempts to progress towards enlightenment. Off this main chamber are various chambers with ornate statues of the various Buddhas. I won't even try to explain the various manifestations of Buddha as there are thousands each with their own unique powers from knowledge to medicine to protection. It was actually really hard to get any grasp of the beliefs of the religion and there is such a complex history and esoteric philosophy to the Buddhist beliefs and I've been to all the major Buddhist sites in Russia, Mongolia and Tibet now.

The Sera Monastery which I also visited is the premier the training ground for all Tibetan monks. They study here for years in attempts to become experts in the Buddhist scriptures and philosophies. One of the more unique and interesting sights I've ever seen was the daily debate.
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Here the monks debate and argue various philosophies for two hours every day to hone their debating skills and Buddhist knowledge to prepare themselves for their graduating exam which will allow them to move to the teaching monastery and so one step closer to enlightenment. Only 97 monks have ever achieved this enlightened status and thus get to hold the “golden throne” (that's gold refers to power not to what the throne is made of – not much gold left after all the statues and tombs ;-) ).

My trip to Tibet was certainly fascinating and eye opening. What was particularly educating were the conversations I had with a Dutch man who had lived in Tibet for the last 10 years who gave me some real insights into the strained political situation as he saw it from the ground and the views of some of the Tibetan people I got chatting to one night in a local bar. Nothing is ever as clear cut as it seems and our viewpoint of Tibet isn't as simple as the views spread by the Western media. To borrow a phrase from a great statement Tibet is an enigma wrapped in a paradox shrouded in mystery.

Posted by ronanm32 21:36 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Xi'an's Terracotta Warriors

The 8th wonder of the world

sunny 25 °C

Well I was back on the overnight trains again, this time my destination was the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an. Thirteen of the Chinese dynasties had their capital here due to it begin almost in the centre of China and due to the fact that the city has excellent natural defences being surrounded by various mountains and rivers.

Anyway, the main aim of journey here was to see the famous Terra-cotta Warriors. This army of over 8,000 soldiers was created by the first emperor China, Qin Shi Huang. This impressive man came to the throne of the Qin kingdom at the age of thirteen and by the age of 22 he had unified the seven warring Chinese kingdoms into a single unified country. During his impressive reign he created a single currency, a standardised writing script and was responsible for starting the construction of what is now known as the Great Wall of China (he has a few nasty legacies too but I won't go into them here). Coupled with these awesome achievements his tomb and burial area can only be described as a wonder of the world.

Now I had been warned by an informed source that the army was quite awe inspiring to see in person and to be prepared to be disappointed. I can see how they could seem disappointing as you don't get that close to them and the vast majority of them have been smashed beyond repair and sometimes you are just looking at a heap of broken clay with the odd discernible human arm or leg. Even the warriors that still stand upright and virtually intact had some holes or other visible flaws, indeed there is only one warrior that is 100% intact. The mitigating fact for this damage is that they are over 2000 years old have have survived looting and burning by a rival dynasties armies soon after their creation. However I have to disagree with my informed source (that means you Leah :-) ) as I was thrilled to finally see the soldiers that I had read so much about and watched so many documentaries on, up close (well as close as you are allowed get) and personal.

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That said I'm a bit of a history bore, I'm the type to walk several kilometres searching for a nondescript plaque commemorating some historical event that is of interest to virtually no one other than myself and still get a thrill at being at the spot of some event of which I've read and studied. It comes from any childhood car journey being littered with detours as dictated by the book “Guide to National and Historic Monuments” (currently residing in my car boot :-) ).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guide-National-Historic-Monuments-Ireland/dp/0717132390 Needless to say I was thrilled with my visit to this “eight wonder of the world”. It is startling to think that this army was modelled exactly on his personal guard and that every soldier is completely unique and that they lay undiscovered until a serendipitous placing of a well by some farmers in 1974. A few feet left or right and they would have been ignored again. Indeed in the photo below the large hole in the centre of the warriors is were a grave had been dug and yet the warriors were not discovered!
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I didn't spend much time in Xi'an in total as I had a flight to Tibet booked but on my one night out on the town I saw a spectacular musical dancing fountain display by the Big Goose Pagoda that reminded me of the The Magic Fountain of Montjuic in Barcelona. It was the largest fountain of its type in Asia and the lights, lasers, music and dancing sprays of water were spectacular.

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Posted by ronanm32 21:18 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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