june  2007

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From Hong Kong to yangshou
Day 1 through 6

Days 1 through 3 "Hong Kong and Hospitals"
We flew American Airlines out of DFW, through Narita, Japan to Hong Kong.  We expected some issues at the AA counter and we were right, good thing we got there early.  It took two hours to get the tickets sorted out with the result being mixed - Good news;  business class upgrades went through, Bad news; we didn't have seats together.
We made the best of it.
  We spent the days in Hong Kong getting over our jet-lag while trying to see the city and the sights before meeting the official tour group on the evening of day 2.  It was extremely hot and humid and this was the weather for most of the trip, as we had expected.  Luckily we only encountered rainy days a few times.

We walked around the city a bit and managed to take the bus to the  harbor and board the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island.  Not many locals speak English and we speak no Chinese but all in all Hong Kong is easy to get around.  All the signs are at least in Pinyin and many things are in English as well.  We visited Ocean Park, where they have an amazing aquarium and then took the tram up to Victoria's Peak for the sunset on the harbor.  It was crowded but the skies were clear and the view was fantastic.  The next day we wandered to Kowloon Park and visited some other small city parks, went to the Temple Street Tinkau Temple and the Jade Market.  We headed back to the hotel for our group meeting as the Ladies Market was setting up for business.  Hong Kong seems very crowed and anywhere there is any kind of "market" there were crowds of people.


 The G.A.P. meeting took place in the hotel where we met our guide Puma Wang and the people we would be traveling with for the next couple of weeks.  Besides us four, there was Vivien and Colin from Canada, Jolyn from the US, Ken from the US and Judy from the US.  We all went next door to a small local restaurant for some dinner and beers and then back to get packed for the train into mainland China the next day.
Unbelievably as I was packing I tripped over Bill's suitcase and fell backward into the raised metal window frame, hitting hard and sliding down to the floor.  I couldn't move.  I lay there a long time until I convinced myself some ibuprofen and a good nights sleep would make it all better and Bill helped me to the bed.  After a rough night, early the next morning, it was obvious that I had managed to do some damage to my ribcage and we better find a doctor.  Bill hunted Puma down and he got us a taxi and went to Saint Teresa's Hospital with us.  It was early and not very many people were there.  It was a very clean, very large, very efficient hospital and in two hours I had been seen by a doctor, gotten x-rays, gotten an injection for pain, went over the x-rays with the doctor (hairline fracture of rib), picked up a prescription and was back in a taxi heading back to the Hotel.  It was decided that I would try to tough out the trip rather than abort it before it even started.  I had a rough few days in the first week but managed the trip only missing one day of activities.  Of course Bill had to carry my bag anytime we came to stairs and help me up steps to trains and buses.  hmmmmm wonder how long I can milk this?

Days 4 through 6 "Magical Karst Mountains of Guilin and Yangshou"
We took the train to Shenzhen on the border of Hong Kong and mainland China.  You still have to go through customs/immigration here although now Hong Kong is suppose to be part of China.  No visa's are required for Hong Kong but US visitors are required to obtain visa's for entry to mainland China.  Bill's dad had some fruit in a bag and he was pulled aside and questioned in another room.  They kept his fruit.  We met back up with Puma on the other side after changing money and headed to the overnight train to Guilin.  
This was our first experience in an overnight train and it wasn't bad at all.  We were scheduled in Hard Sleeper Class and Puma made sure I had a bottom bunk due to my injury.  Bill took a top bunk.  The bunks are all lined up, six to a 'cabin', luggage is stowed under the bottom bunk or in the luggage rack over the hallway.  Sheets, pillows and a blanket were provided and were sort of clean.


The Chinese passengers found us quite interesting apparently as they would sit right outside our 'cabin' and stare.  Often for hours.  This is one thing that takes a bit of getting used to in China.  They really do stare openly.  Though usually if you smile they will smile in return, or walk away.
We also had some snorer's in the group and my injection of pain meds were long gone.  The prescription pain pills really didn't seem to do much and I was eating Tylenol as well.  By the time we got to Guilin and boarded our chartered bus for Yangshou I was in a lot of pain.  Bill was really helping me a lot and I would have probably crumbled at this point without the assistance.  
We had to walk a ways to the hotel, Lisa's Mountain View Lodge, though we had help, one guy with a bicycle cart brought all our luggage.


  It was a nice place and after a shower we met in town for lunch.
Yangshou has a great backpacker vibe and would be a great place to hang out for a few days.  If you didn't have a cracked rib that is.  There are lots of hiking and biking activities and cool little places to eat and the scenery was breathtaking.  The people here were very friendly and obviously used to foreigners.  Armed with some extra-strength, time-release Ibuprofen, that we figured out how to buy from the all-Chinese pharmacy, I was going to be on my own for a day while the rest of the lucky bunch went on a bike tour through the mountains.  I had so looked forward to this activity and was really disappointed that I would miss it but I was in too much pain to think of getting on a bike.  So I walked around town, down by the river around the shops and the bakery and read my book.  Not a bad place to recover.


  It was, however the scene of the absolute worst laundry episode I have ever seen.  I had thought 'laundry in China should be great and know, the stereotypical Chinese laundry' uhhhhh  not so much.  The laundry was expensive all throughout China, in some cases you could buy new shirts cheaper than the cost to have them laundered.  And the service was not what we had received in other parts of the world.  South America had far better laundry service.  So part of my day was ironing the clothes that had obviously been wadded up and stuffed in a plastic bag while still damp.  Yes, I was on vacation;  in China; with a cracked rib;  ironing.  Sucked.  The others went on a bike ride across town and through the farmland on dirt packed roads to a farm for lunch and then to the river for a bamboo raft ride.  They loaded the rafts with their bikes, got them settled into the little seats and pushed the rafts down the river.  Some of the group, Bill included, decided after that to go to the Big Buddha Cave for a bit of Caving.  I don't think they were prepared for all the water and mud but looks like they had a lot of fun.


  That evening after everyone returned we all went to see the the big light show, Liu SanJie, that is done on the river. 
This is a major production with a cast of 500 singers, dancers, bamboo boats and cormorant birds, even quite a few water buffalo. However, the stand out performer is definitely the background scenery, the way the lighting played off the beautiful Karst Mountains was impressive.

Bill and I spent the next morning together walking around the town, we did a little shopping, had a nice lunch, walked the river front and prepared for our evening on our second Hard Sleeper Class Overnight Train to Wuhan for the beginning of the Yangtze River/Three Gorges Dam part of our trip.  Another thing about these sleeper trains; the Chinese businessmen passengers seem to have no problem stripping down to their wife-beater tee shirts and boxers for the duration.  So you will often run into a few of them having a smoke between cars or around the bathroom.  If it is hot, as was the case during our visit, they will usually have the tee shirt pulled up around their armpits giving you a full view of their often ample belly.  It's a little disconcerting at first but after a few train rides I found myself fixing my hair at the sink outside the bathroom right next to a few guys shaving in their boxers.....
Just another train morning in China.