Breathe...

We're back after a 3 week honeymoon in the Philippines, Hong Kong & quick stop over in Seoul. Quite often, a 3 week holiday feels like it's too short but this time it was different. It has been 2 years since our last proper holiday and we'd just had the busiest 6 months of our lives organising a wedding, buying a house and both working overtime. This time we had to tell ourselves to really relax, slow down and to breathe. And we did just that. So we're back and both feeling rejuvenated, ready for whatever the rest of 2016 has installed for us. I'll try and remember to write more but I've never been good with words, that's Mickey's forte (I had to re apply my make up after he said his wedding vows).

x

Pandas and the Prairie

It was with only mild surprise that I opened one eye to see our driver hunched over the open engine block inside our bus, tightening the front strop holding the motor in place of the 30 seater. The man across from me pulled out an old silver lighter. Smoking on a full bus is part and parcel of a journey at 6am in south Sichuan. In front of me sat numerous farmers wearing corduroys with cowboy hats and four monks, one with a flamboyant maroon cap, reminiscent of William Tell. A man with crates of yak cheese piled them onto the bus. Everything smelled of yak, and the dust formed a paste in our lungs. Yvonne struggled with sleep next to me as we wound our way through small Himalayan villages.

Two days before, we were living a life of comparative opulence in Chengdu. A city that was most memorable for its lack of dramatics. Life was easy. No mean feat for major city in China to a couple without language. As we would find out in a few days it could be very much a challenge.

For Chengdu, the hospitality, the mouth blistering hotpot and the baby pandas had conspired together to create some of the most enjoyable days so far. A pile of 6 month old Panda cubs learning to walk stopped us in our tracks for over 45 minutes. Single handedly eclipsing every online cat video for tangible cuteness.

But we chose to leave, to make journey along the Tibet highway towards the west. Involving 5 full days on destitute busses through mountain passes, plus days for retiring our sore bones in the villages along the way.

As we got deeper along the highway, a loose description, given the speed of our vehicles. We found a village at the breathless height of 4200m called Litang. Predominantly Tibetan, but officially outside the state, the main road was a mix of cowboys on motorbikes laden with carcasses, wrinkled Tibetans with perpetually spinning prayer wheels and an oversupply of zealous Police. For the first time in two weeks we were greeted with smiles by strangers in the street.

We soon learned that the surrounding prairie was home to a nomadic group and natural hot pools. I’ve never hailed a taxi to a prairie before, and never regretted not getting a drivers phone number more than when we arrived and the driver left. We forewent the hot pools, as we arrived to what looked more like a prison cell with single light bulbs hanging over baths of mud water in a concrete box. Rather, we walked west, into someone’s back yard as it turned out. We declined the offer of another hot pool and carried on swept up by the romantic notion of the unknown. Optimistically equipped for the trek, it was a hill that provided our first challenge. Not a big hill, but at altitude, enough of a gradient to make the lungs and legs burn of a tri weekly netball player.

As the skies darkened around us we found some nomad yak herders, a grandmother and her granddaughter. They were beautifully warm, we exchanged the few words we could and they pointed us toward the distant tent village of their home. Convincing the now wheezing Yvonne it looked close enough, no more than a walk from Roseneath to the train station, we set off.

Clearing a ridge enroute, we spotted two groups of Yak coming together. Making our way toward them, it was only as the Yaks started barking we realized they were actually wild Himalayan dogs. Backtracking quickly, we rounded the pack of behemoths, one eye continuously behind us.

Sometime later, tired, dusty and feeling very far away we finally crossed the last swampy marsh to the cluster of tents. The people, somewhat surprised, welcomed us kindly. Yvonne stepped into the main tent, from which we could hear children chanting.  This proved quite distracting for the young monks inside. It didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t the best time or place for female visitors, and as the chanting became disorderly through the giggling and glancing of novice monks, we retreated before being chastised by the elders.

Outside while talking to a young family two dogs began attacking a small herd of sheep. It was biblical, as a young maroon robed monk ran toward the herd I followed. Quickly finding a use for the rocks I was carrying, making a good hit on one of the marauding predators. They ran, the sheep though injured we’re alive, and I returned feeling prehistorically satisfied.

On leaving I regretted that. With two km between the nomads and the nearest houses we made our way from the tents. In no man’s swamp one of the yak size dogs began barking, we kept walking. As the dog came towards us, and eagles circled above, I wished for more stones, as the second dog came, I wished for a Landover.

Dogs are scared of people, someone told me that. But when your 5 foot 7 and three quarters, making yourself as big as you can, and the dogs continue coming closer, with their hair on end, saliva dripping from their teeth in between barks, you question that.

With the sun going down, in the middle of nowhere being alone on the prairie had become more visceral than romantic. Yvonne walked behind me, now with both arms raised, rock in hand. I kept my eyes locked on the two bear like dogs in front with one approaching from the side. Our minds wondered where was the larger packs we had seen just hours ago.  3 dogs, 2 rocks, and only 1 way home. Run? Probably a bad idea.  At the point in the standoff when the teeth and barking got as close five metres, feigning throws of our rocks was the only thing between us and them. At least that worked, barking back certainly didn’t. After an eternity of tense sidling we came close to the houses and road. Eyes still locked with the snarling dogs, we began to leave them very gradually. Leaving their territory. It wasn’t for another 300 metres that we were able to turn our backs on them, and even then not for long.

It was at least another hour before we found a way back to the village, but it was also that night we discovered the 2 dollar bottles of spice infused dark spirit. We called it Christmas for its taste, but after that day it just tasted like celebration.

Written by Mickey

 

 

Golden Week

Have you ever fought 1000 tourists for tickets to walk a garden? I have. Welcome to Chinese golden week, 7 days of holiday for 1.3 billion people who love to travel domestically. And us.

Flying into Beijing was something, the airport itself is the largest air conditioned space in the world, and the air pollution that day was breaking records too. Tiananmen Square, the centre of modern political China was being prepared for the country’s birthday. Tiananmen’s permanent fixtures, flags, patriotic military statues and security cameras stood in stark contrast to the gargantuan flower bowl sculpture created by the country’s leading sculptors.  

After a day or two the smog in the city worsened, until the midday sun resembled an egg yolk. This caused alarm to both our lungs and the administration. Unusually the day before celebrations were due a cleansing rain fell increasing visibility from 200m to 5 km. Later we found this timing was not due to fortune but cloud seeding. Classic. However, our lungs briefly recovered and we were finally able to see the thousands of taxis well before they refused to pick us up in the ever increasing crowds.

Beijing is the home of Peking duck and to join in celebrating we hunted for the finest. We sought out what we were told is the oldest surviving duck restaurant in Beijing. Which surprisingly is located on the third floor of a mall next to Cartier. It was once situated in the old town (Hutongs) but now along with much of Beijings street food, has been transplanted into mall food courts in one of the thousands of shopping centres that permeate the city. Still, the duck was good and after we were able to pick up some Nikes at a late night sale.

One fine day we briefly made a break from the crowds, escaping to a far flung section of the Great Wall. The extent of the wall and its photogeneity led to us overstaying, risking missing our transport home. As a result we improvised a route down from the wall. But, while she’s nimble Yvonne is no Bear Grylls. Some loose gravel sent her horizontal. A normal human reaction while falling is to break the descent with ones arms, not Yvonne. Every instinct is overridden by an almost maternal desire to protect her camera. There was blood, there may have been a tear. Like the Mongolians before her the wall defeated Yvonne.

In retrospect Beijing during National week was a bit of an assault, on our senses, and at some times our senses of humor. But despite that, it provided a lot of gold too. It’s not masochistic, it’s good fun. What better time to experience a city that’s both ultra-modern and steeped in tradition than when everyone visits to celebrate.  

And the ticket fight at the park? After getting in we left after two hours to get hotpot. For a walk in a garden 100,000 people is a lot to compete with. We missed a giant PVC duck and some ancient monuments but we made our choice.

In the end Beijing is an immense city with an enormous amount to offer. When you go visit the restaurant Huda at 233 Gui Jie. If you stay long enough drinking beers and eating overly spiced food you too may get invited to a shotgun Chinese wedding. Order the spicy baby crayfish and the dirty fish bowl, just don’t complain to us the next day.

Gam bay

Written by Mickey. 

Photo below: Outside the Forbidden City in Beijing. More photos in the China Section.

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Accident prone

Since arriving in China a week and a half ago, I have managed to:

  1. Fall over while coming down from the Great Wall scraping skin off my left knee and shin. Had to limp the whole way down with blood trickling almost down to my sock.
  2. Slip on a plank of wood at Jiuzhaigou today, landing all my weight on my tail bone in front of a tour group (managed to save my camera and tripod from the fall and into a river). My hip now clicks when I walk and I can't really sit for too long.
  3. Catch a flu in Beijing which I haven't been able to shake off for over a week (praying its not bird flu).

We are off to Chengdu tomorrow on a 10 hour bus journey but will update with photos this week. Fingers crossed things go more smoothly from now on.

x

I hate airports

I have finally arrived in Beijing after a 26 hour journey only to find out I have to wait 4 more hours at the airport as Mickeys plane has been delayed!

I'm currently sitting at Starbucks using dodgy airport wifi, smelling (and looking) like an wet old sheep and hogging the other only free seat so I can elevate my swollen "kankles". On the plus side, I have photos to edit. Here are some of my friend Susan and her cute wee boy Caius I took a couple of hours before I flew out of Wellington! 

Happy Monday back at home! 

x

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Out of office: See you in 3 months

My out of office at work has been set and I'm off to China, India, Sri Lanka & Malaysia for 3 months. I'm flying out to China tonight where I'll be meeting my boyfriend Mickey who I haven't seen in 3 months! We start off in Beijing, then to Xi'an, Sichuan Province, out west to the border of Tibet and then to the Yunnan Province. We might not have Facebook access whilst in China so email me on here if you need to. I'll be posting up photos from our trip and will be roping Mickey into writing a few words (he doesn't know this yet).

See you all in the New Year!

x