Mike's photo adventure weblog

Mike's photo adventure weblog: June 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rice Terraces (Update #3)

Rice Terraces (Update #3)

I write to you from the Zhuang (a minority people) village of Pingan in China, perched on green hills looking out onto beautifully terraced rice fields.

I've been in China for five days now and have had some pretty awesome experiences already. My first otherwordly experience occurred when Alex and I were riding on a sleeper nightbus from Shenzhen (Hong Kong's mainland counterpart) on our first night in China proper. The highway was elevated slightly and I peered out into of a hazy, heavily industrialized city that seemed to disappear into penetrating darkness. Large electronic billboards and signs flashed foreign symbols and corporate logos onto the dark cityscape (think Blade Runner), and as we rocketed along a brand new highway the bus emitted an alien-like buzzing noise like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was completely surreal.

Traveling with Oker (Tom) and Alex has been a blast, but Oker in particular has provided an endless source of hilarity. Being a Canadian of Chinese descent who can speak relatively good Mandarin, he is so enigmatic to the Chinese here. He knows it, and takes every opportunity to magnify it; for pure entertainment. For starters, he dresses in somewhat ragged clothing and wears a hat that only farmers wear here. So they think he's a poor farmer from the countryside, except that he's carrying a $3000 camera at all times, and speaks english fluently. If that wasn't enough, he is illiterate in Mandarin and has to ask locals to read a sign or menu to him - which results in a pretty incredulous reaction and furthers their belief that he's a poor peasant.

He'll also alternate between telling people he's our guide, or we're his slaves, or that my name is Da Shan ("Big Mountain"), or that he's Japanese (which many rural Chinese find horrible). It's an endless source of fun for us.

I have found that very little of my preconceived notions - about crowdedness, sanitation, safety, wealth, climate, landscape, or people - were true.

There are too many things to discuss in such a short email, but I qualify the above with some information about the few places I have experienced thus far, which may be subject to change after another 8 weeks:

The places I have visited have not been densely packed and overflowing with people as one might expect from the most populous nation. The water, food, and hotels are remarkably clean. There seems to be virtually no theft or need to worry about muggings. People live decently well and there are few beggars and no slums. The rains have been torrential and unrelenting for the most part, which I probably should have expected given the climatic information available on the internet - but to be fair it has been unseasonably wet. The landscape in this area is spectacular, with jagged karst limestone peaks shooting up from an otherwise flat terrain; everything draped with a thick green layer of foliage including impossibly steep cliff faces. And lastly the people have been very kind and helpful and there are virtually no touts, who exist for the sole purpose of harrassing tourists into buying something or staying somewhere. Most people just go about their business with a casual glance at the white backpackers strolling past. Although one tout at a bus depot upon finding out that Alex and I were continuing onto the next city told Alex that he was stupid. This was hilarious, especially to Alex, who enjoys when people are forthright.

I'll be uploading more photographs so please take a look at my flickr set for China by clicking the thumbnail above.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hong Kong (Updates #1 and #2)

Update #1
I made it to HK alright, nearly an hour ahead of schedule! Not bad for Air Canada. They even fed me on the plane. Three times!
Alex and I connected and I also had no problems getting into my relative's flat.

This place is rainy and humid, but bearable. It's breathtakingly beautiful, especially the urban density. There are residential apartments 100 storeys tall, contrasted by undeveloped pristine forested hills in every direction you turn. Just the way things should be!
High speed trains, busses everywhere, and ferries to get you from nearly any island to any bay or peninsula.

For dinner Alex had some unsweetened fruit cocktail dessert, but this was not your ordinary bland fruit cocktail. It contained "white fungus"; which looked like it sounds, has coconut texture when eaten, and tastes like mushroom.

Update #2
After two acceptable days of weather here in Hong Kong, we've had two days of nonstop tropical downpours - which did not stop us from exploring the city - that turned my feet into pinkish prunes. I've never heard thunder roar for so long before.

As you may suspect, the traffic in HK operates like Britain (or in East Africa where I was last summer): Drive on the left. And naturally, you would expect that when walking down a sidewalk the same rule would hold (as it did in East Africa). Not true! I find this very strange, and slightly frustrating. Even the escalators are left-biased, so why not the pedestrians?

Another thing about HK traffic is that since many streets are so busy, fences and barriers are set up to prevent pedestrians from crossing. There are overpasses and underpasses to cross these streets, but they never seem to be where you want them to be! This means you have to walk around the city with a similar amount of strategy as one would drive; knowing when and where to cross to prevent getting stuck painfully close to your inaccessible destination.

Window-mounted air conditioners are ubiquitous here. So are stores that blast the AC while keeping wide open the front doors and windows. In fact, considering that HK's dense and tall buildings prevent proper airflow through the city, I would wager that all these AC units are actually raising the temperature of the entire city by a few degrees. These aircons also lead to many random drips of condensation water ostensibly falling from the sky, and if you aren't watching for puddles on the ground you regularly get a random drip down your neck. At least I hope it's condensation water.

Today we depart for China proper, and I'm ready to dive in after testing the water here in HK. I've uploaded some pretty photos to my flickr page, so please check them out by clicking the thumbnail above!