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1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

The travelling has been more difficult here than in S.E. Asia. Partly it's the distances involved in getting to the next destination, then the problems of getting decent train seats or sleepers at short notice and, of course, having to endure the journey with a crowd of people that are not, to say the least, er, attuned to Western sensibilities! Add to that the toilet situation (not good) and you've a recipe for some hair loss!

For example, take my favourite(?) train journey, the 32 hours from Guilin to Kunming in the south. We, James and I, get to Guilin to discover that we will have to wait two days to get any sort of a seat on a train to Kunming so we end up hopping on the next train with a "standing ticket", cheap (US$10) but nasty. The train is pretty crowded but we manage to find some floor space in the end of the last carriage, on either side of the door to the "toilet"! I use the term loosely, it's of the squat variety which is fine, I like them. However there's no running water in it and the 15 hours the train spent getting to Guilin had allowed a big, steaming pile of you know what to build up in the bowl, delightful! Not as delightful though as the smell that was emitted whenever the toilet door was opened, with me sitting on a narrow piece of plastic leaning on my backpack right by it. Mmmmhmmmm! After a number of hours one of the train attendants decided to lock the toilet permanently which was a relief but that also caused other problems. There was a woman with a young boy in a seat near us who rather than bringing the boy to the toilet in the next carriage preferred to have him do his stuff by me, the first time was hanging the little fellow out the window opposite for a piss (most of it blew back in!) but when he had to deposit something more substantial things got uglier! His next bowel movement had the mother squatting in front of me holding this guy in her arms with his ass above a spread-out plastic bag, a fairly successful operation as everything involved landed in the bag which was then chucked out the aforementioned window! His following effort wasn't so happy though, as the mother was positioning his bottom above the plastic bag he let go with a vengeance all over her leg and onto the floor by my feet, yeeehah!

Well, after 19 hours overnight sitting on the floor we managed to snag two freed-up seats and for the last 13 hours of the journey got to sit with a wonderful gentleman who found it necessary to hawk up loudly and spit on the floor between us every 10 minutes or so! Yep, a memorable trip indeed.

Another excellent trip was going from Lijiang to Chengdu. The first part involved a 10 hour bus trip to connect with the train line to Chengdu. Getting there we discovered that there were no tickets available on any of the trains that evening. We plumped instead to take a sleeper bus there which they told us would take the same time as the train, 17 hours. Well, 31 hours later we got to Chengdu(!) and are unceremoniously dumped on the side of the highway north of the city! So, it ended up taking us 42 hours to get to Chengdu, basically all of it spent on a bus, a great way to celebrate my 1-year anniversary on the road (that was around April 6th).

In general though I've had a very good time in China so far. The scenery is where this country really shines and there are quite a few spectacular and unusual places to visit. The food is excellent and varied. Living costs are low, especially in the south where for 5 weeks or so I spent US$12 a day on average which is pretty good for me, more ascetic travellers could get that down to, say, US$7! The east is more expensive, with inflated prices for tourist attractions and accomodation. It helps to have a fake Chinese student card here, good for discounts at museums and stuff as well as the Internet cafe here (I'm a Chinese language student, did you know? These cards can be picked up in Yangshuo, Chengdu or Xi'an for 10 to 20 yuan). They have got rid of foreigner pricing for trains so I have often bought train tickets for less than I've expected.

As for the people, I wouldn't go as far as to say they're wonderful but like anyplace there are good and they are certainly an interesting people to watch. For a start they love to spit and snot at the drop of a hat, there's nothing more splendid than hearing an attractive, smartly dressed girl making a gargantuan throat-clearing hawk in preparation for spitting a wad of phlegm on the ground at your feet, it's these times when I feel like calling: "Wait girl, don't spit it out yet, give me a big kiss, you are soooo sexy, you know that don't you?" Yeah!! China's a good place for street fights also, every few days you usually see one, most of them just raging shouting matches but often there's a bit of fisticuffs involved. And how about ballroom dancing on the street? For example, at the MacDonalds (all hail Ronald) near my hotel here, you can see couples dancing most mornings or else doing taichi. The list goes on.

As for where I've been, the full Chinese route so far is as follows: from Vietnam to Nanning, Yangshuo, Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Yangshuo, Longsheng, Guilin, Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Lijiang, Chengdu, Emeishan, Leshan, Chengdu, Chongqing, Three Gorges, Yichang, Luoyang, Xi'an, Huashan, Xi'an and Beijing. Great sights include the fantastic mountains around Yangshuo and Guilin, the scenery from the Guilin-Kunming train (though I wasn't in such a great mood to enjoy it!), the old town of Lijiang (a great maze of cobbled streets, wooden houses and little canals), the excellent Tiger Leaping Gorge (sort of a mini-Nepal trek along the Yangzi river by 5500 metre snow-capped mountains), the sacred mountain Emeishan (took one day to climb to the top, it involved a 40 km walk, a vertical rise of 2500 metres and 15,000 steps! Stayed in a Buddhist temple at the top), Huashan, another sacred mountain (we climbed it at night, the top has some terrific vertiginous peaks with temples perched at the top, very good place) and Beijing (has displays of imperial splendour in the Forbidden City and Summer Palace, Tiananmen square is great to walk around, the Great Wall is unmissible natch and the Natural History Museum is a must if you enjoy sliced up cadavers or deformed foetuses in jars, a very weird place, the most bizarre place in all of China I'd reckon).

Other sights were Longsheng (famous for the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, feats of farm engineering which ascend all the way up to 800 metres), Dali (by a large lake and snowy mountains, a very nice spot to take it easy), Macau (good for a day's sightseeing and it has some nice buildings and parks), Leshan (has the world's largest Buddha statue), Chengdu (where they have a Giant Panda research centre), the Three Gorges boat trip down the Yangzi (really big gorges which will be mostly submerged in 10 to 15 years as they are now building the world's largest dam nearby, a dam with a 2km wall), Luoyang (the Shaolin Temple closeby is a bit of a tourist trap but it is the birthplace of kung-fu, right Grasshopper?) and Xi'an (famous for the Terracotta Warriors, about 7000 bigger than life size warriors have been discovered so far guarding the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China's first and most tyrannical emperor).

English signs can be a pretty good laugh in this country, e.g., in Longsheng there was "Tourist Exploitation Office" and Dali had "Cultural Propaganda Team of Dali" inscribed on a bronze plaque. A big sign in the middle of the highway in Kunming illustrates how seriously China is at last dealing with pollution: "To protect the environment and people's health all vehicles entering the city must be clean and tidy"!! Go China go! One thing that can be annoying at museums and such is the Chinese tendency to toot their own horn, e.g. take this passage from a book of photographs I just bought "China is an ancient culture with a long history and a brilliant culture and is well known for its old traditions and civilization. The Great Wall, the quintessence of ancient architectures in the world, is the symbol of China. The terracotta warriors and horses in Emperor Qin's tomb, which are regarded as the eighth wonder of the world, are the crystallisation of Chinese ancient art in sculpture; The Forbidden City in Beijing, the largest wood-structured palatial architectural group, is rich in its immense and priceless relics; the murals in Mogao Grotto are an art paradise, the poetic and picturesque gardens and parks in China are the most outstanding ones in the world." Blah di blah di blah.

Of course any travelogue of China however small (like this one) should devote a paragraph to its toilets. Bloody awful some of them are. At the best you can get clean, flushable squat toilets in individual cublicles, super. The next step down is clean toilets with cubicles that are separated by waist-high walls! From there it descends to toilets that don't have individual bowls but are all connected by a single channel that you crap into and that's flushed automatically (keep looking down to see what the guy next door was up to as it washes underneath you!). Then we have the channel toilets that don't flush but you have to flush yourself with a bucket of water (and most Chinese don't bother to flush so you are often greeted in the toilet by various calling cards!). Onwards to the toilet where your deposit falls onto a sloping channel that leads down into a septic tank (do not inhale if possible) and things can get really bad in the public conveniences out in the sticks where there are no cubicles at all and it's time to drop the trousers in front of everybody, yeeehawwww!

Language has not been much of a problem, as long as you can say "hello", "thank you" and "how much" and can point to phrases in the guidebook it's not much of a problem getting around. We can't forget to mention wrinkly tights (pantyhose or whatever you call it), it has reached epedemic proportions among the women here, a terrible sight to behold.

Well, I'm off today on a 36 hour train journey, my longest yet, (I've got a sleeper berth for the first time though) back to Chengdu where I hope to catch a flight to Tibet. After maybe a month there I'll be going to western China and over the Karakorum Highway to Pakistan, then to India and Nepal. I think India might be my next chance at an Internet connection. Till next time ...

1. Haven't left yet | 2. Fiji, New Zealand | 3. Australia | 4. Australia, Indonesia | 5. Indonesia, Malaysia | 6. Thailand | 7. Cambodia, Vietnam | 8. China, Hong Kong | 9. Macau, China | 10. Tibet, Pakistan | 11. India, Nepal | 12. Nepal | 13. India | 14. Sri Lanka, India | 15. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey | 16. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt | 17. Grand Finale

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