Virtual meanderings

Category Archives: China

Calling abroad | China style

It was time to take care of my return flight to Europe. My next stop, Japan, was also my final destination and the flight back home had to be from Tokyo. Some friends that lived in Japan had recommended using the services of H.I.S. Co (a big Japanese travel agency). Since H.I.S website offered online booking, I was done with it in no time.

…well, if that’s the way it actually happened, it would be one blog post less here.

Phone kiosk, China



Step #1: Things don’t quite work out as expected

      Compared to other online booking sites (such as Expedia), H.I.S offerings were indeed better. I’d already booked online several times throughout this journey without a hitch – even with Laos Airlines, so doing it with a major Japanese agency seemed simple.

But the H.I.S online booking system would only allow me book a two-way flight. A note said that for one-way ticket requests I had to fill in an online form with my desired destination (and some extra details) and wait for an answer. I did. On the next day I got this:

For your inquiry, we need more information from you directly as we are unable to communicate for booking ticket by e-mail. So, please “CALL” us.

Step #2: Making the call from my mobile

     I tried to “CALL” them right away using my mobile (which now had a Chinese SIM card). I heard a message in Chinese and then in English “It is not possible to make international phone calls. For more information call 10086”.

Step #3: Calling 10086

      I dialed 10086 as instructed. This time there was no English version. I listened to some pre-recorded message for over a minute and it was all in Chinese. I handed over my phone to the girl at the hostel reception and asked her to translate for me. “Your SIM card is no good for international calls”, she told me. So why was it in the first place that they’d told me to call 10086?! How could I enable my card for calls abroad? Where could I get a SIM card that worked? The girl at the reception had no clue. Instead she suggested searching for a street phone kiosk. Read more of this post


Nan Ning Eve Ning

Nanning, China

Nanning, China. Courtesy: Rex Pe @ Flickr

As agreed the previous day, in the evening Sammi (the Chinese girl I met on the bus from Hanoi) and a friend of hers living in Nanning met me at the hostel and we went to have a dinner together at a nearby restaurant they’d chosen (side note: crossing big streets in the absence of a traffic light in Nanning is about as intimidating as in Hanoi). The place was big (or was it really? The word ‘big’ in China tends to wear off quickly) but somehow cozy. It was a Saturday evening and there was hardly an empty table (expecting this, Sammi had called earlier to make a reservation).

We were taken to our table, seated and given a menu. Around us Chinese families and companies were already enjoying themselves. Traditional music from the restaurant’s sound system blended with the hundreds of conversations. Cozy the place was, but quiet it definitely was not.

About a third of the items in the menu were translated in awkward English (just restaurant managers trying to boost the place’s ‘coolness’, I presume, since it was Chinese people all around). Each of us selected some dishes that we’d then all share. Helped by my two giggling companions, I picked items from the menu with a hope-for-the-best-prepare-for-the-worst feeling. The tree of us together went for: a soup for each, rice, chicken, fish, pork, beef steak, some weird vegetables, beer and tea (I’ll fast forward and say that the whole dinner cost $20 total).

A copy of our order was left on the table and each time a new dish came, the waitress stamped a small sign next to the item to mark it as delivered. Read more of this post

On China

In every single post I try to slip in small diversions from the “been there done that” narrative – be it a reference to a book I’ve read, a movie I’ve seen, a story I know or some other fact. I do it for my own pleasure and for the pleasure of anyone who’s had enough of reading travellers’ accounts. But every now and then comes a post that is best described as straing away from the travelogue style completely. Like now. So, what do I have to say about China?

China, People's Republic Of


            ”It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is […] national interest.” Who said it? British politician Winston Churchill did. The country he meant was, of course, the Soviet Union. Back in 1939 people in the West knew next to nothing about the moving and shaking happening inside the USSR. To me this quote seems strangely suitable to describe the West’s perception of 21st century China.

Unless one has some specific interest on China, one only learns about China from the news. And when I hear conversations about China, those are all too often a) short and b) predictable.

Oh, don’t tell me about it. They don’t have democracy there [like we do, presumably].”
Yep. And they make cheap stuff too.”
Quality’s so bad it breaks down immediately. Why people bother buying it is beyond me.”
Yeah. And the Communist party does not allow freedom of speech.” Read more of this post

Getting to China | A must-read

The rain

It’s early morning. I am standing at a street corner and the rain is making me and my backpack wet. I am waiting for the bus from Hanoi to Nanning, China.

Around me is a merry crowd of Chinese people. The Chinese carry huge sacks – they probably came to Vietnam to buy stuff and are now going back to sell it. Luckily, if I succeed getting on the bus (I have no ticket, the crowd around me is big and getting bigger), I won’t be travelling on my own. Anna is going to Nanning as well.

Who is Anna? Well, the person who told me about this bus, of course.


         It’s early morning at the hostel, the day before. It’s breakfast time and I’ve just come down to the buffet area. Sitting at one table are four people – two girls and two guys – whom I’ve seen around the hostel the previous days. One of them is the agitated Canadian girl, who is not agitated anymore. They invite me to join and this is how I first meet Anna.

While we eat, we have the usual travellers’ chat where one’s been and where one’s going. I mention that my next destination should be Shanghai, yet I have not figured what the best way to get to there is just yet. Maybe by train?

Maybe not, says Anna. Turns out Vietnam is Anna’s last stop (after travelling around southwest China, and Laos) before heading back to Beijing. Her school is about to start. Anna is a Master’s student at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, and can speak decent Chinese (and many other languages for that matter, thanks to her Polish/German background). She tells me about a bus from Hanoi to Nanning for only $15. This is less than half the price of the train ticket. Anna is taking that bus and then flying to Beijing – domestic flights in China cost less and are plentiful. As for me, I could easily get on a train or fly to Shanghai from there. Read more of this post