January 23, 2012
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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
January 16, 2012
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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
January 13, 2012
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When I woke up in the morning, I certainly did not anticipate any more surprises on that trip. After all, I’d arranged to stay with my current group, do whatever more sight-seeing there was to be done with them, and go back to Hanoi.
But during breakfast our Vietnamese guide came in the hall and announced that our boat would be heading back to Halong main pier. A typhoon warning had been announced on the radio. The original program for the day was to be cancelled – or at least significantly altered.
The water in the bay was deceptively calm, but the sky was not (for another such extreme marine adventure in Thailand, read my earlier post here).
As our junk boat drew nearer the pier, we joined dozens and dozens more junk boats headed the same way. The ocean waves looked innocent enough because the bay subdued the force of the elements but the weather was progressively getting worse. The junk anchored offshore in a line with many other junk boats and we began waiting. Finally, a motor boat arrived to pick us up and tranpsort us to the pier. We were then told to walk to the big souvenir/snack covered area some three hundred meters from the pier and wait (until a transport would become available to take us back to Hanoi). More tourist groups came after us, flooding the place.
- The age-old Vietnamese saying goes:”Typhoon warnings good for souvenir business”
In the meantime our guides were making phone calls to their company’s headquarters and talking in high-speed Vietnamese. Finally we were told that they’d arranged a van to pick us up. It would be here in about an hour. The catch: it could not fit everyone and two people would have to wait for yet another transport. In the meantime, those who would be picked by the van would have their scheduled lunch in the snack area.
Wouldn’t there be any compensation for the failed second-day program? – the Western European tourists began asking (the elderly Singaporean couples said nothing). The question kind of pissed the Vietnamese guide and he said “you signed for a two day-trip, and the second day you were supposed to have lunch on the boat, right? Now you will have it here, but this is all the difference. What compensation?” Read more of this post
October 22, 2011
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People visit far away places to see a new culture, relax and have fun. If they went on an organized tour, that is. When venturing to travel on one’s own a journey is as much a discovery of a new place that it is a discovery of your own self. But there is one more component to complete the picture – and that is the other travelers you meet along the way.
Here is a batch of stories starring travellers I met at Luang Prabang – basically the same people with whom I visited the Kuang Si waterfalls on my second day of my stay in Laos + one more guy.
The guy from Australia was talking about the neighboring Laos countries. I took the chance to mention that after Laos, I wanted to stop in Vietnam and then China (both are Laos neighbors).
Then the Australian went on a rant about China being a non-democratic country, using prisoner labor, and – above all – polluting the world with its coal mines and inefficient economy.
I tried to put this into some perspective and explain where the country was coming from – telling him about the Opium Wars – of which he knew nothing, and the Japanese occupation – of which he also knew nothing. Of course, none of that had any effect. Past is past and we’d better talk about the present – was his argument.
Fair enough, I agreed. And I told him that China is already the world leader in renewables – producing and manufacturing and installing the greatest number o solar panels, photovoltaics, wind turbines. Starting from scratch several years ago, it was currently number two in renewable capacity installed, soon to be number one.
He was so amazed to hear such contradictory facts to his imagined view of China, that he plainly refused to believe me.
And now comes the irony of it. I asked why he was so concerned about China if the biggest polluter in the world was in fact… his own native Australia? Read more of this post