Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Japan, Korea and back to China. Kunming and Dali.

We left Wuhan and visited the amazing Huangshan Mountains of Anhui province near Shanghai. The views were breathtaking but there were thousands of tourists which spoiled the walks a little. I'm used to trekking alone in the desolate Lake District, the Cheviots or the Scottish Highlands. As the Chinese middle classes grow you can expect to see many more tourists in places like this. Interestingly, the Chinese are very unlikely to travel alone, preferring instead to be part of huge tour groups with a flag waving guide. Asian social collectivism at its best! Some of the pine trees in these mountains are very famous in Chinese culture and have been the subject of many an artist's paintings.

I said goodbye to Fen at Pudong airport in Shanghai (she was going back to Newcastle) and I boarded a ferry bound for Osaka in Japan. Everything was spotlessly clean as the ferry was Japanese - such a change after the filth of China. At Osaka port the customs official asked me ten times if I smoke dope. He then scrutinised every item in my baggage - meticulously - it took ages. Eventually I was free to go - I must look suspicious with this long unkempt hair!

In Osaka I had to recover from a tortuous 48hr ferry drinking binge with a lad from Dover. He's lived in Tokyo for 20 years with a Japanese wife and their 9 year old son. His son was a striking young lad, he had his Dad's piercing blue eyes set in his Mam's oriental face, he'll be beating women off with a stick when he's older. The most memorable part of that trip was buying the cans of Asahi beer from a vending machine - very Japanese!

Once I'd recovered I visited Osaka Castle with a 6'6" Kiwi lad. I found a shopping mall called Hep5 which I considered a copyright infringement. I spent the rest of the time hanging out and observing life in Japan's second city. 

I went to Hiroshima on the most high-tech bus I've ever seen. Japan is very clean and organised, quite incredible to see no graffitti. No incessant horn-beeping like the insanely loud Chinese ahhhhhhhhh! I did a lot of swimming in the hostel pool, ate many okonomiyakis (a noodle-pizza speciality), visited the awesome Mazda car factory, watched tame deer on Miyajima Island and of course couldn't miss the Peace memorial and museum.

This was a very moving experience. At 0815 on the 6th August 1945 the first nuke used in anger was dropped on this city by the Americans. There are some horrific scenes in the museum and it's hard to keep the tears back. I stood right under the epicenter of where the thing exploded.

I sat on a park bench trying to reconcile what I'd just seen when a group of young lads approached trying to speak English. They were a good laugh and took my mind off the horrors that man can unleash upon fellow man. They gave me an insight into life in Hiroshima while I exchanged tales of Europe. That evening I gloomily reflected on my own role as an engineer on Trident submarines, a small cog in a vast machine facilitating the readiness of the UK's nuclear arsenal. Depressing.

Next I went to Sandankyo Gorge located in the mountainous spine of Honshu Island. I hiked 12km with Kiri, a Japanese lass from Tokyo, to this waterfall. The scenery was stunning and we swam, naked, in crystal clear pools to refresh ourselves. After walking back we slept in a bus stop since the rain was too heavy for my tent, however, this bus stop had a door, windows and even electric lights - very Japanese! The bus stops in Japan are better than the houses in many countries! You can read more about my night of passion with Kiri here.

Next was Shimonoseki in the far west of Honshu to catch a ferry to Pusan on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Again, I had a ridiculous binge on the ferry with the three other westerners on board. I felt rough as I went through Pusan's immigration check. I spent three days chilling at the beach, swimming, sun bathing and perving the women (I love Asian women man - I thinks me got yellow fever). I walked around crazy fish markets and looked for dog meat. I had a few beers in a disco listening to K-pop and eating kimchi. I went for occasional walks with a German lad who spoke Korean. The hostel I stayed in was a regular apartment on the 17th floor of a tower block - definitely the highest backpacker place I've ever slept in - amazing city views! I can now officially tell the difference between Chinese/Korean/Japanese script.

I caught the KTX super train to Incheon near Seoul in the North of South Korea where I caught my first flight since leaving Newcastle. A 5hr hop to Kunming in Yunnan province in the South West of China. I chose Kunming because it was the cheapest flight available and Yunnan province is meant to be an excellent gateway for further travel into Sichuan province and Tibet.

I landed in Kunming at midnight and set about getting a hostel. Kunming is Yunnan Province's capital and nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring. This is where the wheels came off my travels. After four months of continuous motion it was time for a break and to kick back for a while.  I stayed two weeks in Kunming and two weeks in Dali old town which has been a blast. I haven't bothered with much tourist stuff here, merely trying to absorb the culture.

In Kunming I played pool in The Hump Hostel for two weeks. I met some great folk here. An Chinese movie actor from Brighton who's fluent in Mandarin, we discovered we were born on the same day! Charlie from Hull who appears to be flying by the seat of his pants. Kelsey from the USA teaching Anglais in the sticks of Yunnan. Lemon a sexy little thing on holiday from Beijing. Fun times.

In Dali I spent too much time drinking in dodgy establishments. There's an Irish lad who runs a bar and he's been indulging me with the odd full English breakfast - nice after four months away from Blighty. I've been drinking in The Bad Monkey far too often. One problem here is that the tabs and booze are so cheap that it takes considerable effort to avoid them! I've ingratiated myself with Dali's expat community (they all run bloody pubs) and it's really tempting to return and set something up here after listening to these lads. Watch this space. I managed to stay sober one day to visit these three famous towers!

Yunnan province borders Burma and many drugs are supposedly trafficked through here. Apparently (if the locals are to be believed) most of the world's heroine originates in Burma (I always thought it was Afghanistan). When you're at home and you think of drug dealers you picture young lads living on council estates. Take a walk around Dali and it's the old women hassling you to buy weed that grows wild here - this invariably draws the hippy types to Dali. I'm surprised how many people are into this stuff around here. I can't handle it myself. With cheap booze, drugs, food, tabs and awesome natural beauty the expats reckon this place is going to kick off as China's economic growth gathers momentum. It could be the place to set something up?

I got some good news about my house sale. It finally went through in September so I don't have the worry of having to go home to sort it out.

I jet off to Chang Mai in Thailand for 28 days soon before returning here to tour Tibet and the Himalayas. My Chinese language skills are getting better although as you might expect progress is slow.

Keep living the dream.

1 comment:

  1. Hiya Steve,

    Glad to hear you are having so much fun over there wherever that really is right now. I posted a reply before but you never added it as a comment!

    Sounds really good all that travelling and culture etc. Love the photos too you'll have to make sure you post more.

    You'll be pleased to know that the UK is just the same - the christmas stock all in the shops, loads of miserable tossers everywhere and so much rain the country is about to drown. Bet you feel home sick now don't you? Nah didn't think so.

    Anyway, I'm not going to write much in case you don't get this, might try your hotmail next time.


Please be nice.