Thursday, February 28, 2008

King Kong

The city of Hong Kong is the biggest we have seen. Considering it is the financial capital of Asia, one could easily expect it to be, but it is just massive. It comes with a price, of course, the air pollution here is awful. There is rarely a clear day as you can see in the pics from the top of Victoria Peak. That being said, it is also a lot of fun. You can try your fighting techniques against the mast of fighting, Bruce Lee (or Ree). It is sensory overload in some ways, thousands of people most of which make our 5'7 frames seem like NBA players; neon lights at night just about everywhere; strange night markets; and double-decker buses hauling ass. A city to visit for sure!

Our friend Sam, who is a writer has been kind enough to lend us some words about a "custom" here. It is something that is hard to describe, but I think he has done it well:
"You're supposed to refrain from adverse judgment when travelling to new and exotic places and to accept that different peoples find different practices acceptable...Table manners are the first thing. The constant open-mouthed mastication I can live with. Ditto the nosepicking and regular dinner-table hand down the pants. It's the spitting of pieces of unwanted gristle – which constitutes pretty much the entirety of a cheap Chinese meal – in a perfect parabola within inches of the visitor's face that really gets my blood up. But the spitting during meals is nothing – nothing – compared to the veritable celebration of expectoration that goes on absolutely everywhere else. The Chinese spit in the street. They spit in a car. They spit on the floor of a bus or in a hotel foyer. They spit on the wall of the train station. And worst of all, they'll spit on the wall of your sleeping compartment on the train. (This, by the way, is even done by the sartorial elite in soft sleeper class, heading from one city to another for a business trip. The mind boggles at what it must be like further back in the train. Like standing in a saliva rainstorm without an umbrella I suppose).

The spitting itself isn't even the worst part. It's the preliminary cacophonic wind-up. Whereas the Indians (world-class spitters, themselves, it must be credited) measure social status using a complicated and ancient caste system based on ethnicity, profession and skin colour, the Chinese – to their own credit – have simplified the system wholesale. Social status in the Middle Kingdom is directly proportionate to the volume, duration and raspiness of the phlem-finding process. It begins in the lungs, whereupon the truly aristocratic spitter can, in an impressive display of only four or five hacks, raise five ounces of honeyish snot to his larynx, hold it there, while using his tongue and teeth to produce a lump of blackish fluid the size of a tennis ball before hurling it through a curled tongue at the nearest wall, piece of furniture or mortified backpacker. From there, he will watch it glissade languidly down the wall (or furniture or mortified backpacker) admiring its leisurely track downward (the highest socio-economic stratum can manufacture such viscosity that it'll descend so slowly as to be undetectable in movement – like a medieval pane of glass which is thicker at the bottom than the top). The peasant spitter is profoundly incapable of such virtuosity – no doubt why he remains a peasant. He probably had a job interview in the 1980s, enthusiastically spat in the face of the interviewer but it splashed down onto the prospective employer’s coat instead of clinging impressively to his nose."

And that is how it's really done. Quite amazing. We have had a blast in China, now it's off to SEAsia for some 6 weeks in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. We are looking forward to getting out of some of the most populated cities in the world to a slightly slower paced environment.


Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo

yeah, ok, so it's been a little while since our last post and we have definitely done our share of traveling around this massive country. And to clear the air, this post is in honor of the children's fairytale story about the Chinese boy who fell into the well.

Since our days in Beijing, we have travelled south towards Hong Kong. Our original plan was Beijing to Xi'an to Shanghai to HK.

Xi'an was a welcome change from Beijing: it was slightly warmer and had a lot of people in its streets. It felt lively, fun, and full of food options! Since we arrived from Beijing by sleeper train, we took it slow the first afternoon. Wandering to the local Muslim district was surprisingly a great choice. This is one of the few places in China where the locals are Muslim. They also have some great food vendors and if you're looking for fake NorthFace, they have that too. The following day, we tried to buy our train tickets to Shanghai before heading out to see the Terracota Warriors. Lightning does strike twice...all tickets sold out for 3 days. Well, we didn't want to hang around a cold city for long, so we had to find other choices. The ticket window attendent didn't give us very tempting options to get to Shanghai, so we decided to look at the map while at the window and pick a spot. The locals didn't like us taking time up, but when we picked another destination, Guilin, it too was sold out! Unbelieveable. So we ended up buying plane tickets before breakfast to Guilin. It ended up saving us money because we no longer had to buy a train ticket to HK from Shanghai....great! Another great bike ride around the wall of the old city allowed us to see the city from all around. The mob scene of the train station, local singers, plays, and parades were all spotted by chance...a lot of fun.
As soon as it was dark enough, 2 HUGE telescopes we noticed we full of people and they both had lasers on top beaming up at the full moon. Turns out they were aiming to have a great view of the lunar eclipse. The Chinese will also be sending a man to the moon in the next few years, so we will see if the Armstrong moon landing was true or not. However, far and away the highlight of Xi'an was being able to witness the Lantern festival, which was 1 week after their new year. It was like there were competitions between neighborhoods, buildings, and individuals to see who could light off the biggest and most fireworks. From dark until midnight it sounded like a war and smelled like gunpowder.

A ride to the train station brought us to the local buses that run to the Terracota Warrior site. The Chinese bus system is unique. The driver will pull over anytime, anywhere to pickup or drop off passengers. Not only that, the locals have about 45 suitcases and boxes with them, so it gets crowded; fast! The Warriors were an interesting site. Quick history story: a farmer started digging for a well, and found some clay pottery and this led to uncovering a massive field of warriors. It was a strange place...the whole site has been built up with modern building to house the 3 dig sites. Extremely spread out and reminiscient of Beijing. The warriors themselves are all unique; not one is identical to another, but because we cannot get close it becomes difficult to tell. We had to hurry out of there because we needed to catch a plane.

Arriving in Guilin at night, in the warmth, we could only see the faint outlines of tall, jagged mountain-looking formations. It was creepy at first, almost king kong like. We didn't really spend time here, but instead went to a small town called Yangshuo. The famous formations are called Karsts and are based on limestone errosion. This place is a slice of heaven.

It was like Crested Butte of the East. A small "mountain" town with lots to do around it. A bike trip was in order here, for sure!!!! Finding out about some local country roads and a trip to one of the many caves sounded like it would take up our day well. Weaving in and out of traffic and other cyclists for about 15k, we made it to the Budda Cave. No one was there we thought and the gora inside the cave we thought worked there to translate for the workers. It turns out Sam, was not working there, but in the middle of a year trip around on his own. So, we joined up for a while around town for the next 2 days and spent some good time chatting it up. The caves were fun, the formations inside were of all sorts: hollow that have different tones when they are knocked; guilletien looking limestone curtains; chairs; even mounds that look like "titties" as the guide described while laughing. Back onto our bikes, Kate and I tried out our map of the country roads. All was going well, until our trail faded out...some locals were asked to point the way, and before too long we were back out on the main road. This was definitely a lot of fun. Before leaving Guilin, we made sure to try to buy our train tickets more than 1 day ahead of time. We aren't sure if the train was all "hard sleepers", but let's call this part of the trip from Guilin to Hong Kong,
The train car consists of one long hallway with 2 sets of triple bunk beds coming off of it in each section, all open to the privacy. Phil and I are in the lowest bunks and the train is packed. They turn the lights off at about 10:00 pm and these little, tiny hallway lights come on that illuminate the path way. So we go to sleep. (P.S. I am reading the Lord of the Rings right now) I am having really evil dreams lately, and sleeping on a full train through rural China was totally unsettling. Around 3:00 am in the morning, both of us are dead asleep and all of the sudden I feel hands rubbing my feet and my legs. It awakes me out of an evil dream and I look towards the foot of my bed and there is this small head with narrow eyes sitting at the foot of the bed lit only by the small hallway lights...looked like Smeagol a little. Ok, so I FREAK OUT and start screaming "oh my god, oh my god" because I was so startled. This wakes Phil up who is completely disoriented and starts screaming "GET OUT!!!" (which, btw, I have NEVER heard Phil scream like that). The little boys father calmly walks down the hallway and takes the son by his hand and leads him away. So this little child was in my bed rubbing my feet and legs!!!! It was seriously the most creeped out I have been in my entire life. I did not sleep the rest of the night for fear of what would end up in my bed. EWWWWWWW. Thank god it was only a child and not some toothless, dirty man.

Yeah, it was as strange as it sounds. If I had been more with it and someone wasn't in the same bed as my wife, I may have not growled loudly, but what was done was done. At least I was able to go back to sleep!!

In Hong Kong now, it is incredibly crowded here. Makes Manhattan seem like Omaha...or at least some other smaller city. I guess that'll be good for when we move back to NY. Took the trip up Victoria Peak today, some nice views from up there. But for now, I am going to stop typing and head out to eat.

One last quick interesting travel note that may (or maynot) only interest us. We haven't met a lot of American's yet, but plenty from England, Australia, and New Zealand. Within the first 10 minute, can you guess what subject is brought up? The US Presidential Election. Everyone seems to be into it more than most Americans. In their eyes, it affects them just as much right now, and to be honest, we believe it!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Beijing 2008

We have made it to the far-East and everything is very different than the countries we have visited over the last month. Beijing is a modern and large city gearing up for the Summer Olympics, but somehow or another you can hardly tell that the World's largest sporting get-together is around the corner. There's almost no advertising on billboards, no stores devoted solely to Olympic merchandise, and any construction seems to be hidden by large screens.

This part of the trip so far has been great. We were generously offered help by a local at the airport to make sure we got on the right bus to get to our hotel...and he didn't even want any baksheesh! HAHA. It turns out he was just in the states as an exchange student at Cornell and just finished his semester abroad. Arriving late to the city limited our choices of dinner, but fortunately, Beijing has some amazing dumpling shops. Not like the Soup Dumplings at Joe's Shanghai in NYC, but all types of flavors and in various broths. There's the usual of beef, pork, or shrimp, but there are also other meats, seafood, and vegetables. By far, the oddest menu item has been "Jew's ear". Surely it was a misprint due to translation, but it definitely was funny to see. We are guessing it is Pig Ear. Kate and I decided to pass this one up.

Compared to the previous destinations, northern China is bitterly cold. Not having down jackets or multiple layers made our trip into Tieneman Square & the Forbidden City quicker than it should have been. It was a bummer that some of the major buildings were under restoration, but stunning nontheless. It is on a very large piece of land and was very calming and quiet. The best part was the garden on the northern wall.

Today was awesome...we got up early to hike the Great Wall! This snaking, stretching structure is amazing. It is steep, winding, and went on in both directions for as far as the eye could see. We did a 6mi (10k) hike along a stretch of it that is in decent to crumbling shape. Starting in Jinshaling, we ended up in Simatai where there was a chance to take a tandem zipline down a steep hillside and across a small lake. Why not!?!

Tonight we tried one of Beijing's food specialties...Hotpot! Think of it as fondue, but in a soup form. First step: do you want the broth spicy or not; Second: order ingredients while broth heats up; Third: cook your food in the broth. It was a lot of fun and think it could be a hit back home.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Quick post

Just a quick post from our hotel in Beijing...we were finally able to get the photos from Cairo uploaded.

So far, we are a fan of Beijing...more to post later.

Good night!!

Friday, February 15, 2008


We must be in one of the most unique places in the world right now, and words and pictures can only do so much justice.
The sights: People everywhere; poverty everwhere; animals in the streets; 5 different kinds of transit - with and without motors; the colorful sari's worn by women; architecture of all types.
The smells: Human; animal; fumes from autos; fumes from factories; and hopefully the sweet smells of food.
The sounds: Well, there isn't much that is quiet. It is amazing how much people use the horns on their autos here; people talking; dogs; cows.
Whatever you have heard about it here is probably true. It is an amazing web of all of this that makes India, India. It definitely was a shock to the system on the first day could have been the overnight flight, but I doubt it.

We had a lot of ground to cover in such a short period of time...the driver is the way to go. No stress, always knew where to go, and made for some good information about the country. In 5 days, we visitied Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi.
Pushkar was the most different town of them all. It is considered a spiritual haven, so there were many "hippies" visiting from Spain and Israel. It was definitely a place everyone should go, and we wish that 1 more day would have been arranged there instead.

Jaipur - aka Pink City - is the capital of the state of Rajisthan, so it was large, and very very busy. There was a lot to see: the Pink Palace, Monkey Temple, Hindu Temples of all sorts, baby elephants, Shri Laxminaryan Temple, and more. This place had more of the true feel of the country than others. The highlight for Kate, without a doubt, was a chance visit to where an 8mo old baby elephant was being raised. It was a fun moment!!! Our driver, K. LAL, was kind enought to take us to some wonderful restaurants that were common with the locals=Tasty food at tasty prices. We liked it for the 2 days and were ready to move on...

Agra is where the Taj Mahal rests. It is one of the few quiet places in India, so that makes it even more special. Our tour of India had to be changed once it was booked, so we ended up here on Valentine's Day instead of today. I am not much of a romantic, but the Taj on V-Day did make it all click...I can see why it is on the World Heritage list.

One other strange occurance to be noted...for some reason the locals in Egypt and India have this "game" that involves us. They love to try to have pictures taken of Kate &/or I with and without our knowledge. They end up using our photos to show their friends/family that they have foreign friends. Personally, we are not a fan of that using us as a game, so we have to make sure to keep an eye out.

We definitely wish we have had more time here, but that will just have to wait for another day!!

We are still having some difficulty with getting pictures uploaded and saved, so hopefully our next stop will be better for us...but, check out the photo album links on the side, as I got a few new ones posted. (Still no Egypt though)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Walk like an Egyptian

It has been awhile since our last post due to the middle east internet power outage that effected egypt and sent the internet connections back to 1995. We have made it safely to India and now have a moment to let you all know about our Egyptian adventure.

We arrived in Cario early in the morning, and finally made it through the infamous Cario traffic out to our hotel to be greeted by a view of the pyramids from our window. We hit up the pyramids later that afternoon and rented a camel named Columbo to get out into the desert a little to see them from afar. Amazing. The sphinx was by far my favorite, but you can no longer get close to it since it is very close to crumbling. Phil and I were surprised to see that they let you climb on the pyramids...that would never happen in the states.

The next morning we went early to the train staion to try to book tickets for our leg to Luxor. What a circus! Long story short, we bought plane tickets to save us from sitting in Cario for three extra days. Luxor was extremely relaxing, we enjoyed the intense sun at our hotel pool that was right on the banks of the Nile. Sight seeing in the morning and pool time in the afternoon. Due to a computer problem, we lost all of our photos from our Luxor leg. We had great photos from the Valley of the Kings, Husa-Luxor-Karnak temples, sunsets along the Nile. The history and preservation of Luxor is incredible. The highlight for us was renting bikes and riding them through the back roads of Luxor dodging buses and horses.

We were very happy to get out of Muslim countries and leave the middle east towards different cultures. Being american traveling through parts of Egypt felt a little hostle, especially being female.

As I write this, we are sitting in a cafe in Pushkar, is the place that Phil and I are calling the Boulder of India. It is located on a holy lake surrounded by mountains with european hippies everywhere. It reminds us of a Phish lot. The women are all dressed in sari's, a huge departure from the women we have seen over the past 3 weeks. It is a welcome change to see their faces!

We have hired a driver to get us from Pushkar to Jaipur to Agra ending up in Delhi on Friday. Again, due to the lack of train tickets. It is long trek, but worth it to see the most of the country in the six days that we are here. We wish it could be longer, but we have seen the news from Kenya and we are happy to be safe here instead. We are going to spend valentines day at the Taj Mahal.

Once we get a good internet connection we will post more photos...stay tuned.

We love you all very much and think of you all daily!



Saturday, February 2, 2008


Haven't had the chance to send out something from our last few days in Morocco.
Kate and I had some grand idea about Casablanca, this White city, before we left on this trip, so we decided to spend a fews days there.
About 5 times we were told by various people in Marrakech, Fes, and the train, that we are spending too much time there. "It's just another city with nothing to see" is the main attitude it seemed. We didn't believe them.
The line from the movie "fundamental things apply, as time goes by" couldn't be more true...if by fundamental you mean deterioration with time and turning every restaurant into a coffee shop that serves no food.
Let's just say that we didn't eat or take any pictures while we were there since the camera lens' probably would have been instantly dirtied. The "blanca" part of this city is looooong gone.

Next time, listen to the locals!!

We are in Cairo now, unfortunately, this internet connection is much too slow to upload photos, so another edition will have some great stuff in it, trust me. As I just found out the large Middle East interruption of internet service is centered in Egypt. Apparently Egypt is a big connection point for fiber optic infrastructure. But that's not important to anyone else.

Finally, congrats to the Maggie & Justin Harth, they just had their first child!! We are excited to get to the Alaska portion of our trip to meet our first nephew.