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Kyoto (Part Deux)

More shrines, temples, gardens and food...

overcast 27 °C

20/09

Today is our 1st anniversary as a couple!! Oh yah, it was one year ago that eHarmony worked its magic on us, we soooo should be in those commercials.

In the morning, we went to the Nankiji temple which is this huge complex with tons to see. We went up this large wooden temple and got a view of the whole place, it looked quite huge and intimidating, but most of it is actually closed to the public. So what we got to see was this beautiful garden, a very cute little secluded temple and a cemetery where people would come and leave flowers and beers for their loved ones who have passed on. Starved (always!) we decided to go with a Lonely planet suggestion for Udon restaurant (Hidone Udon). Well after getting lost numerous times and walking about an hour, we got to the restaurant to get slapped in the face with a “Sorry we’re closed” sign. Fortunately, we see this really cute place next door. It turned out to be a restaurant owned by these two lovely old ladies, the place really felt like we were just eating in their kitchen which we loved. So after a plate of curry for me and fried rice for Mark, we went walking through the “Philosopher’s Path” which is just a very pleasant stone walkway of about 1 km and it lead to our next destination: the Ginkaku temple. This temple is quite popular and, due to the Japanese holiday, very crowded that day. They made you follow this path which allowed you to see very impressive sand arrangements and very nice views of a part of Kyoto. We took the bus home; a HUGE mistake, there was so much traffic due to the holiday that it took us 1 ½ hours to travel what would have been a 45 minute walk. It was ridiculous!! But the good thing is that when we finally give up on the bus and got off, we ended up in the lively and totally adorable Gion district. It is filled with traditional buildings and restaurants and I believe this is also the Geisha quarter though it was too early in the day to see any.
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That night, to celebrate our anniversary, we went to this restaurant where we got to sit on a deck outside along the river. We got this 8-course meal and the only thing we recognized were the sashimi, the rice and the eel. The rest was all fancy, pretty looking tiny appetizers. Though the food wasn’t spectacular that night, we got entertained by the crowd below including this drunken old man that kept on yelling at us and some young dude puking. That night we got all into a deep discussion and didn’t notice that we were the only ones still there and the restaurant had actually closed.
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21/09

Today Mark betrayed the Canadiens and left after the second period and we went to the Kobosan market at the Toji temple. This market happens only once a month and is basically a huge bazaar/fair/garage sale. People come to sell antiques, books, kimonos and sometimes some trash that they probably picked up on their way there. Oh yah, also tons of food. We explored the market sad that we couldn’t buy anything since our luggage is going to explode. After, we went to lunch at this “conveyor belt sushi” place; good, fast, simple and cheap, we loved it!! We then took the train to the Tenninji temple which we chose not to enter since we were a bit templed-out, but we did visit the superb garden surrounding it, Japanese people really know their garden. At the end of the garden, you come across this magical bamboo forest. They call it the Bamboo path, and I’m not sure how to describe it, but walking through it gives you this soul-cleansing feeling. The path led us to the Ochoshi-sanso villa which was the home of some late silent film actor. This property took 30 years to build and it was beautiful. We didn’t get to go inside the house, but the garden, the views, the feeling of just being there were amazing. This is where I had my first experience with the traditional Japanese toilet; it’s basically a urinal for women. I’ll spare the details, but after not knowing which side to squat, trying to aim and making sure I didn’t pee on my pants or feet, I came out of there quite shaken.
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We went back to the Kyoto Station which had tons of shops & food courts and after contemplating all the plastic model plate in front of each restaurant, we decided to go a bit more western for dinner and opted for a sandwich/burger place. I took a beef cutlet/shrimp tempura sandwiches and Mark took a deep-fried beef patty burger. However, his dinner was ruined the moment he ordered a Coke and they informed him they didn’t have any. Really? Burger and fries without Coke? Ah, it was doomed… By the way, Japanese people are not very good at imitating western food. That night, it rained so we stayed in and had ice cream, chips and beers.
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22/09

Canadiens 4- Pittsburg 3
We decided to go to Nara, a city 45 minutes train from Kyoto, to take a glimpse at all those UNESCO sites it has. Upon arrival, we had lunch on the main strip at a tonkatsu place where everything is basically deep fried in this light batter. It was actually not that greasy and quite delicious. To digest, we walked around the Nara Koen area which is where all the main attractions are. Along with the attractions, there’s also apparently 1200 deer in the area which I totally believe since they were everywhere!! In the enclosures, the streets, the shops, the park and that night, in my nightmare! And you know what else is everywhere? Their freaking pooh!! Urgh. They even sell thin cookies that you can feed the deers with and encourage the production of more pooh. The main sight we visited that day was this temple which is the biggest wooden structure in the world, and it has one of the biggest sitting bouddha statue I’ve seen so far. We also got to shake a wooden box that gave us our fortune. Mine said something about things having double meaning…blah blah blah… no mention about me winning the lottery anywhere. Sucks. Mark liked his, it all made sense to him. Mark also tried this vending machine that sells you Coke in a cup…with ice in it. WOW!!That totally made his day. What a simple man he is. Hehe. We walked around some more in the downtown area and then made our way back to the Kyoto station, had some great ramen soup before heading home.
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I really think the crowdiness is getting to me, and China and India are coming up soon. Oh Lord.

23/09

This morning, while Mark was preoccupied on the computer, I took a walk down our street and found myself in front of this peaceful little shrine that is not even on the tourist map. There was barely anyone else there. I just walked around the place and I must say, there’s something very zen and calming being alone at a worship place. I met up with Mark again and after a quick lunch of beef-and-rice-in-a-bowl (that’s the translation), we went to the Imperial Palace just to be slapped on the face with a “Closed” sign. Apparently it’s been a holiday since Friday for Japan. So instead, we opted to go visit the Golden Pavilion in the Kinkakuji temple. Even though it’s a very nice temple, I would say the only thing worth seeing there is the Golden Pavilion. It’s not too big and has 3 floors amongst which 2 of them are made of actual gold! We couldn't go inside but they did show us some pictures and it was breathtaking, too bad we couldn’t sneak a peek. I’ve been saving a little jewel for last; the Fushimi Inari shrine. This shrine is dedicated to the god of rice, sake and prosperity. It is fairly nice, but the extraordinary thing about it is its thousands and thousands of shrine gates put one after the other to form the long path leading to the top of the mountain. Those gates, or torii as they call it, are put there mostly by businesses in hopes of prosperity. Since it was getting dark, we didn’t climb our way to the top, but the bit we got to see was pretty cool.
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For our last meal, we decided to go for good old traditional sushi at this cute little restaurant with no bathroom (!?!). We had tons of fresh delicious sushi and finally tried the dreaded sea urchin!! It was not too bad, no weird texture or anything, but nothing spectacular. At the end of the meal, they gave us this complimentary fish which was divine, so simple but it tasted so good. Mark thinks they gave it to us because he’s cute and can speak a little Japanese. Uh huh. After the meal, we went home and packed. The clothes we put in the washer/dryer (yes washes and dries in the same machine) was still wet after an hour of drying. So finally it only totally dried our clothes after 8 hours of drying!!! What a fine piece of machinery. Maybe they can spend less time perfecting the bidet and more on this drying business. Just a thought.
Tomorrow we’re off to Hong Kong!!
M&T

Posted by thanh13 07:31 Archived in Japan Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

One week in Hong Kong and Macau

"You've got to know when to fold 'em" - Kenny Rogers

overcast 28 °C
View Thanh and Mark's RTW Adventure 2009-10 on malmn's travel map.

Sep 24
While this was my second visit to Hong Kong (I was here for over two weeks in ’07) this was Thanh’s first time in the former English colony. We arrived at the airport in the afternoon and my good friend Mark (a.k.a Shoe, a.k.a. Chicken Wing) met us at the airport. He picked us up, took us out to lunch in Kowloon and then brought us to our hostel in Causeway Bay before heading back to work. Although we were exhausted from the travelling (we got up at 4am Japan time!) we did manage to go to the Peak to experience the amazing view of Hong Kong at night. From the top of this mountain, you can see the whole city, and all I can say is that the view was spectacular and the picture below doesn’t do it justice.
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Our hostel wasn’t anything to write home about. It was clean but was very tiny, had beds made of stone, and the shower set up was completely illogical (it sprayed water all over the bathroom when you used it). Fortunately it had air-conditioning since Hong Kong is a very hot and humid place. I’m guessing it averaged 28C and 70-90% humidity the whole week. Crazy!
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Sep 25
For our second day, we met Thanh’s father, who was in town for work. We had lunch with him and his protégée, Eli, at a very large dim-sum restaurant in Kowloon. Ordering was a chaotic event but fortunately Eli, who is from LA but speaks Chinese, ordered for us. Like all the food in Hong Kong, this lunch was fantastic! After lunch we went took her Dad and Eli up to the Peak, to see the view during the daytime. The view isn’t as colorful during the day but you can see farther and things in greater detail. Later on we took the mandatory Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor and went to check out the Avenue of Stars. Mr. Nguyen was quite happy to see Jackie Chan’s star of fame and his hand prints. Thanh’s Dad and Eli had to leave Hong Kong that evening and take a ferry back to Zhongshan, China.
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After dropping them off at the ferry terminal we then hooked up with Shoe, his buddy Joe and some other guy (we can’t remember his name but had the craziest “bling-bling” watch ever!), for supper. We wanted to go out to the bars and clubs that night but Thanh didn’t have clothes she felt comfortable enough to go out with so Thanh stayed in. So I went out with Shoe and a few other of his friends ‘till 4:30am! I got so loaded, it was insane. I really paid for it the next day (and the next!). Anyhow, Shoe and his friends only go out to the most exclusive clubs in town and we ended up in the same place and VIP area as Aaron Kwok, a major Chinese singer and movie star (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Kwok) . I had no idea who the hell he was, but apparently he is a BIG deal. This VIP area of this club was quite tiny (only the best for Shoe!), and 8 out 10 people there were women, and I stood out being the only white guy. lol! Mr. Kwok definitely gave a curious look my way. Shoe drove me home right before sunrise and I will allow Thanh to explain the final part of this night to you…

Ok, so he came home pissed drunk and had no clue what the hell he was talking about, he even had trouble turning the lights on. I’ve never seen him in such a state before, EVER. This is a sample of our conversation:
Mark: So we went to this VIP area and they stamp your hand with this see through (what he meant was invisible) stamp that you can only see with special purple light.
Thanh: Wow that’s pretty cool
Mark: It’s here, look! (drunkenly pointing to his forearm)
Thanh: Mark, I can’t see it because it’s invisible.
Mark: Yah I know, they stamp it for the VIP area only, you can’t really see it. Look, isn’t it cool?
Thanh is now wondering if it’s too late to fake being asleep
Mark: Yah so they stamp you. Yah, it’s here on this arm, look!
Thanh: Who are you???

Sep 26
Today was a major R&R day for me. Like I mentioned above, I got majorly intoxicated (I drank all kinds of adult beverages the night before) and it hurt so much! I actually woke up at 5pm and I think I was still drunk. lol! Thanh took the opportunity to shop throughout the day and ended up buying herself a new dress and shoes. She looks great in her new outfit! :) There’s not much else to report because I was on the DL (disabled list for all you non-sports people) and we didn’t do much else.

Sep 27
I was still feeling low and tired the next day but I was at least functional this time (I asked Thanh never to let me drink like that again. lol!) We were supposed to go and visit the Tian Tan Buddha (a.k.a. the Big Buddha) on Lantau Island, but the way to get there was more complicated then I remembered so we chose to go visit the Hong Kong Museum of History instead. It turned out to be a great decision because they had a special exhibition honoring the last 100 years of Chinese history. The special exhibition took us through most of modern’s China’s history, starting with Sun Yat-Sen and the overthrowing of the Qing Dynasty, all the way to last year’s Beijing Olympics. This special exhibition and the regular one took us over three hours to visit and only cost us $3 CAD.
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After having not touched a fork and knife for the past three weeks, we ended up “cheating” and had our first "western style" meal since Vancouver. We went to Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill at Pacific Place, where we had bread and butter, chicken wings, potato skins and onion rings for starters, ribs for Thanh, a T-bone steak for me and a baked potato each (with lots of sour cream, chives and bacon bits!). To top it all off, we shared a hot fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream for dessert….mmmmm! We ate like pigs and it felt great! :)

Top cap the night off, we took in Bruce Willis’ The Surrogates. While the movie didn’t impress us, we did find it somewhat entertaining, and we were extremely pleased with the very comfortable leather seats, especially considering the rock hard beds that await us back at the hostel. We give this flick 2 stars...it’s a rental for sure.

Sep 28
It was raining pretty hard when we woke up and we figured it would be a good time to go visit Macau and lose ourselves in a windowless casino or two. This was my second time visiting this former Portuguese colony and the first for Thanh. Unfortunately it was more than just rain, it was a typhoon (level 3 – whatever that means) so we never did get the opportunity to see any the historical and touristy parts of Macau. We managed to visit three casinos: the Grand Lisboa, the Wynn, and the MGM Grand. I was so impressed with the MGM grand and its facilities that we decided that we were going to stay a night. Macau was only supposed to be a day trip, so we hadn’t brought any clothes or toiletries. Needless to say, our room was high class and toothbrushes and toothpaste were provided, which would make my Mom happy to know. What my Mother would not like to know is that we lost a few hundred dollars playing blackjack. I was actually up over $200US at one point, and I wanted to call it a night, but Thanh insisted that I continue because I was on a roll and “nothing can stop us” (Thanh: “I can’t help it, it’s the Asian way!)….unfortunately my luck ran out. lol!
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I must mention that earlier in the day we went to a fantastic Portuguese restaurant which Shoe introduced me two years prior. I guess you can consider this our second “western” meal. The place is called O Manel , the owner is always on site, and it’s located on the Taipa Island. It’s absolutely fabulous! It’s a must if you ever in Macau, and the lemon garlic clams are to die for!
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Sep 29
We woke up very late and took our time to leave the plush MGM Grand hotel. We left one hour after the official check out time…. I hadn’t slept that well since I left Montreal. Anyhow, it was raining again, so we couldn’t really visit Macau and its sights. So after having brunch at the hotel, and fighting the desire to gamble, we took the 45 minute ferry back to Hong Kong. We didn’t do much when we got back except we went hunting for a new umbrella. The one we brought with us to Macau got massacred by the typhoon.
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Sep 30
This was our final day in Hong Kong. Mainland China is next. For our last day, we chose to follow a Lonely Planet walking tour of Sheung Wan. Even if it rained, we still toughed it out and visited temples, antique stores and the Western Market. Afterwards we went to Yau Ma Tei, on the Kowloon side, to shop for shoes. This area is renowned for its shoe shopping. 9 out of 10 stores sell shoes! I didn’t find anything but Thanh got herself some cute new Nikes. Our shopping wasn’t done and I found a new shirt and shorts at Sogo’s, a fantastic Japanese department store that rivals my beloved Stockmann’s in Helsinki.
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We met up with Shoe after he finished work, and he took us out to a Shanghai style restaurant. Needless to say, the food was great! Shoe really understands what good food is all about. After our delicious meal, Shoe, myself and several of his friends went out drinking to an “all you can drink” bar (Thanh decided to stay back at the hostel again). It was only for only $20CAD for the all you can drink service!! Crazy! Although we played a couple of intense drinking games (Dai Wa Sek), I behaved this time and didn’t get too drunk, I got home pretty early (2am) and Thanh was happy….I had learned a valuable lesson a few nights before! lol!
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Until next time my friends, when we will be writing to you form Zhongshan, P.R. of China!
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By the way, we do not have access to Facebook in China, so if needed, please contact us at thanhmark@hotmail.com.
GO HABS GO!!!

Posted by malmn 20:47 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Our first day in China (mainland)

Nihao!

sunny 32 °C

01/10

At this point of our trip, we are off to pay a visit to my dad in Zhongshan, China. For the first time, we are both pretty glad to leave what had become our home for the past week. We won’t miss the extra hard beds, the cold AC and the tiny shower of the Hong Kong Hostel. I was excited to see my dad but still a bit nervous about mainland China. I'm not sure what to expect.

Well we took the ferry and decided to spoil ourselves and paid the extra 5$ to get "first class" seats. I have never traveled first class before and I was really excited and happy, even if the ride was only 1 ½ hours. It turned out that first class seats was very similar to the regular ones, but located in a less crowded floor where you receive a wet napkin, bottled water and a mini moon cake. Still, totally worth it! Also, we got a menu with tons of food/drinks that we could order; exotic things I’ve never tasted before like Totato chips, Ices green tea, Cinger tea, Grill-a-Corm and Mark’s favorite, Especially Catgut (?!?!)… Welcome to the land of butchered English.
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I've always had this idea that China was very strict and scary, so I was really nervous to make any kind of mistake there…well, it didn’t take us very long. Apparently we didn't get the memo that you had to pick up your luggage coming off the boat, before entering the customs area (to our defense, there were no baggage claim signs - at least not in English). We only realized our error after we went through customs and ended up in the lobby of the ferry station - without our backpacks. We caused a little brouhaha since the authorities had to allow us to go back out to get our luggage. Oops! I have to say that they were very nice, understanding and helpful. They didn't give us any trouble.

After our taxi driver
took advantage of us (he didn't use the meter and charge us double the regular rate) we arrived at my dad’s appartment which is quite spiffy for Chinese standards. It’s located in a gated community called Majestic Garden with lots of greenery, a basketball court, a park and even a swimming pool (it's presently closed because it's autumn and "too cold" - it’s freaking 32 ⁰C right now!!)
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After unloading our luggage we took a stroll around the neighborhood with my dad. There are many shops around which sell 5$ Lacoste polos and 10$ Louis Vuitton purses...oh yah, we’re in China alright! Later on we went to this open market which may be one of the most interesting that Mark and I have seen in a while. They were selling every single part of every animal, and nothing goes to waste! Also we saw black chicken (the meat is actually black), turtles (to eat, not pet!), frogs and duck heads with beak included. We then made our way through this long narrow street filled with different businesses and my dad notices that everything is more expensive now that he’s accompanied by a white guy....the curious stares that Mark got from the locals were crazy!! But they would stare at me just as much. I guess they find it just as weird for an asian girl to be with a white guy. After a bit more walking we started to understand that the walkways are more for cars and mopeds that for pedestrians. We also we stopped at a supermarket to grab a snack. I think it's worth mentioning that we saw fresh alligator for sale at this supermarket!. Wow, we now have hundreds of new food items to try! And some that we’ll just look from afar…
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That night, we had dinner at this local joint on the Sunwen Walking Street, probably the most touristy place in the city. At this restaurant, you pick and choose your meat/veggies/tofu and they proceed to cook it in a very spicy broth. It was quite decent and all three of us stuffed our faces for only 4$. Afterwards we went home and watched the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It was grand, really grand, much grander than the Olympics ceremonies. And NO, it is not a celebration of communism, just a celebration of their country.
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Posted by thanh13 22:04 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Taking it easy in Zhongshan

Sun Yat-Sen is Zhongshan. We now know!

sunny 31 °C

02/10

We started the day on a hunt to find us an organized tour for Beijing which went nowhere! Communicating with the travel agents was nearly impossible. They would tell us anything to get us to pay up. One company promised us that the guided tour would be in English. Yeah right. We know it would be us with 48 other Chinese people. No deal.

Because my dad thinks we’re snobs, he brings us to this fancy, upscale mall in Zhongshan where all the brands look fancy but we’ve never heard of them. Almost everything there had "western" prices (read: expensive). However, everything was on special; 7.1%, 5,3%, 3.8% off....“Nihao! Today special 3.8% off”. LOL! Are you kidding me?? 3 point 8?? They actually calculate point 8 here? You would think I was was borrowing money from the bank. LOL! Well, I didn’t think I could afford that watch, but now, with this deal of the century… Ah, they’re crazy…By the way, Mark, who’s considered a skinny guy at home is a Chinese size XL for everything. As for me, we’re just not gonna talk about it.

On our way home, we came across a huge public park with an "outdoor gym". The park was really amazing. It had everything from a running track to basketball courts, tons of ping-pong tables (of course!) and tennis and badminton courts. There also were many weird fitness apparatus (the outdoor gym) that we had never seen before, and we were not too sure what muscle they are supposed to work... we never thought that the see-saw was a fitness machine. Kidding aside, all is free for everyone to enjoy and stay fit. Anyhow, we had had tons of fun fooling around with them. Continuing with the fitness trend, my dad and Mark went to shoot some hoops that afternoon. Mark challenged some kids to one-on-one and they seemed pretty impressed with him. I think they might have thought Mark played professionally or something. ;)
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That night we went to this massive and lively Chinese restaurant where everyone seems to be in parties of 10 or more. We were the odd ones out as we were only three. We had great food that night and also learned that a tablecloth is not only a tablecloth over here, but also used as a napkin for everyone. Yucky!

03/10

My father and I started our day with a KFC breakfast: congee and Chinese fried bread. Mark stayed home to do some research for Beijing, as he is getting concerned due to the lack of preparation. I’m more of an undisciplined, last minute traveler, so I’m thankful that my man likes to be prepared. For lunch, we went to McDs. Interestingly enough, as we finished ordering, the cashier told us we were getting free ice cream cones. Awesome! The only problem was that she gave them to us while we they were preparing our order, which meant we had to eat our desert before our meal. Huh? Where’s the logic in that? My dad wasn't impressed. lol!
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That afternoon we went to the Sun Yat-Sen's home and museum which was about 30 minutes out of town. Just so you know, Sun Yat-Sen is the man responsible for defeating the Qing dynasty to form the “new” China, before the establishment of the P.R.C. The city of Zhongshan is proudly named after him. We got to see his simple and humble residence and village, along with a great museum of this hero. I’m pretty used to museums being very quiet. Well not in China. This place was very chaotic and loud. It doesn’t help that Chinese people are not really aware of their environment; as you stand there to take a picture, they will literally stand in front of you to take their own… I don’t think they get it.
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After this museum, I wanted to go to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. I saw a brochure (all written in Chinese) and it looked impressive. Thinking it was close by, my dad asks someone for directions and the dude looked at him really weird and said: “It’s in Taipei, Taiwan”. LOL! So no memorial hall for us. Instead, we went to this large outdoor movie/tv set where tons of Chinese movies and television shows were produced. This place was a little like Epcot as it had traditional Japanese, English, American and Chinese areas. The Japan one is good but unkept and dirty, which is very un-Japanese like. The US one was pretty good, but I didn’t realize that the Americans made so many "Chinglish" typos on their shop signs. We also fortunate to see a couple movie scenes played out live; one with a Japanese hero defeating 12 ninjas and the other one of a Chinese military battle. The latter one was with fake cannons, soldiers and dead bodies, the only thing that was real was the fire that started in the field during the scene. A plain guy with jeans and T-shirt had to run out with an extinguisher to put it out. I don’t remember that happening during the Chinese war?!? lol!
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That night my dad was told that there would be big celebration with tons of food for the autumn festival at some park. We took a confusing 20 minute cab ride to the destination. When we got there…nothing. The place was deserted and there was no celebration. I think my dad is going to have to take more Chinese lessons!! So we hopped back in the cab and had dinner at this chain restaurant where Mark had this amazing duck. Since our lives has been really rough lately, we decided to spoil ourselves a 100 minute massage which only cost use $8CAD each!! We were treated to a full body massage and a little Chinese lesson from my very talkative masseuse.
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04/10

The day started with really great authentic dim sum at that large restaurant we ate a couple of nights earlier. After an afternoon nap, my dad’s Chinese tutor, Lisa, and her husband Andy, came to pick us up. They brought us to the beach in Zhuhai which is about a 30 minutes drive south from Zhongshan. It’s actually located on a very small island. The beach is nice, nothing spectacular, but it was nice to walk on sand for a bit. Along the beach there were were about three dozen brides and grooms, all decked out in full wedding attire to take their wedding pictures in various cheesy poses. And when I say cheesy, it’s an understatement. Besides that, there were several fishing stations for rent where you can sit and maneuver the massive net by pedaling it, in and out of the sea.
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After our stroll we all sat down at a table on the boardwalk to enjoy a very exotic seafood dinner. This time we had locals in our party so it made ordering a lot simpler. We got to feast on huge snails, fish head (the fish itself is as big as my body and apparently, the head is the best part), fish’s stomach, crabs, shrimps and excellent roast chicken. Though the meal tasted really good, I got slightly sick that night, but it’s hard to pinpoint what caused it with all the weird stuff we ingested. To cap off the night, my dad, Mark and I went to this "American" style bar, Alex's, to enjoy a couple of beers and listen to a pretty good live band.
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05/10

Zhongshan is not a tourist town so it doesn't have much to see or visit. So since my dad, our tour guide :), had go to back to work this day, we thought it would be a good time to relax from the intense sightseeing we've been doing over the past few weeks. After boredom started to set in, we decided to walk to the Sun Yat Sen Park (I’m telling you, this city is in love with this man). It’s a very nice and big park with very well kept green spaces. We walked the millions of steps up the mountain to absolutely no happy ending; the best part of this park was really at the bottom. Here tons of kids were having a blast on these rented mechanical horses, but for some strange reason, they were more excited to see Mark. They all giggled while trying to say the most perfect “Hello!” to him.
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That evening, we had a home meal cooked up by my father's maid/cook. Yes, he has a cook! How do you think he’s been surviving over here without my mom? It's actually pretty common in China for people to have maids and cooks. Anyhow, Ken, an employee of his who also his roommate, joined us for supper. Once we were done, our new friend Eli (a.k.a. Mr Nguyen's protege) came over for some chit chat and drinks. Earlier in the day, Mark bought this famous and expensive Chinese rice wine and now they were all savoring it. Apparently the stuff quite famous here but I’m thinking only with the men since it taste sooo strong.
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06/10

We decided to be bold today and went to a Chinese restaurant on our own, without anyone to translate or order for us. We gambled on this one place near the apartment and thankfully the menu had some blurry pictures. We ordered and it turned out great. We’re not exactly sure what we ate, but it tasted good....in China, you’re never really sure what you’re eating anyways. LOL!

After another great meal cooked up by my dad's maid, to get us primed for the night, Eli came over with bottle of nice Russian vodka and orange juice. After a few cocktails, we went to Alex’s bar to catch happy hour. We were there for only 15 minutes before this drunk-ass man came over to our table and was so excited to see a white man (Mark, of course). This guy insisted on buying Mark a drink. He even pulled himself a chair and sat with us and was flashing his money around. I couldn't decide if I was more scared or annoyed, but after a bit, he decided it was more pleasant to go “dance” on the stage with his shirt pulled up exposing his disgusting belly. Why the hell do Chinese men do this? It’s nauseating! Anyhow, despite the disturbance, we had a blast at the bar playing the super fun drinking game, Dai Wa Sek (I’m totally starting it in Montreal when I come back.)
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Once we finished drinking, we crossed the street to an empty parking lot converted into an "illegal" restaurant, to enjoy what the Chinese call “the 4th meal”, which is basically eating whatever is still open by the time you come out of the bar/club. For us at home, it would be poutine, Amir or pizza. Here we had some fantastic sautéed beef noodles, congee, grilled fish and … duck heads with beak included!! Oh yah, Mark and I tried it for the first time . I don’t know if it was the alcohol, but we agreed that it was really good, very tasty, but we might not have it again sober though.
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So, we've decided to stay longer in Zhongshan than expected so more to come from here ...

M&T
GO HABS GO!!!

Posted by thanh13 04:22 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Zhongshan Part II

Our final days in Sun Yat-Sen's town.

sunny 32 °C

07/10

We made our way to the Zhongshan Park to visit the 7-story pagoda. It was a pretty boring promenade until we hit the downtown area which was filled with tons of shops geared more towards teenage girls. These shops were blatantly selling knock-offs of all the popular brands we know. Amidst it all there were the usual food stands, convenience stores and health drink shops. There tons of health drinks shops where you can sit and down a drink that promises to keep you safe from specific diseases. There’s even one for the H1N1 flu. Hehe. We finally arrived at the park and climbed the 4 billion steps to get to the famous pagoda. It turned out to be a disappointment. After the greatness of what we’ve seen in Japan, this one does not compare, not even close. Also the Chinese are not fans of maintaining their monuments/infrastructures/or anything else for that matter (at least not in Zhongshan). So we took the obligatory picture of the pagoda and moved on.
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Our tourist map and guide also listed the Sun Yat-Sen Lake Park and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Park which, apparently, is a must see (seriously, these people need to find another hero to commemorate). They are both located right next to the pagoda so we thought we’d go take a look. Well after an hour of following conflicting and sometimes opposing directions we gave up (some directions actually led us to a dead ends!). So no park and lake for us.

08/10

With my father and Ken, we attempted to book some train tickets to Beijing at a local bus and train ticket office. Unfortunately it was a very frustrating and fruitless experience. They totally played us for fools.

The clerk tried to corner us into purchasing tickets for an expensive VIP private room, which actually costs more than two plane tickets to the same destination. First, they told us that the train we wanted to take was fully booked. Then she explained that there were no lower berths available on our second choice. When we refused, she then offered us tickets for another train, but which was leaving and arriving at very inconvenient times (very early and very late). Moreover, the prices quoted by the clerk were 15% more than people normally pay (Mark had done his research, as usual). Adding to our frustration was the fact that, the whole time, the she wasn't even verifying this on her computer, but rather receiving orders through a cell phone. After arguing back and forth with her for 30 minutes, we gave up, went home, and booked 2 plane tickets on an English friendly Chinese website. Anyhow, to make things worse, Jeff who is a Chinese employee of my dad's, called the ticket office to investigate, and they told him they had many tickets available! The rats!

That night, after our usual drinks and dice game at Alex’s bar, Mark and I ventured across the street to the outdoor restaurant from the other night. I am so proud of ourselves! Even drunk, we managed to order exactly what we wanted without any English menu or picture, just pointing at what the other people were having.

09/10

After spending the morning doing some casual travel research online, we found and booked a very cheap flight from Bangkok to Calcutta. So now it's official...we will be in India starting February 2nd! This made Mark extremely happy.

Afterwards we managed to get some air (correction: polluted air) when we went for lunch at this tiny Korean grocery store and restaurant. The place was so spotless we thought we were back in Japan. To digest, we walked around the expat district and we were so excited to discover a couple markets carrying products from home; Doritos, Lays, Nestle chocolate bars, Duncan Hines cake mix, Dr Pepper, Heinz tomato sauce, etc. Even though it was 6$ a bag of chips, we were tempted.

That night, my father treated us and several of his English speaking colleagues to a Chinese feast and a lot of drinking. Somehow that didn’t stop Mark and I from returning to Alex’s bar for more drinking. We’re totally known there now and the sexy waitress even gives me an excited hug when we enter.
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10/10

For our last day in Zhongshan, we took the city bus, went to visit my dad’s work, and had lunch with the employees. It is very common in China for the company to offer lunch to their employees which I think is a great idea.
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That afternoon we struggled through the tedious task of doing laundry, ironing our clothes, cleaning the apartment, and packing until my dad came home to take us out to dinner. We went to this very nice restaurant located in a mall. It had this huge menu with dishes from most countries in southeast Asia. We had really fantastic Indian curry which made Mark decide that he has to take some cooking classes once we’re in India.

We walked home to digest the gigormous meal we just had and encountered this huge gathering of about 1000 people. It turned out to be a social dancing/fitness class offered free for anyone to join. It wasn’t a high cardio difficult class, but it was nice to see how Chinese people care for their health.

That night, true to tradition and accompanied by our friend Eli, we returned to Alex’s bar and it was packed! There were tons of expats that night and even the band was from Ireland. After a couple hours, we said our farewell to Eli and called it a night.

So now we've spent over a week on mainland China and here are a few observations:

• The Chinese feel the need to put all kinds of government buildings on the tourist map. Who the hell really needs to know where the Tax bureau is?
• They put up great infrastructures and then refuse to maintain it.
• Each park has a sign with its rules and regulations, and they always include: "No Pissing" and "No Clothes Hanging.
• They think it’s OK to throw trash anywhere, but really anywhere.
• They spit everywhere, and not just the regular kind, the one that you try and get all the mucus out of before spitting spit. (I just puked a little in my mouth while writing that, it is so nasty.)
• You barely get to see clouds or sun due to the smog, or what Chinese people like to call it; fog.
• You never REALLY know what you’re eating.
• Nauseating smells will attack you at anytime, anywhere. We were getting ready to get into a cab when we got a powerful swiff of what smelled like 20 people simultaneously taking a dump. We almost puked right then and there but it didn’t seem to bother any Chinese people since they were happily munching on their snack right there.
• Chinese people don’t know how to drive. They don’t drive fast but they drive stupidly, without caring about pedestrians. The drivers here believe it’s the pedestrians’ job to stay out of their way. Mark and I have had cars drive by an inch away from us about a hundred times.
• Also worth mentioning is that Mark figured out a way to get around the Facebook ban in China: VPN!

That’s it for Zhongshan, tomorrow we take the bus to Guangzhou.

M&T.

Posted by thanh13 07:08 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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