A Travellerspoint blog

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Pre-Trip Planning Under Way!

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China & India 2010!
My wife, son and I will be visiting family in the Southern China city of Guangzhou. From there, I will depart on a solo-trip through central India stopping first in Delhi, then onward to the world's oldest operating city of Varanasi. Next, I will travel to the desert state of Rajasthan, stopping at Jodhpur to see the Mehrangarh Fort, Jaipur to photograph the palaces of the Maharajas, and finally Agra to view the magnificent Taj Mahal.

Posted by CirrusNine 20:02 Comments (1)

Leaving tonight!

Ada - check
Lucas - check
Airline tickets - check
Passports - check
200lbs of gifts and stuff - check

Wooo-Hooo!
Too much luggage

Too much luggage

Posted by CirrusNine 16:36 Comments (1)

The Longest Day

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Greetings from Guangzhou China! What a trip it has been to get here!

So, it took 36 hrs door–to-door (Our place in Elk Grove to Ada’s house in her small hometown of Ping Dong near Guangzhou) and a good 50 hrs until quality sleep. I don’t recommend traveling such distances with a 2-year old…seriously…this is my “best practices” advice for all you parents and would-be parents out there. Spread the word. During take-offs and landings we had to strap little Lucas to our seat belts; each time he freaked out and it resulted in 20 minutes of ear-piercing, screaming fits – “sorry everyone in our section!” Keeping a little one entertained within the confines of your allotted plane seat is beyond challenging.
So, our flight plan was straightforward – we would depart from San Francisco (SFO) and fly to Hong Kong (HKG) 14.5 hrs with a one-hour layover and then a short 45-minute hop to Guangzhou (CAN).
What actually happened was much different…
Upon departing from SFO, the good Captain announced the plane was overloaded and as a result, we would be stopping at Incheon International Airport in South Korea for refueling, then onward to HGK (perhaps from the weight of all the nuts and chocolate gifts in our luggage?!? Hmmm…). This caused a domino effect of further delays and by the time we got to HGK, we missed our connecting flight by 2 hrs. Bummer. A few hours of waiting at the airline transfer desk in HGK plus a few more to find our wayward luggage, and we were back on track, arriving in Guangzhou airport a bit after 2:30 pm, local time.

Sorry about the slow posting time...internet access issues.

Next up… First Impressions…
Lucas at the HK airport

Lucas at the HK airport

Posted by CirrusNine 06:01 Archived in China Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

First Impressions

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Guangzhou airport = WOW! freaking huge, modern, awesome building. With ceilings that appeared to be a hundred feet above. It‘s still under construction.
We collected our luggage and went through Customs. I was reminded that China is still a Communist country by the very Soviet-looking uniforms and the stern looks of the armed Customs guards.
Stepping outside the airport we were faced by the familiar humid heat of Southeast Asia. I noticed that the sunlight was filtered through a good layer of pollution that gave a neat orange-ish hue to everything. There’s a slight smell of chemicals in the air from all the manufacturing that goes on in this province. People were everywhere; not crowded, but busy doing things outdoors – manicuring the roadside greenery, zipping around on motorbikes, tending shops and lots of serious construction. This is what I imagine how it would have looked like when America went through its big infrastructure projects. Hope to post pictures soon...

Posted by CirrusNine 06:09 Archived in China Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Family Reunion

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Around 3:00 pm we met a few of Ada’s cousins at the airport, they helped us load our luggage into a van and we were on our way to her parent’s house.
We drove a few miles down one of Guangzhou’s major highways then exited into a maze of smaller roads that led to an even narrower dirt road; this ended into a block of tall brick houses. I met my in-laws for the first time and it was comforting to see their warm smiles as they grabbed Lucas in delight. My father in-law appears younger than I thought, especially for being a farmer for many years, exposed to the sun. My Mother in-law is even shorter than Ada but has an unexplainable enthusiasm about her that I haven’t quite nailed down…perhaps after I learn to communicate with her…
There was a bunch of other extended family that showed up throughout the evening. Some lived right across the road.
Later on, we got to see some of the city as we drove to dinner.

Lucas with Grandfather Liu

Lucas with Grandfather Liu

Posted by CirrusNine 06:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Liu House

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So the Liu house deserves a blog page of its own.

Traditional houses here are built according to family size: when one first builds a home they set a basic foundation – in this case it’s two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, hall, storage room and open air atrium in the middle. As the Liu family grew, additional floors were built. The funny thing is the family numbers in at two parents and three (now grown) kids. You would think two floors would be adequate. Nope. There are five floors and only the first two are furnished. The top three are completely empty. The stairs go all the way up to the roof, which has a nice view of the area where you can also see the airport landing lights at night.

House view from the pond

House view from the pond

Living Room

Living Room

3rd Floor

3rd Floor

The house is solidly built of brick, mortar and tile. The doors and windows are stainless steel with double-paned glass and the exterior is covered in what we would consider 3” x 3” bathroom tiles.

The paradox is that the house still gets its water from a well located in the atrium. An electric pump fills a 200-gallon solar storage tank on the roof. Plumbed rooms have gas fired in-line heaters to compliment the solar heated water. Toilets are the traditional squat ones that require crafty use of leg muscles to “get it right”.

The neighbor’s houses are neatly nestled together with patches of tall bamboo, ponds and farmland surrounding. I noticed that the neighbors are very interactive with each other. They are frequently doing chores outside and have a nice community – something we lack in our neighborhood in Elk Grove. People in Guangzhou watch less TV and spend more time socializing.

GZ Neighborhood 2

GZ Neighborhood 2

GZ Neighborhood 2

GZ Neighborhood 2

Posted by CirrusNine 06:13 Archived in China Comments (1)

Dim Sum

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Today we went to dim sum brunch at a popular restaurant that is located in a huge luxury hotel. The entryway was nothing short of grand; marble, floors and walls complimented by glass and brushed metal. To get to the dining area, you have to walk through an “aquarium of eats” – the fish, eels, shrimp and many other aquatic delights in glass tanks get to watch their eaters pass by. Food was top notch and affordable but the funny thing was when I ordered a cup of coffee, there was a strange look on my relative’s faces and later found out that coffee is very expensive in this region. My 8 oz. cup o java cost $10! Go figure – we are spoiled in the US! Good thing I have Starbucks VIA instant coffee packets in my suitcase.

After dim sum we went to a relative’s business. He raises fish and ducks for local markets. I was happy to hear that we were going to visit his place and would have the opportunity to shoot at birds with a pellet rifle. Turns out this entailed sneaking along a bank of dirt then slowly creeping over the bank to take aim at graceful white egrets in the rice field. I couldn’t do that to such beautiful birds. If they were crows, maybe…
Due to a cleverly botched “sneak and shoot”, we walked the perimeter of the pond to the duck area where we saw hundreds of yellow chicks in the water.

Posted by CirrusNine 06:15 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Chinese Economy


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One area that sticks out more than anything else is how much building and manufacturing is happening. I’ve never seen so much heavy equipment in one area before. There are cranes, trucks, diggers, rollers and work crews in action everywhere. I even got to visit a factory that belongs to a family friend that makes bolts and other metal items for manufacturing companies. It was completely modern with a huge 500-ton hydraulic press in the center of a warehouse surrounded by lathes operated by laborers. One was making rollers for laser printers; another was drilling holes into foundation plates. It was fascinating! Along to go with all that was the sound of electric motors and the smell of machine oil.

Posted by CirrusNine 06:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

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Posted by CirrusNine 21:15 Comments (10)

Chinese Independence Day

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Thanks for your comments and emails! I Have very limited internet access so please don’t feel left out as I cannot return emails as much as I would like.

Today, so far, has been relaxing. It’s overcast which keeps the temperature down – quite pleasant out.
Most locals have the week off in celebration of Chinese Independence; not sure from who or what. Tradition has it that families must throw a brick of firecrackers outside of their front door in the morning… Wahoo! No alarm clock needed! Bits of red firecracker paper blow throughout the walkways.

My mother in-law pays respect to the Buddhist goddess, Quan Yin, once a month by lighting candles and incense at the main altar in the dining area and several smaller ones throughout the house. Quan Yin is the goddess of prosperity and good fortune (I think she also runs the factory that writes fortune cookie inserts too…). A wicker tray is set with three small cups of tea and some apples in a neat stack. This is placed in the front of each altar and good luck paper money is burned while the she says a prayer.

Quan Yin

Quan Yin

Incense

Incense

Lucas has signed up for the morning walk with grandpa tour package – they walk to the pond to look at the chickens and rabbits, then stroll down the road and around the neighborhood. They usually come back within a half-hour but Lucas gets bored and wants to continue with the program. They are currently out again.

Morning Tour

Morning Tour

Ada is busy helping her mom with housework and catching up on the happenings of daily life. We will be taking the electric scooter out for a spin in a bit. Perhaps I should ask Quan Yin for good luck on the roads, eh?

Electric Motorbike Ride

Electric Motorbike Ride

Back from the scooter trip – it was fun! No helmets required while on the back roads and it was nice to feel the cool breeze. We visited Ada’s grade school and sat on a bench under a huge tree that she sat under 25 years ago. Will have to go on a few more scooter trips later.

This afternoon Ada’s brother will take us shopping at a popular area in Guangzhou. I have to pick up a memory card reader that will work with my laptop as I have pictures from my smaller camera that go along with the blogs above.
Back from BT Mart – WOW! This place is like Target, Walmart, Macy’s and several top food boutiques all in one place. Our global economy is ever so present. There were name brand items from all over the world . I saw a funny display sign in the produce section that read: “Crazy Item for Members Only”. We filled up a shopping cart of food and house things for Ada’s mother and the total came to a reasonable $90 US.

Crazy_Item..rs_only.jpg

Posted by CirrusNine 19:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Me Want Hamburger! (in Cookie Monster voice)

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Greetings blog readers! I need real food today. I’ve maxed out on the Chinese food – sick of it. I need a croissant and some real coffee to start, then a ½ lb burger – medium rare with extra cheese, please. Anyone willing to FedEx a burger to me?

Mrs. Liu

Mrs. Liu

While we are on the topic of food… I’ve noticed that my in-laws are mostly self-sustaining. They grow their own vegetables; tomatoes, various Chinese greens and fruits, fish from the pond, chickens and eggs. They still get the occasional products from stores (Like BT Mart) but most food comes from their land. Even the water comes from a well. I guess I should be fair and say that they do consume electricity, LP gas, phone service and satellite TV.

Home Grown Vegetables

Home Grown Vegetables

Another funny thing is when one goes out to a restaurant, there is this pre-eating ruckus that entails pouring hot tea into the place setting items; first it gets poured into the tea cup, then into the rice bowl, then the tips of chopsticks… finally, it’s poured into a larger waste bowl in the center of the table where a waitress whisks it away. Talk about germ paranoia…

Lucas with Great Grandmother

Lucas with Great Grandmother

After another round of dim sum brunch with Ada’s friends, I asked if I could return home while the girls went clothes shopping. This was some good quiet time – uploaded today’s blog plus added some pictures to previous entries. After that, I watched “Defendor” on my laptop. Went downstairs when the movie was over and had a bowl of noodles while showing my mother in-law family pictures.

Found myself bored for the first time since I got here so I took the bike out for some exploring. I rode around for ½ hour and came across an abandoned town adjacent to the airport runway. It was strange not to hear or see anyone. Parked the bike and took some snaps of the old houses. It was eerie walking up flights of stairs and hearing the wind blow through the building with the occasional jet blast close by. Urban exploration at its finest.

Abandoned Town1

Abandoned Town1

Abandoned Town2

Abandoned Town2


Abandoned Town3

Abandoned Town3


That's a plane in the distance...

That's a plane in the distance...

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be heading to India!

Posted by CirrusNine 20:11 Archived in China Comments (2)

It's Raining

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Ok, I goofed and got the travel date wrong… I was going by my laptop calendar which is incorrect. I go to India tomorrow. Thank you Ada for pointing that out. This also means my blog entry dates are out of whack too...

Last night was challenging – Lucas and Ada are sick. Lucas barfed in the bed around midnight and Ada has been lethargic all day. Not sure if I’m next but I think the probiotics I’ve been taking for a month have helped… we’ll see.

There’s light rain today and the humidity is really up there. The tile floors in the house have condensation – very slippery. But, you know what’s fun?! The mosquito tennis racket zapper! I’ve started Jihad against the mosquitoes.

Mosquito Zapper

Mosquito Zapper


Took the scooter out for a solo ride (in between the showers) this morning and saw so many neat things: a garage full of women sewing jeans, men loading a cement mixer with sand, an abandoned neighborhood with waterfront houses, a village market, parents waiting for their kids outside of the school yard, a brick wall covered in green moss, and a bunch of confused ducks.

House by the pond

House by the pond


Self portrait

Self portrait

Mossy Wall

Mossy Wall

Posted by CirrusNine 00:44 Archived in China Comments (1)

Lightning and Thunder (5/7/2010)

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Good morning. Ada and Lucas are better today; very happy about that.

There was a HUGE thunderstorm last night, complete with lightning, very loud thunder and torrential rain. I went on the roof at 3:00 am to shot some video.

Took the scooter out after breakfast. Drove through a lychee tree farm that was flooded by the storm water. All of the drainage canals were high. I saw people fishing by the main canal with bamboo nets.

I went back to the abandoned town again to do some further exploration. Came across a house that had all of its furniture still intact – as if the people just left without any belongings. A layer of dirt over the stuff made for some great photos. Mild creepy factor, kept my ears open for any sounds in the house.

People Fishing After Storm

People Fishing After Storm

Lychee Farm Flooded

Lychee Farm Flooded


Road Through Abandoned Farm Town

Road Through Abandoned Farm Town

I’m bummed that the language barrier is not helping with my people pictures. I’ve stumbled upon some really neat situations but when asking permission to take pictures of the locals, I usually get dumbfounded look as they don’t understand me/I don’t understand them. I point to my camera and point to them with a nice smile but that doesn’t work. They are probably leery about a guy on a scooter taking pictures of them…guess that’s a good reason to be leery… Maybe I’ll try with a small cash bribe.

Posted by CirrusNine 08:18 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hello from Delhi! (5/7/2010)

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Hello from Delhi!

Its 4:50 am and I just woke up. The time zone is 2 -1/2 hrs earlier than Guangzhou’s.
So let me tell you about my trip in to Delhi… Ada’s brother drove me to the GZ airport; found my terminal and check-in went smoothly. Passengers were bused to a dirty China Southern Airlines Boeing 737. We boarded on the tarmac… no fancy jet terminal here…

Something to keep in mind with international travel is to forget your “real” life – you are in another land with different cultures. If you compare the differences too much, it will either make you laugh or get angry - best not to react negatively... but, for entertainment’s sake, please let me share some of these differences:

Three Little Indians
The flight into Delhi was full and I noticed that most passengers were men. Three particular Indian men were sitting a few rows ahead of me and were probably in their late twenties. 737s have overhead “call attendant” buttons that light up and create a loud “ding” over the aircraft intercom speakers. These three Indians kept pressing the button every few minutes to summon the stewardess. She would begrudgingly walk to their row, smack the light to turn it off and find out what they wanted. For the first 10 it was stupid questions like “how long is the flight”, “are there bathrooms that are closer to our seats?”, “when do we get food?”, etc… The last 10 requests were for drinks - questioning the quality of the water and asked for a sealed bottle to be opened in front of them (it was a large disposable bottle that the attendant poured for all customers).
Fast-forward to seconds after we land. The three Indians jump out of their seat and practically fall over because we are still screaming down the runway at 100 miles-an-hour. They scramble to get to their stuff in the overhead bins and are ready to go. Wait…, wait…., ok, five seconds later all the Indians in the plane follow suit and get out of their seats, some running and pushing to get their stuff. Incredible! Most of the Chinese passengers (myself included) just sat there in disbelief. Welcome to Incredible India!

Taxi!
I researched ground transportation months in advance but to actually see how you get an airport taxi is funny. First you buy a prepaid voucher from a window attendant inside the terminal. Apparently this keeps the drivers somewhat honest. Then, you have to push your way through a huge crowd outside the terminal and are supposed to wait in line for the next taxi to roll up. In reality, it doesn’t work. One has to run a few hundred feet down the taxi line to snag an empty one. It was a mad dash with absolute craziness! I jumped into a taxi run by this bloke that played the taxi game; They ask for your hotel name and tell you it’s not a good hotel or it’s in a bad area. Best thing is to say that you have already booked reservations and paid, otherwise the drivers will steer you to a shithole hotel and get a hefty commission for bringing you there.

I Do Not See a Reservation for you, Sir…
Your hotel reservation and proof of online payment cannot be found by hotel staff. They drag this on until you get weary and pay for a top-tier room. Ha! No fooling me ya sheisty pirates! I had my hotel payment email confirmation on my Iphone. This initially did not work as they wanted a printout. They directed me to a computer in the lobby and stood over me and watched me login to my email account and print the payment receipt. This scared the crap out of me because I have my master financial account spreadsheet in this email account. They accepted the receipt and I got my room. I quickly got on my Iphone and deleted all financial records from my email account. That had the potential for serious identity theft. Call me paranoid. I’ll change the password once at a safer Wi-Fi spot.

Ok, that’s enough typing for now. I’ll upload at the airport.

Wi-Fi no Worky at Airport

Posted by CirrusNine 08:33 Archived in India Comments (0)

Varanasi (5/8/2010)

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The one-hour flight to Varanasi was surprisingly good. I sat next to an IT manager from New Jersey who was working in Bangalore. She gave me some good tips on how to survive in India. Very nice person.

Upon arriving at the Varanasi airport, I was greeted by the friendly hotel driver who drove through some very crowded streets to the Alka Hotel. I have a sweet room that overlooks the Ganges River with a private balcony.

Varanasi_Busy_Streets.jpg
Typical_transport.jpg
Hotel_Balcony_View.jpg

I met Stanley and Shirley who also arrived today. They are from Taiwan and we hit it off pretty well. India is the first country in a round-the-world trip for them! They will be visiting Jordan, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Turkey, The UK, Chile and USA. I’m very happy to meet some like-minded adventurers. We will see the sights of Varanasi together... Safety in numbers.

Stanley_an.._Taiwan.jpg

Varanasi is the most disgusting, filthy town I have ever visited. There’s shit everywhere; people poop, cow poop, dog poop, goat poop, monkey poop. Men are openly pissing on walls. Raw sewage flows from pipes onto the waterfront walkways. The dead are being burned and their remains pushed into the river. This place is like a bad Salvador Dali picture with the horrible odors and noise to go with it... yet, there is something magical here...

Varanasi_Alleyway.jpg
Varanasi_Alleyway2.jpg

Tomorrow we will do the sunrise boat ride on the Ganges River.

Posted by CirrusNine 08:37 Archived in India Comments (0)

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