Category Archives: China

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The Differences between Taiwan and China

6th January 2015

 

cks7 China and Taiwan have shared a long history. There is still on going issues today that have separated both the countries and it’s people.

I am not going to go into the politics of the situations since I am just a traveler and not in tune enough with both societies to make those kind of statements but I did find it interesting to visit both China and Taiwan in a short space of time. There were lots of quirks that separated each country and there were also many traits that showed their important linked past. This is a a few things we noticed that differed between these two incredible countries .

The Train Stations 

China is one of the most populated countries in the world so you kind of expect their public transport to be packed to the rafters, but nothing can really prepare you for the game that is getting onto the subway. The elbows, pushing and craziness that accompanies every trip is a little over whelming but it is quick and it is efficient. The other weird aspect of being in China is having to go through security every time you enter a subway station. You can’t take certain items on board. It’s a strange thing to get use to even if it does mean the subways are safer. Taiwan on the other hand is like a different world. Straight lines everywhere, queues to get on trains, queues to get on escalators and even queues to queue. It’s fantastic. As British people who have lived in Korea for a while and got use to the pushing and shoving, it was heaven. The etiquette on the trains is also fantastic. There are signs all over asking you to text instead of call and reminders for you to be courteous…it actually says ‘courteous and thoughtful’ on the poster. We felt like the rude ones. Taiwan public transport is like a dream.

rsz_dsc_0393 The Food

Oh China and Taiwan, how happy you have made me. It isn’t much of a secret that Lee and I LOVE food and for me at the top of that list is Chinese food.

I had always grown up being warned that food in actual China isn’t like the Chinese food in the UK. I was worried that the tastes i’d come to love were an illusion and I would be eating nothing familiar but you know what, it was the same but just ten times better. We started in Beijing , the home of Peking duck then made our way to Shanghai for noodles and pork galore. We ate so many dumplings that I had to re buy my entire wardrobe. We boarded the plane, leaving China behind and headed to Taiwan wondering what we would find. Taiwan did not disappoint. A combination of night markets, breakfast restaurants and mango ices made our bellies very happy. Each day it was tough trying to decide what we would eat since we didn’t want to waste our bellies. The only reason I’m glad I don’t live in China and Taiwan is that I would weigh three million stone.

china5 china20 china21 rsz_2dsc_0105 rsz_dsc_1832 The Traditional vs The Modern 

China has history everywhere. The buildings, the people and the traditions can be seen on every inch of this country. The Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven and The Forbidden City ooze history. It is a shame that so many touristy things have been built up around them but they are still beautiful and you can imagine what it was like to be there when they were first built.

Taiwan has a lot of history too but it also has a huge modern artistic influence that wasn’t as prominent in China. When people left Taiwan they wanted a bit more freedom (It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that but for simplicity sake….) this meant they were probably the artistic, creative people. This can be seen everywhere, from the animated road signs to the statues that litter the streets. Art is a way of life here.

There isn’t one place I prefer more than the other because tradition has always influenced the modern so it’s impossible to separate them. It was great to go to China first to see the history and then be in Taiwan to experience what people had done with that knowledge. It was a great blend of worlds. I think seeing these two countries in close proximity to each other made each one better.

rsz_cks8 rsz_dsc_0211 rsz_dsc_0060 rsz_dsc_0024 The People 

Chinese people and Taiwanese people have been through a lot .They have seen extreme poverty, strife and change but they have come out as  happy and kind people. The Chinese as a whole were a little more pushy and sometimes rude but after being there for a period of time and meeting many lovely individuals it became clearer that what we interpret as rude is actually just ingrained culture.

China is a collectivist country which means it puts a large importance on the family and sharing. Taiwanese people are individualists which means they see the importance of being your own person. Both of these have their merits and their downfalls. The best analogy I can compare the good and bad aspects of a collectivist society is this:

Imagine a large family with lots of brothers and sisters. If things go wrong you have a massive support system and people to look out for you, you all have something in common.  The flip side to this is that it also means you have to fight to be heard. If you are sat with your family for dinner and your mum puts a plate of pizza on the table, everyone grabs for it to make sure they get some. Everyone is equal so there is no one apart from grabbing for the biggest piece to decide who deserves it.  The smallest person normally doesn’t get a look in….but this may just be my experience from being the youngest cousin in a very large family.

This is sometimes the feeling in China. When you get on a bus it definitely is every man for himself and when you see people driving it is definitely a competition. In Taiwan , like the US or the UK I imagine people can be more lonely since family isn’t the centre of the country as much as it is in a collective society, but it also means people have more personality shining through and tend to express themselves a lot more. Individualism sounds like it might be a selfish society but from my (very little experience) it seems the exact opposite. It seems to follow the line of ‘how would I want to be treated as an individual?’…or of course there is the old adage ’treat others as you would like to be treated’.

Both are really interesting ways to live, neither are wholly bad or wholly good.  I love the people in both countries and it was an honor to experience their ways of life.

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This lovely Taiwanese man heard Lee’s accent. Found out he liked rugby and that we are from the heart of rugby country….he ran off at full speed to bring Lee a Taiwanese scarf to wear and to have some pictures.

Babies 

This is one that mainly concerns China but twins are EVERYWHERE . I slowly started to notice it when we were in Beijing and then I couldn’t not see it. Lots of the littlest, cutest kids you’ve ever seen in matching clothes and squeaky shoes. So cute. The only theory Lee and I had on this is that since Chinese people can only have one child that IVF must be quite popular. (this is based on nothing but our odd brains though so don’t take that as fact).

The other thing that China likes to do with its babies is give them little arse-less chaps…yes you read that right. They don’t wear nappies (diapers for all you American lovelies out there) they save the environment and let the kiddies go to the toilet when they need to. It was an odd thing the first time I saw it but after a while I got use to it. It’s just another one of those weird things you discover when you travel. Although I have heard from Chinese people that this is more of a Chinese country tradition and is dying out. It was definitely more popular around the tourist attractions like The Forbidden City and things, which would make sense.

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There isn't a photo of the babies in arse-less chaps but believe me it's true

There isn’t a photo of the babies in arse-less chaps but believe me it’s true

So there are many differences between each country. Some born out of being far away from each other and other from their history and past but they are both fantastic places with fantastic elements to get excited about. If you are looking for something to add to your 2015 travel bucket list then China and Taiwan will not disappoint.

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Shanghai

5th September 2014

shanghai After four whirlwind days in Beijing we were exhausted and in need of a rest so we did the only thing a pair of smart people would do and head to one of the busiest cities in the world. Shanghai.

Shanghai is a place that’s mentioned in movies. It’s not a place you actually believe exists but I’m so glad it isn’t just a figment of writers imagination but a delicious, bright and exciting city.We had two days to explore so the second we dropped our bags off at the hotel we hit the streets. We headed to The Bund (the famous water front) and were happy to see that our walk to The Bund lead us through the main shopping street , and an incredible market with the best/cheapest dumplings I’ve ever tasted. It was as if tiny villages were isolated within these streets.

market2 We got to The Bund and we took in the fantastic skyline. The city is much newer compared to Beijing. I’ve never been in a place that has been so architecturally planned.

After we took in some beautiful views we were kind of lost. We had made such a huge to-do list  for our Chinese and Taiwanese trips but most of the things we had written were about Beijing and Taiwan so it was lovely to not have a schedule and just play the day as it came.We decided we wanted to head over to the Pearl building (the tall red bauble Christmas tree type tower) so followed the signs for a sightseeing tunnel since we couldn’t see any bridges. We mainly wanted to go there to understand how a tunnel under water can be a sightseeing trip. We were intrigued to say the least.

skyline3 You may assume that it would be a glass tunnel with sea life or educational videos but no…it’s a long light tube with random music and Star Wars sound effects. It was crazy!

tunnel Lee and I were silent for a good ten minutes after we travelled the tunnel just because there isn’t much you can say to each other after you experience something as random as a inflatable flailing arm man dancing to dinosaur sounds with multicoloured fairy lights hung everywhere. People have asked me if I’d recommend it and I think the truth of it is, I would never recommend it but I’d never tell you not to do it.

The island that houses the Pearl building is made up of extremely fancy shopping malls as well as beautiful hotels. We were going to travel to the top of the Pearl but it was extremely costly and the lines were stupidly long.

Lucky crickets . We were tempted to buy them just to free them.

Lucky crickets . We were tempted to buy them just to free them.

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The rest of our day was spent eating our way though the city. For a big city it is such a cheap place to eat. We tried peasant pork which was like someone had marinated pork belly in caramel for days. It was fantastic.

food There is one thing we should point out at this juncture in the story. When Lee was booking our hotels (he’s addicted to booking.com) he showed me a few options. A cheap hostel with a shared bathroom and bunk beds…or for 3 dollars more a 5 star hotel in central Shanghai. Can you guess which one we choose?

Our room with a view

Our room with a view

Our room was incredible. We had a living room AND a bedroom. We had a super duper incredible shower and a HUGE BATH. In Korea a bath can only be had if you go to a special building called a Jimjilbang so I was a happy bunny. We also had a view. I’ve never had a view in a hotel room (in fact in New York our view was a wall). The name of the place was Salvo hotel and if you are heading to Shanghai we’d recommend it.

We dragged ourselves out of the room and hit the town. First stop was something I’d recommend for everyone who heads to Shanghai, The Shanghai Circus. This was the most incredible show I’d ever seen. I still have no idea how most of the things were done but if you think Circ Du Soleil is good then wait until you see this. We paid about 30 pound for our tickets and were in the 3rd best seating section. All the seats are good so I wouldn’t advice paying more than 30 pound for your ticket, if you are on a budget the 15 pound tickets are still great but you get a fantastic central view of all the action in the 30 pound section. Please go because it is was definitely my Shanghai highlight. The show is on every night and starts at 7:30 so there’s no reason to miss it. After some delicious burgers near the circus at a place called ‘Blue Frog’ where it was BOGOF Monday (woohoo) we hit the town. We hadn’t been able to go for drinks in Beijing since we could never get a taxi and we feared being stuck in Beijing for the night but in Shanghai Taxi’s were everywhere and we hit a bar called Phebe3d.

phebe Now let me tell you about this little place. Phebe3D is like no place I’ve ever been. It is a nightclub that has two ways to enjoy it. You can go in and pay a lot for drinks, get a private champagne party with your own concierge or you can pay 10 dollars and have all you can drink spirits and beer as well as two cocktails to choose from. They will also give you vouchers for three Jagermisters, tequila or Budweiser. If you are like us then this isn’t really a decision. We paid those 10 dollars so fast the bartenders head was spinning. It seemed that this rule was put in place for Westerners since no Chinese people seemed to be partaking in the champagne cocktails and all you can drink rules. We had a blast and danced the night away, we were propositioned by some extremely beautiful escorts and had to pass a table of either celebrities or gangsters to get to the bathroom. Their table looked out onto the toilets and their very large bodyguards made going past them a scary proposition. Oh did I also mention that the bathroom was just stalls surrounding a giant glass white grand piano with a lady in full evening dress playing classic music. The jux-tu-position of this next to a chinese man throwing up in a sink was one I won’t forget in a hurry. Oh Shanghai!

A few hours of dancing and laughing and we headed outside only to be pulled into the neighboring basement bar by the alluring sounds of a Latin band. Inside we found a real Brazilian bar with all manor of dancing taking place. I’ve never seen so many people moving so beautifully. Shakira would have been proud.

My favourite part of the night was watching poor girls get grabbed by Brazilian men and dragged spinning onto the dance floor in a whirlwind of sexy moves. The funny thing about this wasn’t the confused and lustful looks of all these ladies but of the glares of their two left footed boyfriends watching from the side lines as their girlfriends basically become pregnant on the dance floor with these smooth latin strangers. It was amusing.

Lee held onto me tight and we skirted the edges of the dance floor, finished our drinks and headed to get a taxi home, which was cheap and easy. This shocked us after the debacle of trying to find any available taxi’s in Beijing.

street The next day after a obligatory 6p dumpling breakfast we headed out into the city and made our way to the traditional markets. The buildings that housed the markets were old traditionally designed feats of genius. I assume they are all modern fabrications but unlike Beijing they felt more authentic. The markets were lovely and Lee dragged me into a shop and forced upon me some beautiful Chinese traditional silk dresses (oh poor me!). The main issue with this area was the sellers pushing their wares on you. Every street had men and woman with laminated cards running at you trying to sell you silk and watches. Kindness can be mistaken here, it’s probably more likely they are trying to trick you into entering their shop. We did encounter a couple who asked us to take a photo for them. They seemed pleasant enough and wanted to practice their English. Unfortunately it soon became apparent that they were just trying to get us to go to a tea market and there were other couples all around us accosting westerners doing the same thing. It was a little insulting and became a little awkward when they were so forceful but we luckily worked out what was happening and moved on.

market signs The next thing we did in Shanghai I will always regret. We went to the Shanghai zoo. I had read quite good things online so I was hoping to see a Panda and well looked after animals. This is not what we found. It was awful to the point that I was almost was in tears. The cages were small, the people that worked there beeped their horns loudly as they drove trucks around startling and annoying the animals constantly, people had no idea how to behave around animals and would bang the glass and flash lights in their eyes as well as smoke all over them but the worst part of the day was when we entered the crocodile enclosure to see people throwing money at these poor beasts as well as litter. I don’t mean just throwing litter in their cage, I mean actually at their heads. One animal must have been hurt since he was un-moving and bleeding profusely from his eye, the wound was the size of half his face and yet people still threw coins. When we saw this we ran to find help only to find that no one gave a crap (sorry to sound so angry but it really upset us). No one cared the animal was bleeding and possibly dead. After that I filmed it as a last resort to show the world what was happening and we left. We saw about 5% of the zoo so the rest of it could be wonderful but we’d seen enough. We vowed to never go to a zoo again. Animals definitely should be in the wild, large nature reserves or at the very least in a zoo where the people care about them.

Anyway I’m sorry to be so negative in this post but it shocked me and I can say I judged the people of China a lot more harshly because of the experience. Mistreating animals to that extent makes you look bad as a nation and as a people.

skyline skyline2 When the sun started to dim we jumped on a ferry for 30p and headed across the water and back just to see the lights. The ferry was packed and it was uncomfortable at times but we did get great views of the Shanghai skyline.

jazz That night we got dolled up and headed to the Peace hotel. Lee had read about this hotel because it had a famous Jazz bar. Now you guys reading this may not know this but I LOVE jazz and swing. I could sit and listen to the 1940 crooners till the cows come home so I got dressed up and took a seat in this little bar. A word of warning is that there is a drinks minimum which is about 15 pounds per person which is a shame because we saw a lot of westerners walk away because of this but the wine was good, the music was incredible and the atmosphere was beyond romantic.

Once we sat down Lee explained that this Jazz band had been playing together for over 60 years. These little old men in their white tuxes blew me away with their skills. There is in fact a documentary about them called ‘As Time Goes by in Shanghai’. Give it a watch. They are legends. piano

When we left the bar we stopped to look at the hotel around us and realised the history here. I approached a piano with a gold sign and read that it was a Steinway that had been played by Charlie Chaplin and Cole Porter. I lost my little mind (and sneakily opened it just to touch the keys). I headed home on a cloud of good music and wine but was maybe a little too lost in my happy moment as I grabbed onto Lee as I slipped on something. My mind jumped to what everyone’s mind jumps to ‘I’ve just stepped in poop’ but fear not, it was just a dead RAT!!! AHHHH even writing that sentence sends shivers down my spine. But I think this evening explained Shanghai perfectly. Surprising romantic talent, colourful skylines and slipping on rats. The new and wonderful mixed with a very busy and sometimes dirty city.

Don’t let this put you off though after all, it’s not a city without a few rats. Even dead ones.

We rested up and were fresh and ready to head onto our next destination. It is rare on a holiday that one thing on your check list is the form of transport you take to leave a country but in Shanghai this was definitely the case for us. We had read a lot about the Maglev train and couldn’t wait to try it out.

maglev maglev2 What is a Maglev you ask? Well Maglev stands for Magnetic Levitation and it does exactly what it says on the tin. This new technology has been around for a while now but its full potential is only now starting to be utilised. This train has no moving parts so can reach up to crazy speeds in a matter of minutes. We went from zero to 300 mph in about 5 minutes and we were going at the conservative daytime speed since the Maglev in Shanghai can easily get up to 465 mph. The reason this was so fascinating to us both (apart form the fact we are massive geeks) Is that this should be the future. Theoretically if you placed a maglev in a vacuum tube there is no limit to the speeds it could reach because of the lack of friction. The only limit at the moment is the human ability to withstand these forces but theoretically you could have a maglev train go around the world in two hours. It’s an exciting technology and really exciting to see it being used in China. Maybe one day (and I’m going all Isaac Asimov on you now) we could stop air travel all together.

Anyway I’ve gone off on a Steven Hawkins type tangent. It was a perfect end to our two lovely days. Shanghai is a lot more alive than Beijing. It felt as if a kid and combined all his different Lego sets to give you a landscape of varying yet beautiful buildings. The word I’d use to sum up Shanghai would be jux-tu-position (that’s one word right?). Everything in this crazy city is fighting against each other. The new modern beauty with the dirty side streets, the advanced technology with the simplistic markets and very forward thinking people mixed with rudeness like I’ve never experienced (except in Beijing). But we were only there for two days and we did love the place. It felt alive (and the food was divine).

 

Have you been to Shanghai? What did you think? Are you planning a trip? What are you planning on doing? Let us know and if you have any questions about this fabulous city feel free to send them our way. signature

The Great Wall of China

22nd August 2014

wall12 This day was the big one. Our trip to The Great Wall. We choose to go to Mutianyu because it was close to Beijing but also a little less crowded than other spots. It also had the benefit of a toboggan on the way down. Now I’m not saying that the toboggan was what swayed us but it sure did help.

wall10 We knew we wanted to make our own way to the wall since the tours were extremely expensive but we did get a little swindled. We caught the 916 bus to Huairou from Dongzhimen bus station which only cost us 5RMB but before reaching our final destination some men jumped on the bus shouting “Stop for Great Wall. Stop for Great Wall.” As the only two foreigners on the bus everyone stared at us until we jumped off.  Once the bus was just a dust cloud in the distance  we realised that this wasn’t our stop at all but a trick to get you to pay more for a taxi . I was enraged as I hate stuff like this (but obviously silently since I’m British), Lee is the calmer one in situations like this and said it wouldn’t be too much of a difference so started to haggle. I’d read online how much it was to get to the wall from the bus stop so I was ready. We had also read a rule to work by in China. What ever price they say, it’s normally worth 3% of that price. This seemed cruel to us. We couldn’t bring ourselves to quote back 3% of their offer so we would say 10% and haggle from there.

wall13 This taxi driver had us by the wontons. Lee was in charge of haggling and I was ready to see his skills after years of living in the haggling capital of the world,Saudi Arabia. So when the guy quoted us a outrageous price, Lee dropped it by 10 RMB and then gave in I was left opened mouthed. His haggling skills were obviously rusty (plus he’s a big softie) so I stepped in and got us an additional discount. Not something I’d have ever done in the past but teaching middle school kids has obviously hardened my soul. Later Lee did point out that we are talking about pennies. It’s easy to forget how little  things cost in China compared to the west . I really was arguing about pennies. In the end a taxi to and from the wall which was about an hour in total (as well as a escort to the ticket office and shuttle bus) cost us about 180RMB for there and back which is 45RMB. It’s actually a great deal. You couldn’t get a taxi to the local shop for that price in London. I felt like a proper tycoon for being annoyed once I realised he had waited at the bottom of the wall all day  to drive us home. That money was his entire day’s wage and he was a lovely man. But if you are in that situation you may not be lucky enough to get a nice driver like us so make sure the bus is at your stop when you hop off. It will make it easier to haggle with those taxis.

Saying all that, Lee was taken off haggling duty for the rest of our trip.

Anyway, the wall was a mystery to us. Once we arrived we couldn’t see the wall itself and had no idea what to do. We were ushered (by our enthusiastic driver) to the shuttle bus ticket office. We were coaxed very quickly past lots of hat and trinket shops and even a burger king that was being build, yes you can get a whopper on the wall. The ticket cost about 40p and we jumped on board. This shuttle took us to the cable car entrance. Believe me it was as confusing on the day as it is to read. I’ve never taken so many modes of transport just to see some bricks. At 10am we had already got a bus, a taxi , a shuttle bus and now a cable car. We bought a cable car ticket up and a ticket for the toboggan down. We also got an entrance ticket to the wall which was discounted with our Korean ARC cards and left the driver behind in the boiling sun. All of this happened in such as rush that it was if we were part of an assembly line in a Looney tunes cartoon.

wall8 We took a second to take a breath, put on crazy amounts of sun tan lotion (factor 50++ for my see through skin) and headed to the cable car. It was only at this point that we realised we hadn’t bought tickets for the shiny new looking cable car with enclosed pods and comfy seats but the chair lift. Lee may be one of the tallest men around but heights aren’t exactly his favourite thing so the chair lift wasn’t a happy discovery. He jumped on like a champ and we soared up into the Chinese skies.

That’s when we saw it, sprawled across the mountain. The Great Wall. And great it was. It curved and dropped effortlessly with the mountain peeks and gave the impression that years ago a powerful nation had walked along it. It was only very high up that we also realised, like a slap to the face that we were at the end of the wall. Most people get the cable car up, walk along and get the toboggan down. Unfortunately our chair lift and toboggan were at the same place. This meant we would have to walk the wall once and then walk back. Most people find it tough to do once; we were going to do it twice in 4 hours. With a giggle and a shrug we warned out feet of the day ahead and started to climb.

wall3 When you see pictures of the wall it looks like soft inclines and calming surroundings.  The calming surroundings part was right but soft inclines – hell no! The drops and inclines on this thing were extreme. At one point we thought we’d gone the wrong way as it didn’t seem possible you were meant to climb it. Everyone one walking towards us nearing the end of their trek was red faced and clinging onto the railings. Who would have thought that a 4 hour trek on the hottest day of the year would have been hard? We even had to stop and help a poor German man at one point who was suffering to offer him some water. We were all in this together.

Lee looking for the huns

Lee looking for the huns

The views were stunning; the mountains around us looked still and peaceful. When you climbed to a peak you could see the wall all around you and  it felt serene. It is sometimes hard to picture the history around you when you visit historical sites but here it was easy to imagine guards at their post watching our for Mongolians, defending their country.

wall4 Every few hundred meters along the wall there is a guard tower; these offered a perfect rest bite and much needed shade. They were filled with tourists reapplying sun screen and chatting with each other.

The photos definitely don’t do this place justice and it was one of those places where you needed a camera. Although most people will think, ‘yes I’ve seen the wall before’ you will look at the photos and remember the achievement of walking the bloody thing. I’m tired just thinking about it.

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problem as a couple is finding people to take photos of you together.

We made it to the cable car (which stung knowing that should have been our original starting point) and headed back. That’s when we started to notice the tourists thinning. It was about 12pm and the sun was at its highest but the heat had been the same since about 9am so it didn’t make too much difference. On the walk back we had almost no one to share the wall with and it was fantastic. If you do want a bit more of a peaceful walk I’d recommend going at about 10am like we did. Finally after 3 hours, we did it! We walked the wall, TWICE. That’s when we noticed two things:

1. An extra part of the wall the other side of the chair lift

2. The huge queue for the toboggan

So we made deals with out feet to be kind to them later if they could just get us through this last trek. And we set off.

wall6 wall14 I’ll list some tips at the end of this article but we took 3 huge bottles of water in a backpack when we went and we drank all of them. Lee carried these all day like a trooper. I don’t know how we would have done the trek otherwise. There are occasionally locals selling water on the wall but we only saw 2 in the 4 hours we were on it so it’s smart to pack your own.

wall2 The last bit was by far the hardest and most challenging. It was the steepest wall I’ve seen intended for climbing but we persevered. People were helping each other and maneuvering their way up. This part of the wall may not be able to be done by everyone particularly older people but this is the only part that I’d say was  un-doable for some. With the rest of the wall, anyone can do it as long as you aren’t in a rush. This extra bit was hard core.

The money shot

The money shot

We pushed our vertigo down, got to the top and were rewarded with spectacular views. The wall was laid out in front of us and the old, untouched wall was behind us. It was odd to see the part of the wall that hasn’t been renovated. Covered in trees and falling apart. It really gave you an idea of how old this bunch of bricks really was.

wall1 Once at the top we sat on the cold stone in the shade, caught our breath and dragged our butts back to the toboggan. Luckily by now there was no queue so we were able to get straight on. It’s embarrassing to say this, since I was stood on one of the wonders of the world but it was my favourite part of the day. Since it was quiet we could whizz down the whole way and really pick up some speed. I am a bit of a speed demon so I had a great time. It was the perfect end to the trip. We headed back to the taxi and posed for some photos with traditional guards (which cost us way to much) and slept the entire way home.

wall9 I’d recommend this day trip to anyone. It was tough but it’s only as tough as you want it to be. There are ways to get down on both ends so you can always just stroll for a bit and head back either end. If you do trek it like we did on the hottest day of the year there will be moments when your whole body is telling you it is not worth it, but looking back I’m so glad we did it.

Tips for visiting The Great Wall –

. Bring your own water (and plenty of it)

. Bring snacks

. Have a camera which has lots of memory space, you will be taking pictures of bricks    than you ever thought possible.

.The general rule when taking photos is more sky than land in landscape shots; this is the one time to break that rule.

. Wear a hat

. Check that you are buying the mode of transport you want and where they are. I’d advised the cable car up and the toboggan down.

. Later in the day is much quieter

. It’s not a race! Take your time

. Learn a bit about the walls history before you go as it will make it even more significant.

. If you are a Korean national or have a Korean ARC card you will get a big discount on the entrance price.

.The cable car/ toboggan and chair lift are about 80RMB each way.

. Some great info on getting to the wall can be found here http://www.wildgreatwall.com/mutianyu-bus-867-to-visit-great-wall/

Are you planning a trip to the wall? What part are you heading to? Have you visited a different part of the wall, what did you think? Did you find the climb as hard as us lazy bones? We look forward to hearing your stories. signature

Beijing – Day 1 & 2

21st August 2014

china15 Wow. That’s about the only word to sum up the last ten days. Lee and I travelled our way through Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan. We loved every second of it.

china20 china21 china22 Unfortunately this voyage was a hand luggage only trip so I couldn’t take a laptop to write. I wish I had because the countries are all blurring into each other and it’s hard to not compare each one to the next. But that’s why I take so many photos. Hoping that it jogs my mind and keeps all the memories fresh.

Over the next few weeks I want to write a few different posts about the things we got up to but today I thought I’d write about our first stop. Beijing.

china31 Neither Lee nor I have ever been to China so we were stupidly excited to get on the plane. In Korea you used to need 6 months on your alien visa to entry China (in case you sneak in and stay) I think this has recently changed but please check.We had our visa’s ready, our small bags packed and after a bump in the road at the airport which required us to pay 50 dollars each to add our middle name to our plane tickets* we were on our way.

My first impressions of Beijing international airport were that of utter shock. I naively thought that brand names wouldn’t be a big feature in China and that things would be quite plain. I thought that the political rules in the country would prevent brands, lots of advertising and lots of design elements but the first thing we saw was a Starbucks, Pizza hut and Mcd’s as well as the extremely grand airport. The airport was huge, clean and boiling! We whizzed though immigration with ease and before we knew it we were at our hotel. There was a definite lack of English compared to even Korea which we struggled with at times but all signs and subways have English so we could always get around.

china4 china1 Once we threw our bags down we ventured out into the city. The first thing we stumbled upon was a bizarre old Chinese town. It seemed like a recreation with modern shops and markets. There was lovely old trams running up and down the street and lots of happy Chinese tourists taking pictures. It felt as if we walked for hours. After walking around a corner we realised we were about to see the Forbidden City. Being the weirdos that we are we didn’t want to see the forbidden city until the next day when we were fresh and ready so we made sure to look the opposite way while we ran past. To anyone else we looked like crazy people but we scuttled past and made our way to the food markets.

china18 The food markets were incredible. It was called the Donghuamen and everyone should go there. It was very busy but the smells and tastes were delightful. I wanted to try everything, minus the stinky tofu and the scorpions. china8 china9 We sampled spring rolls and vowed to come back for lunch the next day. china7 We had to drag our bellies away since we had promised ourselves that this day was set aside for – Duck! china5 china6

Peking duck (Peking being the old name of Beijing) is a specialty and it did not disappoint. We headed to a restaurant we had heard was good but it was unfortunately packed to the rafters, the kind man who runs the restaurant had lots of time for us and drew us a little map of how to get to their sister restaurant. We tracked it down and enjoyed a delicious dinner and our first Chinese beer. It was some of the best duck we’d both ever tasted. china16

china17  We have always loved Chinese food. It is my favourite food in the world and I could eat it every day but we’d always heard that British Chinese isn’t actual Chinese food. I partly expected to get off the plane and be handed Kimchi but luckily the Chinese we were accustomed to was authentic Chinese and my stomach and taste buds had a very happy holiday.

china12 china23 The next day we rised early and headed to the famous Forbidden City. To get to it we needed to pass though a subway station. If you aren’t aware, Beijing is a heavily militarised city. When you want to enter a subway your bags must be checked for weapons. Police and guards are everywhere. I lost count how many I saw. Random spot checks are also in place so if you do visit make sure to carry your passport. I don’t imagine there is much crime in China since they’d probably make it a few steps before being taken down. We saw bomb disposal units and soldiers with huge assault riffles at every turn and it was extremely terrifying, especially since they didn’t look like they were happy to see to westerners in their capital. Please don’t let this put you off though, Beijing is an incredible city full of history and things to see. IT was impressive to us and we live in Korea so had experienced similar art and culture since China has a big place in Korea history. If you have never been to Asia then you should jump on a plane this second to experience it.

china10 china19 A good example of how normal the military is here is that the locals didn’t seem to mind their presence at all and carried on with their days, sometimes even mocking the soldiers loud chants as they walked passed. china14 Once we finally pushed our way through the crowds we arrived in Tiananman Square only to find that the Mausoleum was closed. It normally closes at 12pm but due to the heat it closed at 10am. I think that we’d have had to be queuing from about 6:30am to get in. So unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go into the tomb and see Mau but we weren’t too disappointed since it seems a little creepy to look at an embalmed body, especially since he requested to be cremated. It’s odd from all sides. We headed to the city itself and wandered the parks. We’d heard the parks and lakes were stunning so when we paid and entered to find a small muddy patch of water we were a little under whelmed. There wasn’t much order to the park and we didn’t really know where to go.…it was only after we gave up and left the area to get a drink that we realised the pond was actually just a moat around the forbidden city and not the lakes at all. We were being extremely stupid. The Forbidden City is actually called the museum of the Forbidden City so unless you buy a ticket for that you won’t actually see the place. Doh!

china13 We wanted to head back in but the day had been long and the sun was high and we wanted to explore some markets so we set the plan aside for later in the week. It’s also important to note that our trip took place in August which was boiling! There were no clouds and the sun was relentless. We hoped from shade to shade the entire holiday. It was beautiful but if you are thinking of going then avoiding this time may be a good idea. You can always embrace the Asian way and use a parasol if you are a lady or do like the Chinese men do and raise their shirts up over their bellies. It was always cute to see little Chinese men walking around with Buddha bellies on display.

china2 My favourite part of day was a trip to The Empire hotel where we drank cocktails and looked out at the rooftops of this ancient land. (This was when we realised our mistake that we’d missed the city altogether.) It was while I was sat on the roof drinking a lychee martini that I realised like a slap in the face. Wow we are in China. china3 china11

*This seems to be a rule for just one man in Daegu airport who refused to let us on without our full names being added. We weren’t asked to add them when we ordered our tickets so it was a little annoying. I would have understood but my first name is so long that only two letters of my middle name made the ticket. Paying 50 dollars for the letter ‘LO’ was slightly annoying. We didn’t have this problem in any other airport.

Have you been to Beijing? What did you love seeing? Did you notice the military presence? What did you love or hate about the place? Or are you planning a trip. What are you planning to see and do? Let us know your thoughts.

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Beijing – an Instagram glimpse

13th August 2014

Hello there, we are currently in lovely Beijing and packing up to carry on our travels. Tomorrow we are heading to Shanghai! My poor camera has been having a proper workout (We have taken far too many photos) . Unfortunately all of them need a laptop to edit and get them online so they will have to wait since this is a hand luggage only trip. But in the meantime here is an Instagram glimpse of this lovely city. image image

We don't have limes in Korea so I'm very excited

We don’t have limes in Korea so I’m very excited

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Our To-Do list in China and Taiwan

29th July 2014

IMG_8640 Only 8 days now and we will be winging our way to China! I have all of the Bruce Lee classics as well as Mulan and Kung Pow ready to be watched over the next week just to get me a little bit more excited. Yes, those cultural classics.

We will only be in each location for a few days so I’ve gone into crazy planning mode to make sure we get the most out of our trip. We aren’t ones for packed schedules but we do like to have a few things we know we will see.

So here is our rough list:

China – Beijing

  • The Great Wall – obviously this is on the list and we’ve decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the wall as it promises to be less crowded (there is also a sled ride down the mountain which swayed us slightly) . It’s almost a little daunting to imagine standing on a wall I’ve seen so many times in pictures and movies. I think until we are stood on it and taking silly touristy photos it won’t feel real.
  • The Forbidden City – Again this was always going to be on the list. It’s such an iconic place and it will feel like we’ve stepped into every image of China we’ve seen our whole lives once we are there.
  • Eat Peking duck – Obviously food is a huge part of our holidays and China will definitely not be any different. I have had a soft place in my heart for Chinese food since I can remember and I plan on eating dumplings until I resemble one but this tasty duck is going to be a treat. Get in our bellies.
  • Mongolian Lamb – Although we won’t be in Mongolia we are excited to see the influences from this mysterious country. In Korea you can’t get lamb unless you really hunt it down so we plan on filling up on the stuff while we can.

China – Shanghai

  • The Maglev train – this is something Lee introduced me to. It’s a train that signals the future has arrived. It runs on magnets and is suspended above the air so it doesn’t need a conventional. It displays a technique that could stop air travel all together. If you put a maglev train in a vacuumed tunnel there would be no friction and there for no limit to its speed. Theoretically you could travel around the world in two hours. If we could find a way for our fragile bodies to handle those speeds that is. At the moment it’s just a train between Shanghai airport and the city but it’s a start.
  • Antique markets – I can’t wait to find some interesting objects here from old China and the surrounding countries. Hopefully I may find some vintage clothes shops dotted around too.
  • The Bund – This is the waterfront area that surrounds the Huangpu River. It is meant to be beautiful and provides great views on a lazy day. We are hoping to find a nice spot to sit and sip a lychee martini; after all, we are in China.

Taiwan – Taipei

  • Taipei 101 – I love the views from the tops of high buildings in cities, it always puts the city into perspective. Lee isn’t a huge fan of heights, ironically for a tall man. But he loves the views (if he’s not looking down). It will really feel we have arrived in Taiwan once we are up here.
  • Ounce – A weird edition to the list but this speakeasy bar is right up our street. A small coffee shop with a secret button leading to a 1930’s themed cocktail bar. We will be running there to spend many hours drinking unique cocktails and to dance the night away.
  • Modern Toilet – Part of what excites me about Taiwan is its kookiness. There are many themed restaurants in Taipei and this seems like this is the most bizarre end of the scale. Chocolate poop shaped ice cream served in toilet bowls anyone?
  • Breakfast food – When I’ve been reading about Taiwan, especially on Tom’s fantastic blog found here , the food items that excites me more than most is the Taiwanese breakfast food. I love breakfast. Bacon, pancakes, pastry, eggs…all of it. Taiwan promises lots of different exciting things to try.
  • STREET FOOD! – This goes for the entire trip. We want to eat Szechwan chicken, lamb curries, bacon pancakes, red pork, beggars chicken…all of it. Come on week. Go quicker!

For anyone thinking of traveling to these places please check out these fantastic blogs :

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