Tag Archives: China

Back in the West

I’ve made it out the other side of six months in Asia and over five weeks in China – five weeks behind the Great Firewall, which blocks WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Google and more. It was an epic experience; every day brought some new amazement, whether it was an 8,800-kilometre wall or having to use a public squat toilet with no door or toilet paper. Five weeks is not enough time to see everything I’d like to in China, but it was enough time in China for the sake of my sanity.

One of the highlights was the people I met – both the Chinese, who are some of the nicest people I’ve met, and the tourists. Each country seems to attract certain types of travellers and in China I met some really interesting people, including two guys riding a tandem bike from Shanghai to Paris, another who was living in China by selling his art on the street, Swedish and German musicians, a New Yorker food artist and an applicant to the Mars One project who is in the running for a one-way ticket to establish a colony on Mars. Definitely expanding my ideas on life and career options.

I visited Guangzhou, which is China’s third largest city, Yunnan province with some of the best food and sights of the country, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou National Park, Xi’an and Beijing. Beijing was the highlight and also the only place where I saw more than a handful of Westerners, though I still was asked by a Chinese roughly three times a day for a photo and still had a severe language barrier. While I know the very basics of Mandarin, so little English is spoken in China that pretty much everything is really difficult. It’s not like any other country I’ve been – where you can get by with English and a phrase book. I’m so glad I went there but I won’t go back to China until I know the language.

Flying from Beijing to Stockholm (via a twelve-hour overnighter in St Petersburg airport) meant my return to Western civilisation after six months in Asia and I’m suffering reverse culture shock. So many white people! I can drink the tap water! And I can flush toilet paper down the loo, and I can sit rather than squat. No one is staring at my white skin or taking photos of me. I’ve been eating brown bread and cheese and salads and Greek food and sushi. On the downside, everything is crazy-expensive.

But please don’t think I’m back to normality. First of all it’s snowing here, which is amazing to me. Secondly, I’m staying with a Swedish friend who has a Finnish mother and Iranian father, as well as some Israeli relatives currently visiting. Amazingly, they all speak English to me but on any given day they’re communicating in Finnish, Swedish, Farsi and Hebrew. And thirdly, Dad was wrong when he emailed me saying that he’s happy I’m back in the safer Western world. Two days after landing in Sweden I came down with the worst stomach bug I’ve had in years. I had nothing like it in all of Asia. Luckily it was gone within 24 hours and now I’m pretty much over that and the jet lag. But I’m still hiding out inside, away from the -2 degree weather.

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My bed in St Petersburg airport.

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High tech in Russia.

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The view from my balcony in Stockholm. SNOW!

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Some Aussie culture for my Swedish family.

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Birthday, lady boys and other highlights of Pai, second time around

Happy birthday me! Such a strange birthday this year as I’m in transit between Pai and China. Left Pai yesterday after 3.5 weeks and caught a bus with a friend all the way down to Bangkok. Slept really well thanks to a Sangsom (Thai rum) nightcap! When I woke up in Bangkok this morning it took about 15 minutes for me to remember that it was my birthday. I’m killing time in Bangkok today and flying to China tonight.

Reflecting on a few of the funny things that have happened over the past few weeks and thought I’d consolidate it into one post, because I’ve been a bit lazy with the blog lately.

1. Ladyboy massage
I love ladyboys, they’re so fabulous, but I never thought I’d spend an hour being rubbed intimately by one. Still, not a bad massage!

2. Meditation
A cafe in town does a free 30-minute guided massage three times a week and I wanted to give it a try. I’d never done meditation before but thought it would be good for me. I went four times and while I’m not very good at turning my brain off, I’d like to try it some more.

3. Being the longest-serving student during my last training session
I knew it was time to move on when, in my last Muay Thai session, I was the person who had been training at Charn Chai the longest (eight weeks). I got to lead the abdominal session at the end, which was a dream come true haha. Power trip…

4. Eating chicken blood, chicken tendons, raw pork…
I think I mentioned earlier that this time in Pai I ate my meals at the gym. It’s all local market or home cooked food, a lot of it rather mysterious. Coagulated chicken blood in soup broth, raw minced pork, deep fried chicken tendons – and I didn’t even get sick!

5. Valentine’s Day rose
I should have realised in advance, judging by the overly dramatic Thai soapies and music video clips, that the Thais would be nuts for Valentine’s Day. As I mentioned in my last post, I woke up on the 14th to find a rose from the guy who managed my guest house (who has a girlfriend and a new baby). Not such a welcome gift, actually.

6. Thai honesty
I was told twice in 24 hours by Thai men that I should do more exercise because I’m ‘too big’. One of them followed up the next day by asking if I’d weighed myself yet. When I explained that Western women don’t like men commenting on their weight, he said ‘I know, that’s why I’m telling you, so that you know’. I think he might have missed the point.

7. Hello Kitty wheels
As I was staying a few kilometres out of town, my guest house provided a bike for me to use. Best part was that it was a hot pink, Hello Kitty, double seater bicycle and it was my constant companion for three weeks. I went everywhere on it, gave people lifts on the back, and actually crashed it one Saturday night trying to ride down the main street with a friend on the back (no major injuries though!). Sangsom strikes again…

My time ended with a three-day birthday celebration – a barbeque at the gym on Saturday night, ice cream sundaes on Sunday and tonight, I’m staying in a nice hotel when I land in Guangzhou, China. Here’s to 24 being as fun as 23.

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Birthday girls Tai and I – note the kilos of icing on those cakes

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Andre and I leaving Pai for our 13-hour bus trip to Bangkok

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Pad work with Turbo

Life in Pai – again

I’m back in Pai to regroup, settle and plan for a few weeks. Having been on the move for the best part of three months through Cambodia, Laos and the south of Thailand I was in need of a familiar and easy place to call home before heading to China on the 25th of Feb.

I’ve had a lot of downtime and exercise, both of which I’d been craving. I’m training only once a day unlike last time, meaning I have a lot of free time. I’ve finally shaken a chest cough I’d had for about a month, I’m feeling fit and healthy again and I’m only eating out once a day. My other meal is at the gym – straight after each training session we gorge ourselves on food from the markets. It’s mostly chicken, pork, vegetables, soups and white rice but I’ve tried a lot of new dishes which has been great! Eg: pork that may or may not be raw, deep-fried boiled eggs and bamboo soup.

There’s some really nice people training at the moment with whom I’ve been having some meals and drinks. So all in all, it feels very homely and simple. It’s high season in Pai at the moment and I’m really noticing the influx of tourists! As much as I’m loving being here, I’ll be glad to move out of SE Asia for a few weeks and have a change of scenery in China.

In my free time I’ve been putting together a rough itinerary for China and trying to plan my next few months. I’ve booked a flight to Russia but not sure if I’m going to be able to get a visa, so Vietnam may be on the cards instead.

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My cute bungalow – I’m staying a short bike ride from town. I’m loving how quiet it is out here in the paddocks.

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On my first day back in Pai I ran into Annette and Christine from Sydney! Such a weird coincidence. We had an awesome week hanging out before they moved on to Laos.

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This was sitting on my doorstep this morning. A not so welcome gift from my overly attentive landlord (who has a girlfriend who gave birth to his first child three days ago. Seriously Thai men, WTF?).

Applying for the Chinese visa in Bangkok

I’ve now been in South-East Asia for over four months and have started thinking a change of scenery is in order. But first, as I’ve been on the move for the past 11 weeks through Cambodia, Laos and South Thailand with Aimee, I’m spending the next three weeks regrouping in my little adopted home of Pai before shaking things up with a trip to China.

That was the plan anyway, until I found out about new visa rules for China. The process became a lot more complicated in July 2012 and you now need either an invitation (as per the Russian visa application) or to show your flights in and out of China, hotel bookings for your whole trip plus bank statements proving you have enough money. Kind of realised this once I got to Bangkok, when I’d been hoping to go to the embassy that day.

I spent the day reassessing my plans because I wanted to work in China and quickly realised it wasn’t going to be possible. I decided to still go but just for a month or so as a tourist. So that night, I went out for dinner and cocktails and tequila, got home at 1.30am and started cementing my dates, towns and booking flights and accommodation. With the dutch courage I managed to book flights to China, from China to Russia, and put 10% deposits on hostels for the five weeks, all by 3am.

The next morning I was up at 9am, found an Internet cafe that would photocopy my passport and print all my bookings, then hightailed it to the embassy where I filled out two tedious visa application forms and stood in line for an hour to file it. After some hefty questioning about my motives for visiting China, they seemed satisfied although I was worried about whether they would give me the full 38 days I reqested. Amazingly, the next morning was a breeze and I collected my passport with a fresh new Chinese visa for 40 days. So, here I come China! 25th Feb (my birthday) is when I fly out from Bangkok.

Speaking of Bangkok, my three nights there this second visit was heaps of fun, I still love the city. Not even staying near Khao San Road changed my opinion. I got a dose of Western comforts – my first Italian food since Oz, some new clothes and toilettries, and I finally got to see Life of Pi! I have been wanting to see it since it came out last year but literally haven’t been anywhere with a cinema in the past two months. We also snuck into Hansel and Gretel afterwards which was hilariously bad. My few days of nice hotel and city life felt like a much-needed mini-break from Asia.

I arrived in Pai at 11am this morning, pretty good timing considering I left Bangkok at 6pm last night. It feels great to be back, I ran into people I knew right away (one I knew was here, but two girls from Sydney I had no idea were in Thailand), and I’ve found a really nice bungalow which is a ten minute bicycle ride from town. I’m in the sticks but only for four days – on Monday I’ll move closer to the gym. In the meantime they’ve given me a pink bike to ride around with a basket on front and extra seat on the back! It’s nice being out here away from the hoards of people and motorbikes. Looking forward to settling in for a few weeks for some Muay Thai training, planning for China and catching up on sleep.

FYI: Applying for the Chinese visa

There’s so little information on the internet about how to apply so I thought this might help anyone wanting to visit China. Some similar information I found on a travel forum was a lifesaver for me.

What you need to take to the embassy:

Passport (derrr)
One passport photo
Recent bank statement showing that you have money to pay for your trip
Printed flight itineraries (into and out of China)
Printed hotel bookings (it is unclear whether you need to book just your first hotel, or all accommodation for the duration of your trip, I booked all to be safe on Hotel Bookers where you just pay 10% upfront)
Photocopy of the details page of your passport
(and of the current visa page of your passport if applying from a country other than your own)
Also a good idea to look at the application forms online before you get to the embassy, as you’ll need to have details such as your health insurance policy number and contact details of your hotels in China.

    The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok:

Apply between 9am and 11.30am, Mon – Fri
Approval process takes 1-4 days depending on how much you pay
Check the website before you go to make sure they are not closed due to Thai or Chinese national holidays
Allow plenty of time to get there, the embassy is a long way from Khao San Rd (motorbike taxi is best, around 120-150 baht each way)
Pay on collection in Thai baht