Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

China, Macao, Hong Kong


Hello and now that I am about to leave China again, I thought it was time to tell you what I have been up to for the past month or so. This time in China I didn't visit as many different places and haven't met as many new people, but I have managed to catch up with some friends.

My first real stop was Lijiang. Lijiang is one of those bits of China that fulfils the stereotype more than the reality. In the old town it has the winding alleys and cobblestoned streets that has been made synonymous with China from the various media representations one sees. It even has little stone bridges crossing over the stream that winds it way through town and the shops and the like are in traditional or pseudo-traditional buildings. The roofs are all tiled and the place where I stayed was a converted traditional house with a central courtyard. The whole thing looks like it could have been plucked from a film set. The main thing to do there is wander around, appreciating the place as there is almost no where else the Chinese have kept the bulldozers of progress and ugly monolithic buildings away from. One thing I did which was interesting was to go and see the Naxi traditional orchestra. This orchestra is mostly made up of musicians who hid (often by burying) their instruments from the rampaging Red Guards of the cultural revolution. This has meant that this is one of the best if not the only chance to hear traditional Chinese music played how they used to. Most of the musicians are getting on a bit to say the least and at one point the compere introduced only those audience members who were at least eighty years old, which was about half their number. The music itself was interesting and at times entertaining but the compere seemed to love the sound of his own voice too much.

From Lijiang I headed back to Kunming (I had been through there briefly to get to Lijiang). When I first arrived I was walking up to the hotel when I saw a row of blind people doing massages on the pavement. Generally suffering from a bad back I thought I would employ their services so went and put my big bag down and spoke to one of the masseuses, an old fellow, about price etc. As I was doing this the old girl stationed next to him thought I was talking to her for a bit until the old guy put her straight. When I agreed to let him ply his trade the old dear got confused again and came towards me to administer a massage but my bag was stood in between us. She came across it and started to massage my backpack like a true professional. Meanwhile I was being pummelled by the old bloke, trying not to laugh and realising the Chinese for "Sorry love but your massaging a rucksack" would have been a useful phrase to have learned. Thankfully she only massaged it for a minute before she realised it was an inanimate object, so he desisted with a smile and sat on her stool. Once my bloke had done his thing, the old girl obviously felt robbed of
the opportunity to massage a Laowai (white bloke) so she gave me a vigorous massage as well. Excellent two for the price of one.

Apart from generally ambling around the city I didn't do too much of note in Kunming, being there essentially to catch a train to my next destination. One thing that happened that was a first for me was when visiting the museum with a couple of English guys I had met at my hotel, we weren't particularly impressed with the exhibits until we got to a showroom with a lot of Qing dynasty art, furniture and objets d'art. For this bit a nice guy who spoke good English showed us around, explaining the origins of the pieces, how one can establish what date it was made etc., which we all appreciated. Then I noticed a number of the artefacts had little stickers on (presumably with the catalogue number), so I joked with our guide, "Oh, so the stuffs all for sale, I see you've put price tickets on everything." Not the wittiest remark in the world granted, but otherwise we wouldn't have got the response. "Yes, all these exhibits are for sale and because you came independently, not with a guide or tour group we can give you a good discount." The Chinese aren't renowned for their wit but we weren't sure if he was joking with us until he got more serious about trying to sell us eighteenth century silk paintings. This was the first time any of us had ever been to a museum where they actively tried to sell the exhibits.

From Kunming I headed East again to Yangshuo, a nice quiet little town amongst some beautiful Karst scenery. En route on one of the older trains, the scenery out the windows was quite dramatic. Chinese trains are generally very good, albeit not that quick by Western standards. They have certain little charming aspects that make the journey more enjoyable. Amongst these are the numerous staff, one to give out bed linen, another to open the doors at stations, another to lock the toilet doors as the train approaches a station, people to check tickets, those pushing trolleys of food or selling toys and gadgets with amusing demonstrations, security staff and some who merely seem to be making up the numbers. Of all of the different jobs performed the one I would like is that of the carriage DJ. This person has his own little cabin replete with bed and stereo equipment, his task is to play tapes of easy listening music for the daylight hours. This involves him taking the tape from his authorised selection putting it in the deck, pressing play and then forty five minutes turning it over. Another forty-five minutes later he puts in another tape. Not the hardest of lives I feel. In this area, the type of rock formations one sees in Chinese paintings. Yangshuo is another anomaly as far as China goes, it is a real backpacker town in the same vein as one might see in South East Asia. The countryside is rather lovely and there is also a nice relaxed vibe to the place. I also managed to meet up with Annie, a friend I hadn't seen for over a year, since I was in China last time, which was nice. I also decided to take Chinese cooking lessons and learned how to make a few of my favourite Chinese dishes. My choice of day to learn this was good as well as it was the evening of the Ghost Festival, so the family I was learning with were entertaining so needed more dishes, so I got to learn more than the standard three things and I then the best bit, when we ate all the stuff with the family and guests afterwards. Amongst the other activities I undertook around Lijiang was a bit of cave exploration that wasn't that great and climbing Moon Hill. Moon Hill is an attractive small mountain with an overhang that drapes over the top to give a big round aperture that kind of looks like a moon. The views from the top were nice but one can no longer see the best bit of scenery as one is on top of it. I also got a boat trip down from Xing Ping as the scenery there is particularly nice, it even features on the twenty Yuan note. However after an hour or so looking at the rocks it was enough. That evening I got a sleeper bus south to the China / Macao border. Sleeper buses like this are confined I think to China. They are essentially just buses that have been refitted with bunks instead of seats. On the previous occasions I had been on one of these I had managed to use the argument I'm Laowai and we're far too big to share our bunks with anyone to secure my own single bunk. Unfortunately this time I was with seven other Laowai, it wasn't going to work for all of us and as it turned out it didn't work for any of us, I ended up sharing my bunk with Moshe an old Israeli bloke, needless to say neither of us got much sleep in our somewhat cramped quarters. The following morning we got off the bus in Zhuhai and got a local bus to the Macao border just as the doors opened, good timing. After going through immigration the first thing I needed to do was change money as this may be one country now, but it still has three different currencies, the Renminbi in mainland China, the Hong Kong Dollar and The Macau Pataka. I got some Patakas and headed off to find a cheap enough hotel.

Macao surprised me in so far as it was more laidback and interesting than I had anticipated it to be. In my time there I visited a number of nice old Portuguese churches. The fort and lighthouse on the top of the island also afforded nice views. I then headed to the Museum of Macao which was completed just before Macao’s handover to the Chinese so was actually very objective and very well put together. Just down the road from there is the San Paulo church or at least what is left of it. This was an excellent example of really nice Portuguese church building and is the symbol of Macao, unfortunately all that is left of it now is the facade and the steps leading up to it.

Testimony to Macao’s maritime history can be found in the graveyards which are quite interesting for the descriptions of the internees and what befell them. The most charming aspect of Macao however was that for the first time in a long time for me I was in a city that despite the hustle and bustle also had retreats and pleasant shopping arcades. As Macao is the only place in China where one can legally gamble I decided it would be remiss of me not to have a flutter at the Casino Lisboa, Macao’s most famous casino. It is quite possibly the most depressing casino I have ever seen in my life, not because of the venue but no-one there seems to be having any fun at all. I even went and watched some of the high stakes card games on the upper floors where minimum bets were ten thousand Hong Kong Dollars (most of the betting in the casino was done in HK Dollars as that is where most of the patrons are from). Even the high stakes games were boring as nobody so much as cracked a smile even if they won a hundred thousand dollars or so. I myself left after winning a paltry hundred and fifty dollars, the place was starting to depress me.

From Macao I got the boat across to Hong Kong where my friend Stuart met me. Thankfully as Hong Kong is not a cheap place I was staying in Stuart's flat. There were other advantages to this arrangement, one was that Stuart had time off work so could act as a guide for me, the other was a potentially dangerous thing which was that Stuart manages a bar. This may sound innocuous but the problem is that many of the bar managers in Hong Kong know each other so drinks are bought and before long the couple of drinks we had gone for turned into an entire night on the razzle, without having to buy beers ourselves. The other thing is that there is no closing time so we would end up leaving places after having spent no money in hours as the sun was rising. The scariest bit was probably when we went to an open mike spot in a bar and the music was all pretty tolerable, but then a chinaman got up and sang "Those were the days", which is not the worst song in the world, but the scary bit was how some of the girls who had until this point been rather subdued were dancing like epileptics in a strobe light, Mary Hopkin would be proud I am sure.

Stuart was able to take me to all the most important places. The first place we went was to see the Horse Races. The race course is actually set in amongst all the high-rises and skyscrapers which gives it an unusual but not unpleasant backdrop. My sure-fire system of betting on the horses with the catchiest names didn't work and after moderate losses we called it a night.

Just a few days before my arrival the Hong Kong History Museum had opened. So, Stuart and I decided to go and check it out. This being over in Kowloon, (the bay facing Hong Kong Island) it also gave the opportunity for the De Rigeur Star Ferry ride and shots of the Hong Kong skyline. The museum starts the history, when it really started - in prehistoric times, detailing the creation of the islands and surrounding land and the rocks etc. Through the evolution and migration of flora and fauna and then to the inhabitation of the area. Needless to say it was pretty thorough. It gave an objective account of the Opium wars and the ceding of Hong Kong and then all the bits that happened subsequently, up to the handover back to the Chinese in 1997. It was interesting to see that unless they build some more there is no room for any exhibits concerning the post-handover period, something that might imply a lack of confidence in the Chinese. All in all it was excellently done and apart from having a slightly confusing floor plan there was nothing to criticise, far from it.

One of the other things Hong Kong used to be good for was electronic and photographic purchases. This appears to have changed as the prices for those things I was interested in from more reputable dealers were higher than I can get the items back home and the less reputable dealers did nothing but faff around, promising things they didn't deliver and just wasting everyone’s time. In the end I didn't buy anything of that kind, I did however stock up on many of the things I had missed from home, generally confectionary as the UK is in my opinion without a doubt the confectionary capital of the world. So after buying my prawn cocktail and salt and vinegar crisps, several packs of Twiglets, a mint aero and a jar of marmite I felt rejuvenated to the extent that I could take the world on again. It was also a good place to get hold of some reading material, quite possibly my last opportunity to get decent books before getting home.

With all this vitality we ascended the peak, using the tramway of course. From the top one has a rather good view of most of the island and over to Kowloon and into the New Territories. From there we walked down to a convenient place to get a bus to Aberdeen a waterfront area of fishing boats, marinas and little attraction. We got the Sampan over to have a look at the menu at "Jumbo" the famous floating restaurant, the prices were reasonable, but the range was limited so we went to Stanley. This is a much more pleasant waterfront, it even has a beach, complete with shark nets to keep the naughty nibblers away from the bathers.

Feeling that I had done all I needed to do in Hong Kong (which included getting my Visa for Russia), I decided to head over the border again to mainland China. Unfortunately the bus driver had other ideas, apparently the Chinese have developed an ingenious type of multiple entry visa that can only be used once. As the bus driver was liable for all of his passengers having the appropriate paperwork, he wouldn't let me try to have it out with the Chinese officials. So, I called Stuart again, told him I was staying another day and got another Chinese visa (Commie bastards just do it to be difficult and get more money). The next day I finally made it to Guiangzhou (Canton), with my new
visa and no difficulties on the border.

Guangzhou which is known as Canton abroad is not the most fascinating of cities and owes its current size to the trade that it handles between Hong Kong and the mainland. As a result the place has many of the facilities that can be found in Hong Kong and even receives English TV from Hong Kong which I was lucky enough to have in my hotel. It is quite a rare thing for me to have watchable TV when travelling so I was watching some crap program in my room when a newsflash brought through the news about the terrorist attacks in the United States. It was rather surreal and if it weren't for the fact that I had that television, I would have remained in blissful ignorance of the events for some time as the Chinese government has also blocked internet access of the main western news agencies. On a lighter note, I did visit Shamian Dao, a small island in the sea just outside Guangzhou that used to be the only Chinese territory foreign traders were allowed on, before the Opium wars allowed much freer trade. The island is still quite tranquil and a number of the buildings are old trading posts and embassies.

From Guangzhou which was really only a transit stop I got the train to Shanghai. There I was meeting another old friend, John who I had spent a few weeks travelling with in western China more than a year previously. My timing seemed to be good as the bar up the road had recently started a policy of free beers between 7.30 and 10.30 in the evening, every day for the month. Needless to say this was an opportunity not to be missed, so we caught up with each other over several pints. In Shanghai I visited another Museum, with an impressive collection of bronzes and other artefacts. Shanghai is probably the most cosmopolitan of mainland China's cities and as such it made for something different to just wander around. It is home to some attractive and some abominable architecture. One of the bits that is horrendously tacky it's charming in it's sheer disgustingness is the Pearl Tower, the worlds tallest and tackiest radio mast. With a glittering pink ball halfway up it, it somehow resembles a hypodermic needle from a bad science-fiction film. Needless to say I really quite like it, one can see that the architects were thinking out how they
will be able to easily make money from the merchandising of the inflatable, clock, paper weight etc. replicas of the monstrosity. Some of the more charming of the architecture in Shanghai is in a small area called the Bund which used to be another of Chinas foreign concessions. There are some really lovely Art Deco buildings and the Pudong bank, previously home to the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is probably the nicest bank I have ever been in. Another nice old building I visited was previously the Ohel Rachel Synagogue, now a museum chronicling the history of Shanghai's formerly quite considerable (both numerically and economically) Jewish population. The
brochure that is given to each visitor is worth the visit alone as it has some of the most amusing Chinglish I have had the pleasure of reading and it gave a disproportionate amount of amusement to John, Emily (his girlfriend) and I.

Being the cosmopolitan, cultural centre Shanghai is, we ate good food in restaurants of different nationalities and John and I also went to an Erhu concert. The Erhu is a two stringed traditional Chinese musical instrument, played with a bow. The concert started with a couple of pieces played by an orchestra of about thirty children - some who didn't look to be older than eight or nine. There's was some of the best music played that evening. John and I worked out a system of evaluating how good the performers were going to be before they had even started playing. It was quite simple really, one just judged their attire. The better dressed they were the better their music was. One guy who turned up in a tux had a small orchestra accompany him and deservedly so, he was a good musician and well attired. The guy who turned up in full Communist regalia also helped to prove our system, he played along with a tape. Obviously he enjoyed all the pomp but amounted to very little in terms of any practical achievement.

From Shanghai I headed to Nanjing, one of the former capitals of China (the name actually means South Capital). There as well I visited another good museum detailing the history of the Chinese court and displaying artefacts found in and around Nanjing. There was another slant to this museum, for some undisclosed reason there were festivities afoot. These involved clowns and acrobats, singers and dancers and or course a wall of death. Quite why they had built a bucket shaped cage - for motorcyclists and curiously, children on pushbikes to cycle around the walls of - in the middle of a pseudo-Ming dynasty courtyard was not explained but it definitely added something to the viewing of Neolithic artefacts. I went to see the Ming Gugong, the site of the palace, but all that was left was one main wall and a lot of lumps of stone. It was amusing to watch the Chinese ballroom dancing there though, something they don't seem to do very well. The Chinese seem to love to ballroom dance and any open space is suitable for them to gather to bad music and dance badly together.

Sun Yat Sen, the man who is held responsible for the overthrow of dynastic rule in China is buried just outside Nanjing in a reproduction Ming style tomb. The complex is massive and there are hundreds of steps to the main mausoleum where Dr. Sun is interred. Apparently he did not ask for anything as grand as this, I wonder if the Chinese see an irony though in the fact that the man credited with ending the Dynasties was built in a tomb worthy of the Emperor.

Xi 'An is another former capital of China and in fact was the first capital of a unified China, when the Qin dynasty brought all the warring states together under one rule. The most famous attraction here is without a doubt the Terracotta Army, but it wasn't the first thing I saw. As Xi 'An served as a capital for many years (about a thousand) there are a number of historical sites in and around the city.

The first thing I went to see was Zhong Lou, the Bell Tower. This isn't a bell tower in the western sense of the words, but is basically a reasonably large Ming dynasty building in the centre of the old town (also now in the centre of a roundabout) with a bell outside. The building itself is quite interesting as it is one of the few structures of its kind still in existence, the Red Guard and general deterioration saw to the demise of most of the rest. As such it is nice to see the real thing as opposed to the imitations. There is also a display inside of old calligraphy and traditional musical instruments. Unfortunately the musicians were not going to be about for some time and I couldn't be bothered to wait. Then went on to see the Great Mosque, several centuries old and very ornate. Nothing like any mosques I had previously seen as it was very Chinese, resembling a Chinese temple or nobleman's home more than anything else. As I was there on Friday, Muslim Sabbath, there were prayers in progress which also although being in Arabic had a Chinese sound to the way they were chanted. The building is actually one of the nicest examples of Ming architecture around. My next stop was to the "forest of Steles", a bloody heavy library. This is essentially a collection of some of the old steles that had transcripts, edicts, prayers, poems, examples of calligraphy, pictures, prayers, laws, Confucian or Buddhist precepts, Tripitaka and the like engraved in the rock. A few centuries ago the current emperor decided to gather them all together and house them in this place. They give an interesting look at different aspects of Chinese culture but ultimately they are just some very heavy reading.

Next day I went to see the Terracotta Army, which as most of you I am sure know are thousands of life-size warriors made of terracotta during the Qin dynasty over two thousand years ago. One of the most impressive aspects of the warriors and other figures (All the various groups and objects needed in a Qin style army were present, although some parts have decomposed) is that each of them looks different, has different hair, clothing, facial expressions etc. When they were originally buried they were also painted appropriately so although they are striking now, back when they were first made they would have been phenomenal to behold. They were put there to defend the emperor in the afterlife, but unfortunately just a short time after his demise his successors lost battles nearby which led to some of the site being looted and destroyed. Just up the road from this is the actual emperors tomb, but for the moment there is nothing to see there but the hill that buries it as the technology does not yet exist to excavate it (there are rivers of mercury and other fanciness that makes it undesirable to unearth it at the moment, for both safety and archaeological reasons).

Back in Xi’An I visited another museum, this time the Shaanxi History Museum. Another excellent museum with good informative displays and interesting exhibits, particularly concerning the Qin and Tang dynasties. I also visited a couple of very old Pagodas “The Big Wild Goose Pagoda” and “The Little Wild Goose Pagoda”. Although the Big is older the little was better looking in my opinion, both being multi-tiered, with each ascending tier slightly smaller than the previous.

From Xi’An I got the train to what is my final proper destination in China, at least for the while, Beijing. When I first got in, I went and arranged my Mongolian visa and train ticket to Ulan Bator, my next destination. Then went and visited the Forbidden City, home of the emperors of China for many generations and a very impressive place it is. It is immense considering that it was essentially only built to house one family. I took the audio tour (largely because it was narrated by Roger Moore) which was very good and helped one imagine the splendour of the times even more. There are some very nice buildings, walkways, squares and the like, but not enough garden in my opinion. After my tour of the Forbidden City I wandered around Tiannemen square as it is only over the road. All I can say is what a lot of concrete, it looks better in the newsreels. Something that was as impressive as I had hoped it would be was the Chinese Acrobatics show I went to. Mot of the performers being young children they manage to twist themselves into scary positions and throw themselves about with stunning accuracy. Much of what they did required immense strength that if it hadn’t been demonstrated, one would never presume these little things to have. Well worth a look.

I haven’t visited any proper museums here as apparently all the best stuff is in the places mentioned above. I popped into the Revolutionary museum which wasn’t interesting as it had almost nothing in English and was mostly photos. I also visited Mao in his mausoleum. He isn’t looking well, despite the fact he has been dead for nearly thirty years, he has a strange orange glow on his face that is (in my opinion) either poor lighting or some radioactive preservative glowing.

Jus a little way from Beijing proper is the Summer Palace, a much cosier affair (by imperial standards) with a less imposing feel to it, although very nice. Next to it is a small lake that was actually man made to fulfil one of the former residents desire. It is actually quit serene here and thankfully not so many tourists bother to go out to it which made it even nicer.

A peculiar them of my time in Beijing has been ten pin bowling. After noticing a bowling alley down the road from the hotel where I’m staying I asked the other two people in my dorm (Pete and Tony from near Manchester) if they wanted to go for a game or two, when we found out how inexpensive it is, we’ve been there most nights ¨C the fact that they have a bar was in no way influential in the decision making process. After one particularly late night of bowling and beer we decided we may as well go and see the flag raising ceremony in Tiannemen square that happens at dawn, so we jumped in a cab and got there just in time. We were surprised by the crowd blocking the view so I ended up as photographer designate sat on Pete’s shoulders for the course of the ceremony, which takes place with full military honours. Afterwards there are a number of squads of the local army who do exercises in the square. Not being one to old the Chinese army in much esteem I decided to go for a run with them as they were running round the square in formation asking them questions. A few of the soldiers seemed to have difficulty suppressing smiles and one of the officers cracked up laughing, completely fell out of step with his squad and ended up walking the rest of the way holding his head. When another squad came along I started running backwards in front of them (they don’t run very fast) challenging them to a fight, this had a similar effect as with the previous squad. Then when I convinced a PSB (kind of police) guy I was harmless I did some workout alongside some of the hundreds of army folk. They were really crap and I don’t think they really appreciated me aping there drilling and subsequent martial arts exercises, although I did draw a small crowd of Chinese who seemed to find it hilarious. During this exercise in international diplomacy the other guys kept well away from me.

As we were already up, it was decided it would be a good time to go to the Great Wall. As there are a number of spots along it to choose from we first had to decide this and then get transport. After a Metro, Bus and Minimi journey we finally got to Huanghua a nice deserted spot of wall with almost no-one around. This bit is also in a pretty authentic state of decay with shrubs growing through it etc. We climbed along the top of the thing to a peak we decided wouldn’t be too strenuous to reach but would still justify the journey and afford better views. From this spot the views were fabulous in both directions one could see the wall stretch for many miles winding along hills and over peaks to re-emerge on the next hillside. We then returned to Beijing and had some of the famous Beijing (Peking) Duck. Not as good as back home in my opinion. Pete couldn’t handle the pace by this point and headed back to the hotel whilst Tony and I went to see a simplified Beijing Opera. It was very nice in many bits, but thankfully was suited down to the tourist palate. It consisted of three scenes from different operas to demonstrate the main different bits you get. The first was good fun and demonstrated not only acrobatic and sword fighting skills but acting and comedic ability. The next was a scene where a couple of women sing (read whine) a lot. Finally there was a scene which was really good fun and particularly showed the martial arts, acrobatic and comedic skills. An impressive bit was whilst the main character ¨C the Monkey King ¨C was doing back flips, the split, fighting his foes etc. he was also singing along and didn’t miss a beat. It goes to show all the young popsters who can’t even do a simple dance without having to resort to miming the lyrics to their songs. The make-up on the actors was as dramatic as expected from pictures I had seen previously and the theatre itself was interesting, being the oldest opera theatre in China, built in 1667 and with a character of its own. Thankfully the opera didn’t go on too long so we could go back to the hotel and get a much needed early night, the first and only early night or night free from bowling since I got to Beijing.

Subsequently I have mostly been taking it quite easy and merely been refining my drinking and bowling skills. That isn't to say things have been uneventful, just last night after making some phone calls and getting something to eat at three o'clock in the morning the an extremely obese man and the rest of staff decided to take one of the waiters outside and strip him naked whilst fondling his genitalia. The young waiter didn't appear to object as he just giggled and put up nothing more than toke resistance. This was done repeatedly and then they came back inside and the fat man didn't seem to think he had done anything even slightly unusual. In situations like these we had only one course of action, we went bowling, whereupon the child molesting posse turned up half an hour later to say hello for two seconds and then disappeared again, very surreal.

Today, my last day in China (as long as I manage to get on the train to Mongolia tomorrow) was quite uneventful, despite it being Chinese National day, I went down to Tiannemen square with Chris (a tolerable yank) but there was nothing very dramatic going on, just a bit of kite flying, some funky fountains and bloody big crowds. Unfortunately the only party these people seem know is the Chinese Communist Party.

Leaving China this time, I have had a very different impression to my previous visit. The people in the East of the country have been more relaxed and less hostile than those in the West. Having an idea of what to expect and a passable vocabulary have also made this visit more palatable. This said, I still don't like the social aspect of their toilets or understand why when at sites of interest they take pictures of totally irrelevant buildings and scenes but not of the historical treasures on show. The other thing is the noise these people make, there is generally a poor understanding of volume control in Asia, but the Chinese seem to have less regard than anyone else. The closest analogy I can think of to my perception of the Chinese people is syphilis. There are pleasant aspects to how the disease may be contracted but at the end of the day you are still left with a lot of irritating pricks.



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