Day 20- China

Thursday July 22

Well, we got to sleep in again.  Not really a fair trade for not going out to Tiger Leaping Gorge or Dali, but I guess it’s a nice perk.  Chris had sent us an email with suggestions of places to eat and things to do in Kunming so we decided to get breakfast at his favorite spot.  We packed up all our gear and stashed it in the closet at the hostel.  We headed out and caught the bus to the lake district.  We got to walk through the park again, not in a rainstorm and early enough to witness the Chinese exercises.  So silly.  We had to walk around for a while before we found the place.  I guess you could say it was in the university district, it seemed like there were a lot of little boutiques and restaurants and movie theaters that would appeal to students.  We found Salvador’s, a coffee shop with a large food menu featuring Western specialties like bagels with cream cheese, and omelets.  It was hard to skip a meal of Chinese food, but comforting to have a cup of coffee and a plateful of eggs. 

After breakfast we decided to get some last-minute souvenier shopping done.  On our way out to the West Hills the day before we had noticed a big shopping area with bins of T-shirts outside.  We made it our goal to find the shop again, which we did, only going the wrong way once.  We got some good T-shirts and hurried back to get our packs at the hotel.  We got a cab to take us to the airport and easily checked in and boarded our plane.

Our seats were next to a girl who had a pretty good grasp of English and she started chatting with us.  She was a student at the university in Kunming and was going to Beijing to meet up with some old friends from high school.  Well, I say old, but she was probably only about 20 years old.  She was really friendly and we chatted and giggled the whole way back.  It was about a 4 hour flight so we had lots of time to get acquainted.  She was wearing a beautiful scarf and I commented on how much I liked it.  She immediately took it off, insisting that I keep it for myself.  I felt guilty taking it, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.  I promised to mail her some good American chocolate in return.  When we arrived in Beijing, we all walked to the baggage claim together and said our goodbyes there.  She helped us find our way to the subway, and then she went on her way.  I hope we are able to stay in touch.  She was quite a character!  She showed us pictures of herself on her phone.  I guess she must have worked at a tea house or something where she served traditional tea in traditional dress and kept calling it “Miss Manners” or something.  I am glad we met her. 

Dan and I made our way to the subway, expecting tickets to cost as much as they had when taking the train through the city.  Turns out it is much more expensive to get to and from the airport.  Dan and I debated whether it would be easier or not, or cheaper to get a cab or take the train.  While we debated, a family came up to buy their tickets.  I guess they thought we didn’t have enough money and offered to buy our tickets!  That never would have happened in the U.S.!  They spoke English very well, so I think they may have been an American family visiting family members living in China.  We just decided to buy our tickets since we were meeting Brady and Kara at the subway station anyway.  By the time we got there we were really quite late but had no way of communicating with Brady and Kara.  They were there waiting for us.  We lugged our stuff back to Rosy’s apartment where Duncan let us in.  Rosy was now traveling with her sister in Europe. 

Duncan was in the middle of moving out actually, and Nathan (the other roommate) had recently returned from his trip to Tibet.  Duncan said I could have his bed for the night since he was planning on staying at his new place.  We got some recommendations on places to eat but ended up just finding our way back to the place where we had eaten duck with Rosy because Brady and Kara hadn’t had any duck yet.  It was nice to catch up with them and hear about their time in Xi’an.  I sort of wish we’d gone with them, but we had a nice time as well, and wouldn’t have made our new best friend on the airplane.

Afterwards, Brady and Kara wanted to spend the rest of their Chinese money, so we tried to find a place with massages.  The only place we found was really expensive.  We weren’t ready to call it a night though, so we decided to go explore the area where Rosy had taken us with her friends.  We got a cab over there, but it turned out all of those places were really Westernized and overpriced.  We got some beers at the bar with a live band singing American songs with Chinese accents.  It was pretty funny.  We left the bar and got popsicles.  I guess we’d managed to buy enough overpriced beer that Brady and Kara were concerned about overspending and not making it to the airport in the morning.  We decided to hit one more place, my treat.  We went back to one of the places we had been with Rosy.  It was much quieter, and nice to sit around recounting our trip.  We finally left and we each caught cabs going in different directions.  I guess the next time I see them will be in Colorado.  Back to Rosy’s to crash on Duncan’s king-size bed!

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Day 19- China

Wednesday July 21

We got up nice and early this morning to meet Chris and his friend so we could all go to the bus station.  We got all packed up and carried all our stuff out to the car, when Dan reveals that he looked up our itinerary and our flight out of Kunming the next day isn’t at 5 like we thought, but it’s at 3.  So we lose 2 hours, and we’re already nervous about making it back in time because the guy in the hotel in Dali said the bus ride is like 7 hours.  Everything we’d read though said it was only 4.  We decide to ask Chris’ friend because he is from Dali.  He says there is a lot of construction so the ride could take up to 8 hours. 

We decide there is no way to make it to Dali and back in the time that we have and still have it be worthwhile.  We look at the tickets to see if we can sell them or get a refund, and it turns out we would have been at a different bus station from Chris anyway.  I was embarrassed at the lack of planning we had put into this.  Chris had to get going to catch his bus, so we quickly decided to nix the trip to Dali and stick around Kunming for the next day and a half.  We say goodbye and thanks to Chris and he’s off for his adventure in the wilds of Yunnan, surveying the native people. 

We head back into the hostel, book another night and go back to sleep.  I wasn’t feeling very well, so I think the extra sleep probably helped.  We were pretty bummed about not being able to leave Kunming and all of our plans falling through but we still wanted to do something fun.  Chris had mentioned hiking around in the West Hills, so we decided to give that a try.  We looked it up in my guide-book, and it sounded pretty interesting.  Plus there was a page in the back with Chinese translations, so we thought we’d be able to make it alright.  There were also directions on how to get there by taking the bus.  We decided to put our ultimate China-travel skills to the test and give that a try.  We took the 5 bus to the end of the line where we were supposed to transfer to line 6 and take that the rest of the way.  Alas, no line 6 to be found anywhere.  I don’t know where we went wrong, but we couldn’t find the 6 anywhere. 

We decided to get a cab, which we accomplished fairly quickly, and successfully pointed in the guide-book to communicate our desired destination.  The driver dropped us off at the bottom of a cable car/ gondola.  From the guide-book description it was hard to tell exactly where we were, or where we wanted to be for that matter.  We thought we could avoid the gondola and just hike up, but after a while of hiking we determined the gondola was a necessity in starting our exploration.  We picked it up at the mid-station. 

When we got off we decided to eat, since we hadn’t really had any breakfast.  There was a little place at the end of the gondola, so we stopped but they didn’t have an English menu, or pictures.  Their produce was all just out on some shelves, so I pointed to some stuff, thinking it would get all stir-fried together.  Dan pointed to someone else’s dish, not really knowing what it was. (Our pointing fingers are certainly getting a workout today!) Our meal was delivered and I had apparently ordered 3 separate dishes of sautéed veggies.  Good thing I didn’t keep pointing!  Dan’s noodle bowl had some mystery meat in it, which sort of turned him off of the dish.  We ate mostly vegetables.  There was a nice eggplant dish that was actually really good. 

We finished eating and headed out, trying to get our bearings.  We were at one end of a chairlift, but weren’t really interested in taking it.  We kept walking, until we came to an area with some shops and restaurants.  Suddenly it started pouring rain.  There were a bunch of buses parked next to an awning/ covered area so we hunkered down under there for a while.  It slowed almost as quickly as it stared.  The presence of the buses made us realize that A: we didn’t have a plan for getting home and B: we could have probably taken a bus or van all the way up here and avoided the whole gondola situation.  The rain basically stopped as fast as it had started, and we ventured forth to explore the West Hills of Kunming. 

We strolled along a road lined with vendor booths.  We got to a point where we either had to hike up a bunch of stairs (hooray! more stairs!) or pay more money to get some kind of ticket.  We opted for the stairs route and started climbing.  We reached a little gazebo-type structure that functioned as a look-out.  From there we could see a ridgeline up above with a summit and little ant-sized people walking along it.  We made that our destination.  After several more stairs we got to the main look-out area that had incredible views of the lake below and Kunming stretching out to the horizon. 

 We tried asking a man to take our picture.  Some girls overheard us speaking English and started chatting with us.  They translated for the man, who seemed to be an avid photographer.  He said the light where we were standing was no good, we needed to climb out on the rocks to get a better photo.  Of course, by the time we did all of this maneuvering, the battery in my camera had finally died so we never actually got a photo. 

 At any rate, we asked the girls (after posing in a photo with them) what their plan was for getting back to the city.  They said they were on a trip with their university, so they had vans they had come up in.  They didn’t seem to know exactly how to get back to Kunming either.  The photographer man came over to see what was going on and the girls explained our conundrum.  He very generously offered to drive us back to town himself.  He was with a bunch of other people, his wife, and maybe his brother or sister and their kids, and some grandmotherly figure.  For lack of any better ideas about how to get back, we accepted. 

We left the girls behind and neglected the actual summit.  We followed this family back down the trail, taking a route we hadn’t taken on the way up .  The man grabbed some berries off of a bush and handed them to us, seemingly expecting us to eat them.  As avid wilderness explorers, Dan and I have been trained to never eat anything we find in the wild unless we are sure of its identification, but this guy starts popping them down his throat and then looks at us expectantly.  We cautiously try a few.  There weren’t bad, at least they didn’t taste like death, and he seemed satisfied so we were off the hook.  Yet, I didn’t choose to try any more. 

We hiked down to a road with some farms and houses on it.  They had parked their cars at one of the houses, I’m not sure if it was a hotel, or if they knew the people who lived there or what.  It ended up just being Dan and me and the man and his wife in the car.  We felt bad, like they were going out of their way, so tried to communicate that they could just drop us off anywhere as long as we could find a cab.  The traffic was really bad, so eventually they just sort of pulled over and signaled for us to get out.  I was so turned around, I had no idea where we were, but at least we had the address of the hostel so we could just show that to a cab driver and hope for the best.  We thanked the man and woman and climbed out. 

We were in a part of town that sort of reminded me of the Hutong in Beijing, lots of small alleyways and little shops and schools and homes all jumbled together.  We tried to discern where we were  using the terribly unhelpful map in my guide-book but it was pretty useless.  We had a hard time getting a cab but managed to snag one with some people getting out of it.  He took us back to the hostel. 

We tried to figure out how to get to the South Train Station Restaurant so we could eat a Chris’ favorite place in Kunming, but there was no information on the internet (in English at least) and the people at the hostel had never heard of it.  We ended up going to the front desk at the hotel across the street, and a guy there was able to help us.  He told us what bus to take and which stop to get off at.  We made it there successfully, but it seemed like maybe they were closing down for the night and wouldn’t seat us.  After all of the trouble we’d gone through to get there we were not about to turn around and go back.  We stood around looking confused for long enough that finally someone gave us a table. 

The place was huge and had French-like architecture, it was really pretty.  We ordered some food and had a nice dinner.  We managed to find our bus stop to take us back, stopping at a bakery to pick up some cookies for dessert along the way. 

When we got back we decided now was the time to get our Chinese massage.  We noticed that the lighting outside of the place next to our hostel could be construed as pink, but thought we’d take our chances.  We pointed, using a sign, that we would like 2 massages.  The man at the counter took us back down a long hallway.  There was a door ajar revealing a group of girls lounging around wrapped cosily in blankets.  Dan was on high alert.  The man took us back to a room and shut the door, leaving us alone.  Dan was clearly uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t say I was exactly relaxed.  We decided to make a run for it, making excuses in English that I’m sure they didn’t understand.  Oh well, no massage.  We just had a drink at the hostel on their patio instead.  Probably more relaxing anyway.

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Day 18- China

Tuesday July 20

Finally slept in!!!  Definitely the first time since leaving Beijing that we didn’t set an alarm.  Felt good, but by 11ish I was ready to get going and Dan was still asleep.  I woke him up and got him going.  I went and checked us in for real since only the security guard had been there the night before to give us our key.  We decided to book another night and come up with a different plan because Tiger Leaping Gorge sounded too complicated and far away.  Chris called on his lunch break to make a plan for dinner, so we were all set to meet him later. 

We ventured out to find breakfast/ lunch.  We decided to walk to Green Lake Park and stop somewhere along the way.  Most of the way was a big shopping mall though.  Down a side street we found a little hole-in-the-wall place.  Dan had a plate of dumplings and I had noodles that I picked by pointing to a picture on the wall and showing my handy slip of paper that said “One of us doesn’t eat meat”.  They were actually really good. 

We kept going towards the park doing some window shopping along the way.  The park was gorgeous, with lakes and bridges and lily pads.  It was also a hub of activity with dancers and ladies doing calisthenics, vendors, and just people passing time.  Almost as soon as we got there though it started pouring rain.  Everyone ran for cover.  We got told twice to not stand under a big tree next to the water (you would think we shouldn’t have to be told that…) and had to cram under an awning with everyone else. 

We waited it out and then ran to a nice little tea shop and got a pot of tea.  Green tea with mint.  We tried to make a plan for the next day.  We decided to go get tickets for Dali, a little bohemian- sounding town outside of Kunming.  Then we walked back to the hostel.  We used the internet for a little while, bought bus tickets at the travel agent, and decided to go find a snack because Chris was going to be much later than he thought for dinner. 

We went to Mama Fu’s, a pretty westernized restaurant, and had beer, the worst mac n’ cheese ever, and some lotus root.  Then we went to a bar/ restaurant next door.  Go figure, the 2 restaurants are connected and basically the same.  Oh well, we had another beer, then went and met Chris.  He had wanted to go to his favorite restaurant the South Train Station, but he thought it was too late, so took us to another Yunnanese restaurant.  We had fried cheese (a Yunnan specialty) and a few other dishes, some coconut juice, and rice wine, which was not very tasty.  We caught a cab back so Chris could skype with Mimi, and set a time to meet the next day so Chris’ friend could take us to the bus station with him.

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Day 17- China

Monday July 19

We actually did wake up at 5am.  We got mostly packed up as well.  There was a lot of debate about how many layers to wear, and if we should bring our packs and take the cable car down, or leave them and hike down.  We ultimately decided to not take our packs, except Dan who carried his because I guess he didn’t want to unpack it or wasn’t sure which jacket he wanted.  Finally we hit the road, or steep pathway of stairs, as the case may be, climbing in the dark.  The sky was getting lighter and I was really afraid we were going to miss the sunrise, which would mean we had woken up at 5 for nothing, but the bells at the monastery would have woken us up anyway.  We came around a bend into a clearing and could tell we were almost at the top.  There was a big look-out platform on the right for a huge range of giant mountains.  We kept going, turned left, and there was a huge staircase with giant elephants on either side, and at the top a huge golden buddha.  We summited and saw a huge group of people already gathered on the far side of the summit.  We ran over and staked out our spots.  It was gorgeous.  The sky was mostly cloudy, with a clearing that allowed the sun to peek through.  As soon as the sun came through there was a big cheer from the crowd.  Everyone was snapping photos.  Pretty amazing, I’m really glad we saw that.  Then there was even more cheering, the sun was at exactly the right height to be hitting the big mountains on the other side, making them glow.  We all ran to the other side to take pictures there.  We explored the summit.  Lots of Chinese tourists wanted photos with us, so we took a lot of photos.  On the way down we stopped and got some hard-boiled eggs and milk tea.  Turns out it was good that we didn’t plan on taking the cable car down because it wasn’t even running.  We hiked back down to our “hotel” and got the rest of our stuff together.  The crowds were thickening.  I think a lot of people sleep at the summit and then hike back down the next morning.  By the time we started down there was a pretty steady stream of people going up, and the stream only got thicker as we got closer to the bottom.  A group of little girls attached themselves to me and followed me a good deal of the way down.  They wanted a picture with me but didn’t have a camera.  They giggled a lot but didn’t have great English.  They kept trying to ask me questions but interrupted themselves giggling. 

We got to the parking lot and bought bus tickets to the bottom.  We got on the bus first and then a bunch of tourists got on after us.  There was a group of Chinese women who each took a turn taking a photo with me.  We got to the bottom of the mountain and put our cooler clothes on and went to find some lunch.  We went to a vegetarian restaurant but it was all in Chinese, so I couldn’t ask if the meat dishes were fake or real.  So we just got veggies.  Then we ran back to the hotel to meet the driver.  We loaded up, got our bags from his room and took off for Leshan Giant Buddha. 

It was a longer driver than we expected, but it was on the way back to town.  We got there and the driver parked at a restaurant and said he would meet us there.  We went to buy tickets and the girl at the counter told us that part of the park was closed because of damage from heavy rains.  We hesitated, and asked some tourists who looked like they were leaving what they had done.  They said they had paid a little less and taken a boat out so they could see the entire Buddha from the river.  They also said it wasn’t really worth it.  We debated for a while and eventually decided we would prefer to go into the park even though we wouldn’t be able to see the entire Buddha.  We would still be able to see the head, and Kara wanted to stand next to the giant ear, so we got tickets and went in. 

It was really hot and there seemed like a lot of construction going on in the park, making it pretty confusing to find our way around.  We actually had a really hard time finding the Giant Buddha.  When we did, I think everyone was sort of disappointed.  From the top it was hard to tell just how giant he was.  Yes, he was very big, but it didn’t seem so big as to make such a deal over it.  He is carved into a cliff- side overlooking the confluence of 3 rivers, so the park was actually really pretty just to walk around in.  We walked around a bit, but it was really hot, and we didn’t have too much time because we had to meet the driver.  We sat in the shade for a while, then headed down the stairs and out of the park.  We got some popsicles and ate them on a bench in the shade. 

We had to wake up our driver who had fallen asleep drinking tea.  We sat around waiting for him to finish his tea and it seemed to take forever.  Kara checked, and he had fallen asleep again!  This guy was really a character, I wish we’d been able to chat with him some.  We woke him up a second time, he finished his tea, and took us back to Sam’s in Chengdu.  Brady and Kara wanted to ask the girls about a place to stay in Xi’an, and the girls called for them and set it up.  We only had about an hour and a half to kill before leaving for the airport, so we decided to get some dinner. 

I thought we could get some street food and take it to a bar we had seen and get some beer.  We got some food at a market, but the guys with food on sticks were gone, so we didn’t get much.  Turned out that the bar was actually a restaurant, so we ordered food and beer there and ate our last dinner together before going our separate ways.  Then we went back to the hostel.  Our driver was ready, so I loaded all the bags into the van while Brady and Kara went out in search of some cash.  Dan and I got to chatting with a nice Scottish couple who had been teaching English in China for the past year.  They were really nice and interesting, it was fun chatting with them. 

Brady and Kara got back, and we drove to the airport.  Our flight to Kunming was delayed and they had put us on another flight, so we had to find the other counter to check in at.  I  think we went to 2 or 3 counters before finding the right one.  Finally we got all checked in, so did Brady and Kara and we took a quick wet-wipe bath at the terminal.  Now Brady and Kara’s flight left before ours, so they headed out for Xi’an and we boarded for Kunming shortly after that. 

It was a pretty short flight, but I hadn’t brought an extra layer and I was freezing the whole way.  We had had a really really long day, but I couldn’t really sleep on the plane because I was so cold. 

Oh, and it’s raining in Kunming when we arrive, surprise surprise.  Then it took like half an hour for our bags to turn up.  Then we couldn’t get a taxi to take us to the hostel.  I don’t know if they couldn’t read the address on Dan’s phone, or what but everyone kept blowing us off.  Some guy must have noticed this and he comes over and asks where we want to go.  He says he’ll take us there for 60 bucks.  We know it’s a rip-off, but we’re tired and desperate, so we agree.  He drives a nondescript black car, not a normal taxi, but he takes us right to the hostel, thank goodness.  Ahh. Finally there, and Chris is up waiting for us; he got a room in the same hostel.  I have never been so happy to see a clean bed.  Oh wait, I might have been happier the night before actually, at least tonight I was never contemplating sleeping in a wet vendor booth!

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Day 16- China

Sunday July 18

This morning we got up even earlier for our trip to Emei Shan.  We put all our stuff together and shoved it in the van.  Turned out to be the same driver we had for the pandas the day before.  The drive was about 2.5 hours.  On the way there we decided that we would hike around the lower part of the mountain during the day, and try to find a monastery to stay in overnight.  The driver didn’t understand our plan and he was trying to be helpful by getting us a room at a hotel at the base.  We tried to tell him no, but there was a serious language barrier.  We called Chris and tried having him explain.  I guess the driver didn’t like that and kept insisting that a room on the mountain would cost 1000RMB.  He called the girls at Sam’s and we got it all sorted out with their help.  We decided to meet him back at the hotel at 12pm the next day. 

We ventured forth and bought bus tickets to about halfway up the mountain.  I was getting frustrated again because everything was taking so long and I just wanted to get going.  Finally, we got our tickets and found our bus and were on our way.  We got off at Wunnain, about halfway up, and had lunch there.  The Ma Po Tofu we ordered had a meaty sauce, and I forgot that Dan had a slip of paper that the girls at Sam’s had written “One of us doesn’t eat meat” on.  So basically I ate cucumbers for lunch, after which I bought and ate a bunch of cookies.

  Then we bought tickets for the cable car and for our entrance to the park.  We rode the cable car up, which was really a gondola, and cut out a good deal of stair- climbing.  At the top a bunch of kids were selling fans that I guess they make out of ferns and leaves from the forest.  The whole mountain was very jungly, lots of fauna.  I waited while Dan went to the bathroom.  While I was waiting, one of the girls tried selling me her fans, but then just started trying out her English.  She was cute.  I tried asking if she made the fans she was selling, and her answer was “suureee…” which leads me to believe that she did not.  Finally everyone was ready to go, so we put our packs on and started hiking. 

We came to a monastery, but it cost money to go inside, so we kept going.  All along the way there were vendors selling such items as : bamboo walking sticks, fern fans, some kind of mystery fruit, random jewelry, corn on the cob, dried fungus looking things, tea, stuffed monkeys, food for feeding the monkeys, etc…  None of which was purchased by foreigners such as ourselves, who I think are considered easy targets.  Many Chinese tourists however, were making such purchases.  The sticks were especially hot items, which we later found out the importance of.  Also notable, all over there were porters with chairs which you could sit in and 2 porters would carry on their shoulders.  This service was not widely used, but when it was it was primarily young, overweight men.  Typical.  They are known as “Little Emperors” because of the one-child law.  Young men grow up spoiled too often. 

The pathways were overwhelmingly crowded.  There were so many people, narrow sidewalks, and many tourists walking slowly.  It got very frustrating, especially since we were carrying our big packs all day.  It was a beautiful place with clear streams and green lush trees and rocky cliffs, but so much was taken away from it because of the overcrowding and trash and cheesy vendors.  It was pretty but I think I focused more on the annoying factors than on the nice ones.  We did a lot of stairs.  We got to another temple that we could go inside of, but similar story, it was overcrowded and there wasn’t much to see.  We kept going, our one goal was to see the monkeys and we had decided to turn around at 3:30 to catch the last bus to the summit. 

Finally, we came around a corner and saw a monkey!  He was just hanging out on a fence post, completely unphased by all of the people staring at him.  Actually, I think he was scoping out the situation, looking for unsuspecting prey.  His first victim was a little girl with a bottle of juice in her hand.  He swung down off the rail and jumped up on her, stealing the juice and tearing her shirt.  Pretty vicious.  I would have been terrified if I had been that little girl.  Next a woman walked by with 2 plastic bags.  He swiped them.  She squealed and ran off, leaving the bags to the monkeys.  Those have to be the most well-fed monkeys in the world!  There were signs everywhere saying that the monkeys were aggressive and to get rid of or secure all of you food, so I don’t understand why these people were walking around with open containers and plastic bags.  We walked past the monkey unscathed, all of our valuables safely stowed away. 

Next we came upon a bridge that you walk across in the middle of monkey country.  The guy ahead of us stopped to pose for a photo with a monkey, and the monkey went straight for his pockets.  He pulled out what appeared to be a digital camera, declared it inedible, and dropped it off the bridge.  In an effort to protect the belongings in his pockets, Dan stuck his hands down there, which the monkeys seemed to think meant that he had goodies he was about to pull out for them.  He attracted a lot of attention, and one jumped up onto the top of his pack.  There were monkeys all over the place!  We crossed back across on another bridge and the other side seemed a bit safer.  All over, women were enticing monkeys onto people’s shoulders with food, to pose for photos, and then charge a monkey-photo fee.  There was all kinds of sidewalk that we wanted to get to, but seemed closed off.  Then we realized maybe it was because there were some moms with baby monkeys over there.  We watched the babies play for a while, then a few adult monkeys started coming across the bridge toward us, lured by the woman with a peach, trying to charge some people for photos.  2 monkeys came across, and one started humping the other.  Ah the joys of monkey love.  One of the people with a big stick scared them apart.  Now we know the importance of all those bamboo sticks for sale!  We kept going up a fairly untraveled trail that ended up at of all places… a bathroom.  We took advantage, took a little break, and decided it was time to head back to the bus.  We went back on the opposite side of the stream from where we had been before, avoiding the monkey bridge, and a handful of tourists. 

There was a spot where a stick lady was keeping a close eye on a few monkeys, one of them walked up and tried to climb my leg.  I just shook him off and kept going.  Then he saw Dan with his hands in his pockets and went for it.  He leapt at his leg, trying to bite.  Dan shook him off.  The second time he wasn’t so lucky, and the monkey bit and broke the skin on his calf.  Whoa.  The lady with the stick was getting upset, I think she thought we were provoking the monkeys, but we weren’t.  Dan finally got past the angry monkey, but then he was all agitated and Brady and Kara didn’t want to pass.  They had to though, and made it past without getting a bite.  We had to stop and clean Dan’s wound, which drew a lot of attention.  Then we pretty much booked it out of there. 

It started raining harder and all the tourists had their umbrellas up, making it even harder to get through.  Passing people sort of ended up being like a game.  We came out at the bus station, got our tickets, and had a few minutes to spare, the bus wouldn’t come until 5:20.  Well 5:20 came and went and we started freaking out that we had missed the bus because we couldn’t tell which one it was.  Turns out we were the only ones from that station who wanted to go to the top.  A nice change of pace, to be the only ones.  Guess the bus was just running late, because the driver came and collected us and then sped up the curvy mountain streets at breakneck speeds, giving all of us pretty severe car sickness.  Dan was worried he’d gotten rabies or something from his monkey bite.  It was definitely a relief to get off the bus and breathe the cold air. 

It was raining, so we stepped inside a hotel to get our jackets and warmer clothes out.  As soon as we did a little Chinese woman started trying to get us to stay at their crazy expensive hotel, saying that the monastery was full, there were no more rooms anywhere else, and if we left the rooms they still had would be gone.  We decided she was probably lying to us to get us to stay there, so we would risk it and try our luck further up.  We got to the monastery pretty quickly (she had said it would take us an hour).  We walked around not really seeing any place to get a room.  We started doing some sleeping pantomime and someone got us to a sign that said “accommodations”.  But the woman there shook her head at us implying they were full.  What a conundrum.  We could either take our chances going back to the town and seeing if the expensive hotel still had rooms, or we could keep going up and see where we end up.  Out of pride, or want to be farther up the mountain for sunrise, we kept going. 

On the map it didn’t look too far to where the next monastery might be.  We started up.  There were so many stairs, endless stairs.  Kara was getting tired because the leg she had surgery on was still weak.  Dan and I got a bit ahead and came across a snack stand that was still open.  There were a bunch of people there so we asked if anyone spoke English.  One girl did a little, so we asked her about a place to stay.  She said if we kept going about half an hour we would get to Tai Zi Ping where there still might be rooms.  This was actually fairly encouraging.  But half an hour of endless stairs when it’s starting to get dark is quite grueling.  No one complained or said anything but we found out later we were all having visions of us sleeping in a vendor stand.  That would have been cold, wet and miserable.  Brady and Kara stopped to transfer gear and Dan and I decided to go ahead and get rooms squared away. 

Not too far up ahead we came to a monastery that had to be Tai Zi Ping.  A man started pantomiming sleep to us, but we wanted to see if there were rooms in the monastery itself.  As we walked up the path to the temple, a rainbow appeared, it was quite beautiful and lasted only a minute.  I think it was a sign.  It was dusk and just getting dark, and we peeked in the temple, which smelled like incense and had hundreds of candles lit.  It was gorgeous.  One of the prettiest things I’ve seen in China, and made even more special by the lack of tourists and recent rainbow.  It just seemed more legitimate, actually everyday and real.  There didn’t seem to be any rooms to rent in the monastery, so we went back to the first place and got a room for 4 for 200RMB.  Much better than at the town, but very very basic.  The room had one window with no curtain, and 4 beds.  That was all.  There was one bathroom and one sink, no shower, to be shared by all of the guests, which was probably not more than 20 including the people who I think lived there. 

Brady and Kara showed up pretty soon after that, followed by the family we had met at the snack hut, they were staying there too.  Everyone was relieved to be safe inside.  We put on our dry clothes and jackets and ate warm bowls of noodles.  Then we felt much better.  We filled a tub with hot water and washed our feet, which also felt nice.  Our Chacos are getting a bit grungy!  Ah, so much more relaxed knowing we would not be sleeping in a snack shack for the night!  We decided to go to sleep early so we could get up early to see the sun rise from the top of the mountain.  I guess it was probably about 11 though by the time we were settled.  We decided we would get up at 5, leave our packs in the room and hike up for the sunrise at the summit.

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Day 15- China

Saturday July 17

We got up very early this morning to meet our driver to take us to the Panda Reserve so we would be there in time to see the feeding.  Our driver seemed to know the ropes, so he got us right into the park and marched us straight to the baby pandas who were rolling around eating bamboo.  So cute!!!!  I think universally recognized as the cutest thing on earth.  These pandas were about 2 years old.  We watched them for a long time because they were so cute.  Most of them were laying on their backs chowing down on bamboo leaves, some sitting on their butts.  Once they were full they just sort of crawled away and curled up or climbed a tree and fell asleep.  I think that’s basically it for pandas.  Quite the life.  Then our driver took us to see some older pandas, and showed us where we could hold a panda, but it cost a whole lot so we didn’t do that.  Then we saw a tiny baby panda who was only 2 days old, and was still pink and underdeveloped. 

Finally we checked out the Red Panda area.  They were really cute too.  One of the zoo workers was cleaning out their area and bumped one of them in the head with her trash can.  Such little respect for the red pandas.  Then Dan and I held a red panda.  We were really just trying to 1-up Mom and her koala from Australia.  Probably wasn’t really worth the money, but now I can say I’ve held a red panda.

The driver went to chill at a tea house while we walked along the pond in the park.  There were lots of fish, and some ducks and black swans.  Then we watched a short movie about pandas and their breeding habits, and walked through the museum.  That pretty much covers the pandas.  We were done by about 11. 

We went back to Sam’s and tried to make a plan for the next day and for the afternoon.  We had one of the girls call and organize a driver for us for 2 days to take us to Emei Shan and Leshan Giant Buddha.  Then we went and mailed Chris’ box of books.  Quite the feat since no one there spoke any English.  I have since received word that said box did indeed arrive safely in Colorado.  It seems like the most mundane tasks are the hardest, like getting a haircut or mailing a box.

After taking care of errands, we set out on a quest to find another Temple.  This one had a tea house and a vegetarian restaurant.  Most people were hungry so we thought we would walk there and stop somewhere along the way for lunch.  There wasn’t much along the way to eat though, and I was getting frustrated because I felt like people were complaining about being hungry, but no one was being proactive about finding a place to eat.  I guess I was overreacting.

We did find a giant supermarket though where we spent a lot of time and got some food for breakfast the next day, along with some gifts and other goodies.  We found a place to eat eventually.  It was hard to order because everything was in Chinese.  There were some pictures though, so we did some pointing.  I wasn’t really hungry so I didn’t really eat anything, but they ordered some steamed buns and 2 bowls of noodles.  Then we found the street we were looking for, which turned out to be mostly expensive jewelry shops and wine shops, and the opera house. 

Somehow we missed the temple, but at the end of the street there was an enormous park with tons of tea houses and a big river.  We decided to walk around there and explore.  Mostly it was tea houses, but there was a lot of greenery and a little amusement park with rides for kids.  We watched a bunch of kids for a while who were fishing in a little pool.  I don’t know what they were catching, but they were keeping them in little buckets at their feet. 

We kept walking and came upon a place to rent boats.  Based on our last boating experience, I was skeptical, but we paid 20RMB for the pedal boat.  It was funny because if Brady and Kara pedaled, they could go forward and steer, if Dan and I wanted to pedal we had to go backwards in order to steer.  Also it was just 2 connected ponds, and we couldn’t go very far.  We did 2 laps and were through.  It was better, or at least more fun than the motor boat in Beijing. 

Then we decided we were ready for tea.  We picked a spot by the river.  The waitress didn’t speak any English, so we tried to get a menu.  She brought us a business card-sized menu, Dan pointed at something , hopefully tea, and she disappeared.  She came back with 2 giant thermoses of water and 4 glasses of tea.  The tea was very bitter, but it grew on me.  I still have no idea what kind of tea it was!  While we were sipping and chatting, 2 women came up behind me and Kara and struck these large tuning- fork- like instruments next to our ears.  Honestly, it really made me jump.  I guess they were offering an ear-cleaning service, but I don’t want anyone touching my ears let alone Chinese women with questionably sterilized instruments.  It took us longer than it should have to convince them to leave us alone, but they eventually did.  They were super persistent, offering to clean our ears, or give us a massage.  We practically had to beat them off.  Then we proceeded to drink 2 thermoses of tea, so much tea!!!  Then we had to find the restroom, which was surprisingly nice, much nicer than I expected what with all of the tea drinking that goes on there. 

 We started walking back and decided to grab a cab.  The ride was very short.  When we got back to Sam’s we asked about a good place to get hot pot for dinner.  The girls there were very helpful and called ahead to see if they had an English menu.  We made it to the restaurant, basically around the corner, and I think a girl had been sent out to receive us, and she ushered us into the elevator and up to the restaurant.  The restaurant was nice and about 7 girls stood around our table while we ordered.  The girls at Sam’s had written in Chinese that we wanted one-half spicy and the other half vegetarian.  Somehow I messed up the ordering and we only got mushroom broth, which I think was neither vegetarian nor spicy.  Oh well.  We also ordered a bunch of veggies and some meat, and 4 beers.  Delicious.  Then we went back to our rooms full and happy because we had seen pandas. We had to get up early the next morning to meet the driver to take us to Emei Shan.


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Day 14- China

Friday July 16

The bus arrived in Lanzhou at around 5am, so we had quite a bit of time to kill before our flight at 6:40pm.  Since it was so early, the bus driver parked on the side of the road and let us keep sleeping.  I didn’t sleep at all though because I didn’t understand what was going on, and was concerned about when to get off the bus.  People started trickling off and I decided to wait outside because the bus was getting really stuffy.  I sat on the sidewalk outside and watched bus patrons combing their hair and washing up with wet cloths.  Then they would go about their business as though they had had a great night’s sleep.  Several people walked by clapping and hitting themselves; their morning exercises. 

Chris emerged from the bus, then Dan, and then Brady and Kara.  We got our bags from the belly of the bus.  Then we contemplated our next move.  We decided it would be best to get a room for a couple of hours.  The places near the bus station wouldn’t rent by the hour so we decided to take a bus to near Auntie and Uncle’s and look around there.  We found a really random place upstairs that may or may not have had a pink light outside…a sign of questionable services?  They gave the room to us for the day and let us take showers. 

We had some time to kill, so we found a place in a market to get some breakfast; fried dough and warm soymilk, hit the spot!  Then we went to a fruit market to get some fruit as a gift for Auntie and Uncle.  Someone had the idea to get flowers as well, so we spent a pretty long time looking for a flower market, and then picking out flowers.  We called Auntie and Uncle at 10, and they said they were waiting for us.  I guess they had gotten up at 6 to start cooking and cleaning for us.  They are so nice!  As soon as we walked in Auntie made Dan drink a beer and all of us eat watermelon and peaches.  Uncle walked in loaded with bags of vegetables and spent over an hour cooking all sorts of dishes for us.  We spent a lot of time sitting with Auntie learning about our Chinese zodiac signs (Me, Chris and Brady = dogs, Kara= pig, Dan= bull).  Then Chris gave us all Chinese names, so Auntie could remember what to call us. 

Dan: Wei Dan Shan.  Amy: Wei Ai Mei.  Kara: Wu Kai Wei.  Brady: Yang Bai De.

Auntie fell in love with Dan, and thought he was really funny.  She said if he missed the bus he would stay there with them.  I think she might have meant forever, but maybe just until the next bus came!  Then it was time to eat.  More bitter melon, garlic shoots, eggs and tomato, vinegary beans, more fatty pork for Dan, this time stir-fried with tofu for me.  Eggplant and spicy peppers and bread were also to be found.  Quite a feast!  And they both kept dishing it all up to us.  It was all delicious, probably my favorite meal yet. 

After lunch we got our stuff together that had been stored at Auntie and Uncle’s and went to the hotel to pick up the rest of our stuff.  Uncle came with us to show us where to get the bus.  I thought he meant where to get the bus that takes us to the airport bus, but he meant to take us all of the way to the airport bus.  So he had to wait while we packed and unpacked and repacked and sorted all of our gear out.  We took a bus, and then had to walk quite a way to the next bus.  There we got shoved on the airport bus, before we had even bought tickets. 

Chris got tickets for us and we all met up on the bus where we waved goodbye to Uncle.  We will miss Auntie and Uncle.  I have never met such wonderful hospitality or eaten such tasty Chinese home cooking!  It took about an hour to get to the airport, I think we all fell asleep due to the previous night’s bus ride and lack of adequate sleep.  When we got to the airport it was raining pretty heavily.  We still had to sort out Chris’ stuff, and get some last-minute tips from him before parting ways. 

We checked in, and then camped out in a corner of the airport for a while.  Chris ended up with a bag of books that he couldn’t fit and wanted to mail home.  Then he realized the post office had already closed.  I said that we had space and could mail it from Chengdu the next day, so that’s what we decided to do.  Finally we had to part ways and embark on the first part of our “guide-free” tour.  We will miss Chris, but Dan and I will get to see him again in Kunming. 

The flight was uneventful, and the food was meaty and gross.  When we landed in Chengdu it was hot and pouring rain.  As we exited the plane we had to run through the rain to get on a shuttle to take us to the terminal.  Some woman in front of me grabbed my arm and pulled me under her umbrella with her, which was very kind of her.  We got our bags, all of which were soaked.  Then we had to find our driver, who according to Chris would have a sign that said “Weller” on it.  We found him despite the large crowd and then had to run with our packs through the rain, through the parking lot to the van.  Anything that had once been dry was now drenched.  The traffic leaving the parking lot was terrible, but honking is something I’ve become accustomed to.  Our driver was pretty bad ass and was weaving through traffic and cutting people off. 

We arrived at Sam’s Guesthouse, the quintessential youth hostel with guests from around the world, free internet access, and supremely helpful girls working at the front desk.  Our rooms were very nice and big and quiet and private.  When we piled out of the van a very energetic Chinese girl ran out to meet us, clearly we had been expected.  She was so nice, and spoke pretty good English.  There were a bunch of foreigners hanging around, and 2 computers with internet, and a sofa, and a bunch of pamphlets and fliers about tours to take and things to do and places to eat and sleep.  Very accommodating. 

Terry, the energetic girl, knew Chris from when he had stayed there, and she got us all checked in.  She showed us to our rooms and we got settled.  Dan and I ventured out to find an ATM, on the way accidentally getting a pretty great view of some guy in his underwear sweeping inside of a building.  I can only assume he was a janitor of sorts, but missing some articles of clothing!  When we got back we asked Terry a bunch of questions about things to do and decided we could fit everything in that we wanted to do and made plans to go to the Panda Reserve in the morning.  It felt good to somewhat have a plan.  Then we all wandered down the road a bit to a little market and got some fruit to eat in the car for breakfast.  We dropped off some laundry with Terry at the main office, and crashed out.

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