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kyoto, japan

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the great wall of china at jiayu pass, gansu province

The westernmost point of the Great Wall of China is actually just a fort. We expected to walk along a majestic stretch of wall among arid landscape and high, high mountains. Instead, bus #4 from Jiayuguan city took us and a hoard of eager Chinese to a highly organized tourist site (much like the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an), where we paid ¥120 (students ¥60) to walk around a pristinely kept fort and try to gawk at the majestic Qilian mountains (in the faaaaaaaaaaar distance) without getting distracted by the industrial smog of the city nearby. But hey! 
☑ saw the Great Wall of China
AND there weren’t as many tourists as at the sites of the wall in Beijing!

danxia geological park

Rolling hills of Danxia Geological Park, China, upon which we took a languid stroll before the cops/guards megaphoned us down angrily.

Edit (2017): If everyone else did what we did, these beautiful hills would not be half as perfect as they look today.
It is true what they say about the colours being the most vivid after rain. Even more so at sunset. We were so lucky to chance upon both.




Today I lived a dream.
When I realized a few months ago that what used to be my desktop background for years is a real life place in China that I can visit, I knew I had to go. So here I am. Zhangye Geological Park.
When we set out with a shared taxi (50¥ return trip, to/from our hostel) I could hardly contain my excitement. It was about an hour ride to the gate of the park (40¥ adult/20¥ student) from which a mandatory shuttle (20¥) took us to sites 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the geological park. I couldn’t help but gawk at the views from the shuttlebus itself until, alas, it started to rain… My heart dropped.
We arrived at site 1 to find groups of people shivering in the plummeting rain, pushing to get onto any shuttlebus to hide from the torrential downpour. We were soaked, shivering, smiling, but let down. There was no way we could walk on the clay ridges, and the rainbow colours seemed to wash away with the rain.
Thankfully, the shuttle busses aren’t signed in english and it’s impossible to tell which bus goes to which gate (north, east, west, and perhaps south?) without knowing the Chinese characters for either direction. We arrived at the north gate and realized that our taxi was in fact at the east one. The rain was so heavy that the shuttle busses wouldn’t go into the park again until it calmed, so we waited until finally the rain stopped altogether and blue sky appeared. The late afternoon sun glowed on the rainbow hills. My heart sighed relief. (I dropped Ryan’s android in utter admiration and cracked the screen.) No photoshop needed, the sunset brought out the natural colours of the hills so beautifully after their afternoon shower.
We got lucky.

18h train, standing ticket

We needed to get out of Beijing, for the sake of saving money and travel time, as soon as Ryan got back from his visa run in Hong Kong. I’d discovered that you can actually buy train tickets online instead of having to lug yourself to the train station or a ticket office with passports and an explanation written up in Chinese for the counter person to understand - it’s easier to do on a booking site, like ctrip, and I was able to book in this way with passport numbers and a credit card. Unfortunately, however, I found that the train we needed to catch (being one of the two heading westward to Xinjiang from Beijing) was completely booked up apart from standing tickets, which cost the same as a hard seat (approx 40CAD). I booked the 18h, crestfallen, although the confirmation cheekily stated that it was “hard seat.” Yeah, right. We got to the train station after a 2 hour sleep, half expecting a hard seat, and being gestured to by train staff that no, it was in fact standing. Shit. 10am, 18hours to go. We snagged a spot huddled by the carriage doors, having to rise every hour or so as the train stopped in order to let people get off and on and continuously fight, push, weasel our way to get our spot back. We were fortunate enough that no woman armed with multiple babies and big bags didn’t try to edge her way into it, or I certainly would’ve given it up. To say that the train was crowded is an understatement. The thing is, I’ve taken dilapidated trains in Myanmar, even some in Thailand, but never have I had to pay so much for a seat, or a standing ticket, for that matter. When a ticket costs you the equivalent of 3CAD or in the case of Myanmar sometimes a third of a dollar (for 12+h journeys), you can’t really complain about having to cram in a wooden seat or sleep in the restaurant carriage on the cockroach soaked floor. But for 200¥… Midday, a cup of noodles. 6pm, another cup of noodles. 3am, more noodles. Thank goodness for hot water on trains, but any more instant ramen and I’ll turn into a big noodle myself. All the passengers with standing tickets were lovely. We would take turns allowing for the other person to extend their legs, or for some men - who had sometimes been standing for hours, with no space to so much as squat, even - to crouch for a few hours and rest. A no smoking policy appears to be in effect on trains, but very much ignored. The space between carriages is, in most Chinese trains, the designated smoking area, and even though the conductor was adamant in reminding people not to light up, men would find their way over and try to have a cigarette nevertheless. I think that by nighttime the conductor had given up on yelling at people, while other passengers kept to smoking in the lavatories (making the wait for a wee unbearable). It was amazing how little of a crap some people gave about the conductors orders and the new rules. At one point, around midnight, we’d stopped at a station for a 10min leg stretch, and a group of men went off to buy beers. They tried to board the train but the conductor told them they couldn’t bring on their beers. They shrugged and boarded on the next carriage instead. The conductor sighed defeatedly. While the price of the standing ticket, being equivalent to that of a seat, is a bit steep, it may actually be a more comfortable way (if there can be a “comfortable” way to be on a train for 18hours) to ride. Once we’d established our half metre squared area, people were respectful and understanding of it and in turn we’d make room for others. Being on a train from 10am until 5am is brutal, but this time it was an interesting (and exhausting) experience as well. To bed!