/ Monday, July 6, 2015 /
The casual bypasser will have noted that this blog started out as a great project to blog experiences from China, almost two years ago and has failed at that quite considerably, at only six posts having been published. I'd like to note that there were many more stories left untold, but life caught up quicker than I could write about it.

For now, I surrender to that. Let's see, if (and hope that) there will be ideas and experiences worth writing about again in the future.

Central China Trip, pt. 1: Pingyao

/ Tuesday, October 22, 2013 /
Jumping on a basically planned trip is simple. So that's what I did, when I heard of this amazing travel plan: Datong, Pingyao and Xi’An in 6 days. Perfect train times and hostels, all sorted out. Departure was scheduled for Friday, everything was booked.

But China wouldn't be China, if my stomach wouldn't have canceled that at the last minute. So rather then sitting in the train to Datong I lied down with tea and the bad feeling that it might not be in my stomach 5 minutes later. Luckily, the food poisoning or whatever else got me to find some new slowness in my life, went away quite quickly, so I could take the afternoon train to Datong on Saturday and catch the others there to board the night train to Pingyao together. After 6 hours on our soft sleeper beds, we arrived early in the morning.

Morning at the Zheng Jia Hotel in Pingyao © 2013 MC

Taxi drivers tried to bring us to the only hostel that pays commission to them in town, so we decided to have a walk towards our hostel. 30 minutes past the buildings of Pingyao, where you saw the efforts of Chinese renovation. Lower parts of the walls consisted of almost completely destroyed bricks, while the upper parts looked as if they were finished yesterday. Only a question of time, until everything looks perfect again.

We arrived at our hotel, a small establishment with authentic Chinese beds and rooms, but the first thing we had was whatever they offered as Western breakfast. My stomach, still recovering, managed to digest parts of a British one. After relaxing and showering, we got picked up to go to Zhang Bi, an ancient village secured by an underground castle. The exciting part was walking through these damp tunnels, while it was almost more interesting to see the life of the few villagers, who were still living there.

Zhang Bi village © 2013 MC

controlling the villages © 2013 MC

After coming back, we just managed to have another stroll around town and have some food in the evening, together with some warming hot chocolate, enhanced with Whisky. After a good night's sleep, we started the day running around town trying to get one of the tickets for all museums of Pingyao, eventually finding them, when we only had 2 hours left to visit them. Still, we made it to the old city administration, two banking museums and one old martial arts school. The differences between all of them were few and minor.

After having lunch, we left Pingyao for good heading to the Qiao family complex, the home to a formerly very rich family. It might be my lack of knowledge about China, but even here I thought that most old buildings look strikingly similar. The difference between (parts of) a temple and a family home are almost indistuingishable. Afterwards, our driver took us to the capital of Shanxi, Tayyuen, where we took the train to our next destination in the night: Xi'an.

Fuck Badaling (or: Our Great Wall Hiking Trip)

/ Sunday, October 6, 2013 /
Great Wall of China, Jiankou, Beijing Knot in the background (c) 2013 MC

The Great Wall is probably the thing most people, who have been to China, have seen. Still, most people probably went to the more touristy parts (e.g. Badaling). But we decided that we wanted to see the more raw and wild part of the wall and went to the part at Jiankou (箭扣), which is probably the most dangerous, but also the most interesting parts of the Wall.

We started our trip with 12 people on friday morning at 8 am and after taking the bus #916 to Huairou (怀柔), which took about an hour, we had to haggle for a mini bus to take us to Jiankou. It was Golden Week, so prices were high and haggling difficult, but we finally got each bus for 170 RMB (~20 EUR, 28 USD) for the one hour ride. The chinese call these hideous vehicles "bread van", which is still quite euphemistic.

Arrived in Jiankou, we began our 30 minute climb up to the Great Wall. After some short relaxation (it was already 4 pm), 4 from our group left, as they wanted to be back in Beijing on that same day. We, the remaining 8, had other plans: We wanted to sleep on the Great Wall, an experience that seems to be getting more and more popular.

Climbing on the Great Wall (c) 2013 MC

We had two hours to find a campsite, so we started our way down the wall. Here, the description "wild wall" was filled with content: There were no real pathways, the towers were all partly destroyed and everything was full of bushes. Some bruises, climbings and great views later, we found a decent campsite and began our preparations for the night.

Making some space for our sleeping area (c) 2013 MC

dinner prep (c) 2013 MC

Robert, our American chef, prepared a selection of vegetables with butter, Western flavoured. The others tried to prepare a grill. Burning some 58% vol. Baiju didn't work (but was lots of fun), so we then moved on to some more traditional boyscout methods. In the end, we had a decently hot grill and began to cook the vegetables and barbecue some beef. Night was falling on us over this dinner, but we continued to cook the masses of meat we brought with us. At 11pm, we finally put the last meat, a rabbit sized piece of beef, on the grill.

rudimentary fire making techniques (c) 2013 MC

beef (c) 2013 MC

The night in our sleeping bags felt warm and cosy, although there were a few stones underneath. But a few glasses of Whisky helped immensely to sleep. The next morning, I felt almost more relaxed then sleeping in my dorm room. It was 8am. We heard voices from a bunch of Chinese people. We looked at the other side of the hill and there were about 40 Chinese tourists having their breakfast. 5 minutes later, they all walked through our camp and everybody wanted a photo with the Westerners.

Clean-Up (c) 2013 MC

morning visitors (c) 2013 MC

We then had breakfast, cleaned up and left our camp to climb the highest mountain around. It was, as we found out later by another tourist, a very important point on the wall, the Beijing knot, the connection of inner and outer Great Wall. Getting up there wasn't easy: It was more mountaineering then hiking as it involved climbing up unsecured hills with up to 80° incline. Luckily, we left our backpacks in a base camp for that. But the view from the top deserved all that work: It was breathtaking. Unfortunately, there was some fog and/or pollution, which limited the view a little.

Hiking up to the Beijing knot (c) 2013

View over the Jiankou area of the Great Wall from the Beijing knot (c) 2013 MC

After that, we slowly meandered back to the village and took the way back to Beijing, partly with 8 people in a 7 person bread van. Nature, Mountains, Meat, sleeping under the nightsky, awesome views. Definitely two days to remember.

Screaming at midnight

/ Sunday, September 29, 2013 /
Casually sitting together in my room with a few friends over a glass of wine, it was around midnight, suddenly we heard a women screaming at the top of her voice from the corridor. Immediate thoughts included a chainsaw accident, rape, broken bones, etc... Everybody just walked out of the room to the source of that almost frightening noise, which came from the centre of the hallway next to the elevator.

What we saw, didn't in any way correspond to our expectations: A woman was sitting next to on the floor, crying, screaming, just expressing some form of negative emotion in the most extreme way. Her voice went from loud to extreme in waves. The crowd around her quickly grew, but everybody staid away at least 5 meters. The scene was bizarre.

Slowly, we puzzled together the pieces of her story. She was the girlfriend of a Malian student at the dorms and came to visit him. But the guy already went back to Mali, so she had a complete mental breakdown. One that was far beyond "normal" on western standards. The prejudice you read that Chinese women are always very serious about their relationships proves true - most really always look for marriage, and scenes like this one happen, when dreams crush.

Life at CUPL

/ /
Sunset from the roof of the CUPL dorm building, on a clear day (c) 2013 MC
I have now been living on the Haidian campus of CUPL for about one month - time to write about life here.

My student residence is a 17-story-building, about 15 years old. All the international students have the privilege to live on the first (female students) and second (male students) floor, so we are at least not dependent from the painfully slow elevators. But that's not, where the privileges end: We have small group showers on our own floor, initially with strict shower times (19:00 - 21:00, then 09:00 - 14:00 and 17:00 - 21:30), but we just broke the doors, so now we have 24h shower access. Chinese students have to use a group shower in the basement, with about 50 showers in one room, and it's only open from 17:00 to 21:00. For international students, there's a maximum of two students per dorm room. Chinese students have to share their rooms with three other people. Also, Chinese students actually adhere to all the other dorm rules, for example the curfew (23:00h on weekdays, 00:00h on weekends). International students just use the VIP entrance at night, through the underground parking lot.

Although I somehow enjoy all these privileges, they do limit the “real” experience of being a student in China. But it's also unfair that Chinese people are actually treated worse than we are. But as long as they don't stand up for themselves, nothing will change

But that aside, my life: I share my room with a Chilean master student and, luckily, I'm in the calm corridor of the dorms, so I can enjoy the poker nights or other enjoyments in our dorm without having the downsides of that. The loft beds are cheap metal constructions and sleeping on that, cushioned with the Chinese interpretation of a mattress, is not a real pleasure. Underneath the bed, I have a metal desk with some storage options. All that's not luxurious, but it covers the basics.

But the really great thing about living here is that I do so with people from virtually every corner of the world, with different languages, cultures and customs. So that's living at CUPL, in a few words.

Catching up: Hong Kong

/ Thursday, September 19, 2013 /
Nathan Road (c) 2013 MC

Before embarking to China, I booked a weekend trip to Hong Kong, during the Summer School in Shanghai. This decision did lead to much frustration, thanks to the wonderful visa policies of the PRC. But first, the ride to Hong Kong:

Friday, 5:13 am. I wake up, asking myself what time it is. Looked at my watch, shock. Meeting downstairs to take the taxi to the airport in 2 minutes. Packed the rest of my stuff, ran downstairs, almost on time. At least I was awake after this. So taxi, flight, taxi again and we arrived at Mirador Mansions, one of Hong Kong's infamous buildings with uncountable guesthouses. Check-In to our two rooms (mine measured 8 qm for three people, including the shower-toilet, but at least everything was clean and we had an amazing view over Nathan Road), and then I immediately had to run to my visa agency.

Now why that? Having been enrolled as a student at a Chinese university, I was entitled to a student visa. But China seems to think, that students should just sit at their desks and learn, but definitely not travel. Hence, one entry into the country is more than enough for a student visa. However, my plans did not conform to that, as leaving to Hong Kong means leaving the country for visa purposes. After a few calls to the Chinese consulates in Germany before travelling, I decided to enter China (to Shanghai) on a one-entry tourist visa, leave mainland China to Hong Kong and then apply for my student visa there to go back into China. Slightly risky, but it's Asia, everything is supposed to be somehow possible. And it was. The following Wednesday, I returned to my agency and they handed me my passport with a shiny new 150-day-student-visa.

But between Friday and Wednesday a lot happened. During the weekend, we strolled through the small streets of Hong Kong Island, sometimes between modern skyscrapers, sometimes between the charming buildings of SoHo. We walked up to Victoria Peak, only to find the view being restricted by clouds and fog. Luckily, I could return a few days later (my group left on sunday) to enjoy the amazing view from up there.

Hong Kong by night, seen from Victoria Peak (c) 2013 MC

As the others left on sunday, I also left our hostel, so we travelled with our backpacks: We decided on the right destionation for travelling with luggage: The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery - it involves climbing up a mountain with a stunning scenery and many, many stairs. But the calmness and view from up there rewarded for all that sweat! After climbing down, the IKEA sign at a building was so tempting - we just had to go in and enjoy some soft ice.

stairs at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (c) 2013 MC

As I was on my own from monday, I did some more relaxing travelling: Visited the Mai Po Nature Reserve, went to the Big Buddha by ferry. But mostly, I just strolled through the streets, absorbed some of that special Hong Kong atmosphere that just makes it a place you want to come back to.

Catching up: Shanghai

/ Saturday, September 14, 2013 /

This was supposed to be a travel blog, but after more than one month of being in China, there was no blogpost. So I got a lot to catch up with now. But I won't go into much detail on all of that.

My first station in China was Shanghai. The speed of a maglev train, the height of the skyscrapers of Puding, but also the small alleys of Old Town and the European charm of the French Concession or the Bund: The variety of Shanghai is sheer unimaginable. All of the sightseeing was on my schedule, of course.

But the main purpose of my stay there was to actually learn some Chinese, which I did at Tongji University. A more than charming teacher four times a week with a group of roughly 20 Germans, mostly not very motivated: The success of learning was limited, but at least I now know the very basics and communication with locals is possible.

But as in any city, it is the nights, which really make things special. And Shanghai had a lot in store here. Not only the amazing view on the skyline of Pudong, but also the world's second and third highest bars. Both are definitely worth a visit, but you get the best view from the Vue Bar at the Bund side - outside jacuzzi included (especially for HM). Moving on from bars, Shanghai's nightlife was still great, although I sometimes missed some smaller or more underground venues. But there is always more to discover.

Pictures will follow.
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