Thursday, July 24, 2008


we had to pack our bags this morning and wrap up the instrument. It was hot, we'd accumulated some heavy goods over the last couple of weeks, we had trouble getting a taxi, and we were already late. This did not stop Anders from making a last visit to the post office for mailing his last post cards. After passing some heavy traffic (using the road shoulder and the empty yet restricted olympic lane creatively), we arrived just in time at the airport and avoided the all too familiar loudspeaker message: Can Mr Eggum and Mrs Melby please go to gate, you are delaying the flight! We spent a couple of hours in downtown Amsterdam, and was picked up by Olav at Oslo airport around 11 pm. It's way past midnight now, we've eaten a sleeping pill each, and Astrid is already in dream land. Thanks for following us!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

sightseeing Beijing

we actually managed to keep our schedule. First, we biked to the post office to buy cardboard and had breakfast. After returning the bikes to the apartment, we took a cab to the Summer Palace. Our schedule for the rest of the day was as follows (and we are no earlybirds): Visit the Forbidden city, shop silk at the Clothing Market (we actually bought quite a few souvenirs and had to make another stop at home to unload), bike to the station, take the train closer to downtown and walk to the music instrument store - we lost our way, and reached the store at about 9 pm. We (or 360 yuans for two flutes, 40 for a lesson, and 30 for taxi) convinced them to stay open for a while longer so that Astrid got her guzhong (?)lesson . The guy was very talented. He played almost all of the instruments they had, and if did it well. Great! Dinner at last. Two drunk chicks tried to pick up Anders,convincing him that they were all out of money and really drunk. Tough luck! We took a taxi to our bikes, biked home (but stopped by the friendly neighbourhood kiosk) and fell fast asleep.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back(packers) to Beijing

As you can see, Astrid is now very comfortable with chopsticks. We're at Hong Kong airport, waiting for the 11:55 flight to Beijing. When she finished her noodles, her first words were Lets find Starbucks! We're aiming to wash our clothes, visit the Summer Palace, learn how to play the instrument we bought last week, and do some shopping today. Tough schedule! Nothing is mandatory, though - as usual :-)

There are at least 9 million bicycles in Beijing, and they all have different sounds. The bell seems to mean "I'm here", the more radiant "watch out", or simply "move!". You can load anything on your bike, cardboard (several square metres of it), garbage, fruit, your fridge, your wife, your wife and family... My bike is pink and has one bell. I try not to look behind me, and the crowd of people in front of me seems to know what they are doing. Anders has got two bells on his orange bike (of course included in the bargain price). Our bikes are the ONLY bikes with color. All other bikes are grey or black or something in between. Around where we live, Chinese people seem to live as well (live, work... I am not sure about the difference, and that is not entirely in a bad way) each in their own store. It turns out that some of them speak English, for instance the son of our friend at the store next to the bike store. Closer to the Summer Palace, which is where we went this afternoon, the side of the roads are all covered with cardboard woods and olympic pennants. We stopped at a restaurant where you boil your own food in soup. They had to bring us the menu "in flesh" to be able to take our order, and cook various food for us to show us how to prepare it. Tomorrow will be a busy day, the number one and two priorities being going back to the music store and getting hold of cardboard to wrap what we bought at our last visit there.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Opal mine, Ladies market, and jazz

After a simple Chinese breakfast on 17 Wellington street, we headed over to Kowloon and visited Gary and his wife Annie, who treated us with an outstanding lunch, Cantonese style, in a great restaurant. We also visited the Opal Mine, their jewellery store, which is designed like a mine where you can a lot about opals. Astrid got a beautiful ring there, too. After lunch, we did some shopping at Ladies market, and walked down Nathan road to Kowloon pier, where we saw the whole 8 pm lightshow. Again. :-) We marked the end of our stay in Hong Kong with a visit to a jazz club in Soho. The live band was lousy, but we were the only guests that monday night. We had a good time, though!

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Anders took boat, train, and bus as far away from the city as possible, while Astrid explored the streets South of Hollywood road, including antique markets, art galleries, temple, and other treats.

Anders: Caught the star ferry from Hong Kong island to Kowloon, where I went to Opalmine to visit a friend I made in Thailand last year. He was there! Meeting him and his family for lunch tomorrow. Continued by train and bus to Sai Wung, a fisherman village famous for its restaurants where you can pick fresh catch from the boat and have it prepared your way - this was not cheap, though! Just wanting breakfast, I opted for the other end of the scale, and ended up with sweet and sour pig knuckles and tea. They forgot my rice, so I didn't eat a lot, eventually. Another bus ride later, I reached my destination, but the water was more suitable for sailing, windsurfing, and cayaking than snorkeling or diving, and I needed license or course reservation for the former, so I just took in the beautiful scenery and began my journey back home. Learned that buses only accept exact fare, ie don't give change, the hard way. Dropped a 20 HK$ bill into the coin slot the first time, easily more than doubling the fare...

Astrid: Had morning tea in the window of our room on the 24th floor, looking at the boats crossing over from Central to Kowloon. Walked around the neighbourhood (Soho), went to oldest temple in HK, visited contemporary art galleries and the antique market in Hollywood Road.

After meeting up, having pizza, and relaxing a little bit, we took the ferry to Kowloon to see the 8 pm lightshow on the skyscrapers on Hong Kong from a distance.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hong Kong

The view from our room on the 24th floor
We arrived in Shenzhen this morning, and entered Hong Kong through immigration a few minutes later. This is the cleanest city we've visited so far. Prices are high, almost the same as in Norway for food and hotel. We'll be staying here for three nights before returning to Beijing.

We took the Peak Tram to the top of Hong Kong, where we were funneled straight into a shopping mall. Apart from banking and finance, it seems to be all about shopping here. The city is full of exclusive brands (which makes them less exclusive?), so this is not the place for making a bargain, considering that we're going back to Beijing on Tuesday (thanks to Olav, who helped us book tickets Saturday night). This city is breaking our budget, but it's a fun place. We had a great Italian dinner with a rose wine and a delicious dessert. According to an Aussie who's been working here for a couple of years, many people are a-holes here. We haven't met any, but it's my impression that foreigners don't always mix with the locals. We are lucky, though, since everyone we've met have been sweet as sugar :-)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Staring contest

Astrid writes: For 2 days, we have seen only 1 white person - an American - except each other. My eyes are amazingly blue all of a sudden, and we are the tallest people on the planet. Today we arrived in Wuchang/Wuhan by train. I slept all night, but Anders had some trouble sleeping - partly due to bad dreams about Chinese characters (which we enjoy) and partly due to increasingly stomach problems. Wuhan is a city of about 12 million people in the mid south (still the only white people). The city is located om the Yangtze river. Upon arrival, we were met by a huge construction site, forcing us to walk for at least 20 minutes around the train station (entrance on one side - way out on the other!) in 35 degrees C and extreme humidity. The ticket office was on the front side of the building, outside, of course. We bought tickets for Shenzhen for the same night, and checked in to the closest hotel to take a day off. (RMB 85). After sleeping for a couple of hours, we headed downtown to get something to eat. We took a cab to Snack Street, a street filled with snack bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Actually, the entire city (at least the part we saw) consists of hole-in-the-wall places, offering chili, foodish stuff, pots and pans, and everything else that anyone could possibly buy. We did not go to the city centre, though. We seem to have gotten a two-bed coupe for tonight, which we are very happy about. Today, we actually managed to buy the tickets we wanted, without any English (not entirely true, since a helpful woman in the line did assist us a little bit). Chinese people are extremely kind, helping us getting cabs and being very understanding about our general level of confusion. Taxi drivers, however, are not particularily fond of foreigners... Many refuse to take us.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

9th wonder of the world?

Yesterday, we didn't really know what kind of tickets we had and when we were going exactly (besides the direction), but we managed to upgrade our seat tickets to beds aboard the train.

more to come on the 9th wonder: Longmen caves.

We got up early, skipped breakfast and took a taxi from the hostel in Xian centre to the train station right outside the city wall. We had no problems boarding, and met a nice, English speaking chef onboard. He was going to some nearby mountains to hike. He asked some other travel companions to tell us when to get off, which they did about 5 hours later. Luongyang did not seem like a small city at all to us. Many tall buildings were spread out across a vast area, with lots of wide, long roads. We had to bargain for a cab - with a middleman - who kind of lost. The fare to the caves was just 4 yuan more than the meter said. Total 35! We walked to the grottoes, a myriad of Buddha statues in sizes ranging from dwarf to giant carved into the side of the mountain. We also visited a temple on the other side of the river. Returning to the station were we bought new train tickets, Astrid encountered a real public toilet - meaning a hole in the floor, no door, and the next needy within the same three walls before the pants were back on! Our train ticket would take us somewhere, hopefully in the right direction, seating standard unknown for 150 yuan. We later found out that the city was Wuchang, about 10 hours away, and we could upgrade our tickets onboard to beds for only 150 yuan. What a stroke of luck!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Eight wonder of the world

We went on a guided tour to the excavation site of the Terracotta Warriors today. It was quite a sight. Nearby, there is a huge grave, where emperor Qin lies burried. The grave is actually a hill built by humans, with more than 2000 years worth of natural landskaping on it. On the way, we were told that the city walls of Xian are about 30 kilometers long, and you can bicycle on it - the roundtrip takes about 100 minutes. On the way to the main attraction, we visited Bampo village, a 6000 years old excavation site where foundations, mugs, and remains of the villagers where exhibited. We also visited a factory where they make terracotta stuff (such as souvenir warriors) and a silk factory where we could see how silk is prepared from the silk worm cocoon to finished goods.

After returning to the hostel, we went to a cheap restaurant selling scrumptious wheat noodles which we still had a craving for after a good lunch at the silk factory. A simple dinner for two cost about a dollar fifty! This was NOT a tourist place, though :-)

Tibet? Yes! No!!

Still at Starbucks... Staying in a twin room at a nice hostel with a view to the Bell Tower in the centre of Xian. They speak English fluently, and are very helpful and service minded. We almost got tickets to Tibet, too - including flights in and out, hotel, and guides - agreed on a schedule and went to the bank to unload about $3000 in cash, only to come back and be told that the rules had changed at the Tibet office: Papers must be sent by mail, not fax anymore. That added a few more days which we don't have, so we'll still have to go somewhere else. Oh well. Coffee break is over! Off to the terracotta warriors!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coffee addicts Anonymous

Chinese may not drink much coffee, but Astrid's worst nightmare did not come true. We've found Starbucks in Beijing and Xian, which means free wireless as well :-)

Xian, an earlier Chinese capital now famous for the army of terracotta warriors, was the start and end of the silk road to the West. The city centre is surrounded by the still intact city walls, with the drum and bell towers in the middle.

The flight time to Xian was about 1.5 hours (exactly on time), English was not a problem, and everything is just great...

Looking back on Tuesday, we really liked the muslim quarter, thriving with life day and night. There were great shows in both the Drum and Bell towers (I liked the drums best). We took an electric rickshaw to the train station (no taxis want to give us a ride here - we have no idea why) and bought train tickets. The station is the noisiest place... All of the ticket counters use microphones/loudspeakers turned to max, and they don't exactly whisper! We waited in line twice, and got tickets to Luoyang for Thursday morning. It cost abot 10 USD for a three-hour train ride, but we must stand all the way (restaurant wagon here we come).

Monday, July 14, 2008


Fog had replaced the blue sky this morning, and it was raining a little bit most of the day. At the start of the day, we thought we'd bet getting on a train to Xian tonight - that's where the terracotta warriors are. However, there was no train route allowing our planned stops, so we decided on taking a plane instead. We're not going to Tibet, since it takes at least a week to get all the formalities in order... Unfortunately, the Chinese embassy in Norway didn't anwer our question about what we should have done in advance. Oh well...

After eating some hot donkey for lunch, we went to a local travel agent and bought tickets for a flight to Xian for the next morning. The price was alright, until they added their fees to the total. Fine. Then, we requested the total price of tickets from Xian to Hong Kong. The guy asked who the tickets was for (!!) and gave us a price of 2400 Yuan, which was OK for the both of us. When he booked the tickets, though, it turned out that this was the price for one person, so he claimed that we owed him 4800 RMB (same currency, just a different name). We didn't want those tickets, but they had been booked, and I didn't even want to pay for cancelling tickets I hadn't ordered, and the fight had started. After about an hour, and both me and the agent threatening with police, Astrid pushed for just paying the 100 Yuan fee (about $16) and get going, which we did, and then everyone was friends and none of us had actually called the police, and it was all a big misunderstanding. Smile!

Finally, we checked out the Chinese Hooters, Anders had his hot breaded chicken wings, and then we could go shopping. On the way home, the weather got a little more nasty, so I biked home in shorts and socks.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Great Wall of China and Peking Duck

Having a simple and nutritious rice or wheat porridge breakfast with
honey melon and mango on the side at home.
Rented a cab for 700 Y. Met driver at 8. Paid when back home. No
tipping. Got a lesson on taxi fares.
Brought fruit which we bought on the street last night.
Went to Great Wall at Simtai, 120 km out of Beijing by the Jing-Cheng
Freeway. See
Entrance 40 Y, took the quick way down - threw ourselves out of a
cliff James Bond style: by wire.
Left camera in cab, driver called. Remember receipt!
After a quick shower back home, we went to a superb restaurant
(Da Dong Roast Duck restaurant) and had Peking duck and a few other
things. It was great. Finally, we took a walk on Tiananmen Square,
where we bought a wristwatch featuring Mao waving his hand, and some
paper kites, which I tested. A lot of fun :-) We're home again now,
trying to plan the next week...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Laugh, bid insanely low, walk away, flash the money, agree

Starting out with a clear and blue sky, this day gave us a view of the
mountains West of Beijing from our friend's bedroom window in the
Haidian district (university
area, Northwest in the capital). The foot of the mountains is about 45
minutes away from here by bus, and such a view is not an everyday
treat. We took the bikes for a roll and had breakfast near the
light-rail or overground metro. We had various porridge (sweet, salty)
粥 zhou, soy milk 豆浆 doujiang, mushrooms 木耳 muer and tofu skin 豆皮, and
sticky rice with ham. After a few stops on the metro, we took the taxi
to the antique market on the South side, where we did some bargaining
on Mao's little red book and some posters, a painting, and some
incense. [I should make some comments on bargaining] Everyone knows
that shopping makes you hungry, so Liv had picked out a great
restaurants for true vegetarians. The only animal course they had was
a dessert that contained eggs. Some courses closely resembled meat,
though - like (not) lamb kebab, (not) beef in brown sauce, and fried
chicken (not). Finally, we found ourselves knocked out by the heat,
and took a taxi home in order to take a nap. The sky was still blue,
and a calm wind was brushing through the city. Later on, we took a "private"
taxi to back to the station, and picked up our bikes which were parked for
0.20 Y for one day. We checked out the menu at a Korean BBQ, but
since they had no dogs, only cows, neither Anders nor Astrid wanted
to eat there, so we went Japanese instead. Great food. After loading up
fruit for the next day's field trip and stopping by the owner of a convenience
store, who met the day before for a chat, we went home.

Not so fun, but still a fact: Damned if you do it, damned if you
don't... Many taxi drivers don't wear their seat belt, but pretend
that they do. If they don't, they'll get a ticket. If they do, they
run a chance of being strangled for a few Yuan... As for passenger
seat belts - you're lucky if you find a cab that has them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's my birthday

The pollution really isn't that bad for the moment - better than
expected, at least. The line of sight was very limited, though, due to
high humidity and little wind. After unloading our bags at our friend
Liv's apartment, we bought a couple of cheap bicycles yesterday,
complete with bells, locks, and baskets. [I should make some comments
on how brakes work] My bike is orange and very small for me, and
Astrid's bike is pink. We also bought a musical instrument: 古筝
"guzheng". It has 21 strings and makes beautiful sounds, featuring a
few scales of do-re-mi-so-la (omitting fa and ti), starting on D. We
also went by the bank (cash is king), had a more or less traditional
Chinese dinner with sweet and sour chicken, sichuan chicken (somewhat
hot), broccoli, and pork and white cabbage dumplings, crushed cucumber
with salt and garlic, and jasmine tea, of course. Finally, we went
strolling near 前海 Qianhai lake and had a drink at a bar looking over
one of the three lakes nearby the Lama temple.

Fun fact: Coca Cola is named (not just called) something like 可口可乐
kekou kele, which means "tastes nice and makes you happy" directly

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The last coffee?

Bought new toothbrushes, packed lightly, and left Oslo at 15:05. Had a
short stop in Amsterdam, and continued at 18:30. Arrived at terminal 2
in Beijing 10 hours later, on Friday morning.