Friday, November 23, 2007


Tibet! At last!

Somebody out there has been trying to sabotage our trip to Tibet! After having to leave China to deal with a death in the family and an illness (see post below), as well as tightening Tibet permit restrictions - Tibet has been closed to foreigners on two separate occassions since we've been in China - we've now got permits and we're taking the train to Tibet!

The train from Chengdu to Lhasa (the capital of Tibet) is the highest train in the world (passing 5000m) and even has oxygen on board so you can deal with the lack of oxygen at the high altitudes. The trip takes 48 hours, so we will be in Lhasa by Sunday night.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is not part of China. I don't care what the government says.

In Hong Kong, they speak another language (Cantonese not Mandarin). They use their Hong Kong Dollars instead of Chinese Yuan. You need a visa to enter China, but not Hong Kong. Flights from Hong Kong to mainland China land at the international terminal, and you have to then clear customs and immigration. You can even buy copies of 'Mao - the unknown story' in Hong Kong (this book is very critical of Chairman Mao, and is definitely banned in China).

Anyway, I don't have much else to say about Hong Kong, as I never actually saw any of it. I had a 12-hour layover there (on my way from Vancouver to Chengdu), but it was not possible to the airport.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chengdu, Holland and Vancouver

When we set out for Chengdu, we meant to use the city as a base for trips out to the sites in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and as a departure point to Tibet. However as result of two events, we didn't really see very much of the Sichuan province or any of the surrounding provinces:


On the second morning that we were in Chengdu, I got an email from my mother saying that my Oma in Holland was stopping her dialysis treatment and that she was going to a hospice and would likely pass away within a few days. I was really shocked about this as when I had last seen my Oma in August she had been doing well and we had even taken a shopping trip together. In the two years that we had lived in Denmark, I was able to get to know Oma better. I had been really looking forward to being able to visit her often as Anthony and I are going to be moving to Utrecht in March. The following morning I left Chengdu and arrived in Amsterdam later in the evening (European time). Oma was still quite lucid and was so happy that I had been able to see her one last time. My mom and I spent a few days by Oma's side talking with and reminiscing about good times. Unfortunately, Oma struggled for 12 days without dialysis (normally dialysis patients only live for 3 of 4 days without treatment). Although when Oma passed away there was another wave of grief, we were all in many ways relieved for Oma. The funeral was on November 15th and the ceremony was really beautiful - my cousin played cello, I read a Bible verse in Dutch (that Oma chosen) and my mom and uncle wrote a touching eulogy about Oma.

My mom, my dad and I spent the following day moving Oma's furniture (the stuff that Anthony and I were going to use for our new place in Utrecht). I flew back to Chengdu on Sunday night, arriving on Monday afternoon. I was to spend a few days alone around Chengdu as Anthony had his own issue to contend with...


For much of our time in China, I had been experiencing some intermittent pain and visits to several doctors had led to several diagnoses of different infections and several different antibiotic treatments. A few days after Marieke's departure, I again visited a doctor as the pain was not abating, and he recommended that I return home for further treatment, as it would involve a lengthy treatment of IV antibiotics.

I basically went straight to the airport and got the first flight to Vancouver, via Beijing (pretty pissed off that my travel medical insurance wouldn't cover it!). After over 24 hours of planes, buses and ferries, I was able to see a doctor at the Duncan Hospital and he declared that my infection was cured. Still, I should stick around for a few days to see a specialist. The specialist confirmed that I am now healed (also that I probably never had an infection, but rather a prostate stone...). So, I basically went straight back to the airport and caught a flight back to Chengdu (via Hong Kong, as it was much cheaper).

Our intended travels south of Chengdu have been postponed to another trip, but we should still be able to see Tibet - on our way to Nepal.

Monday, November 05, 2007


China is surprisingly mountainous. There were recommended mountain hikes near every city we had visited, but one sounded best of all - Emeishan. It is a holy mountain, with many monasteries, but the main attractions are the monkeys. Our guidebook even had a section called 'When Monkeys Attack.' A hostel at the base of the mountain lends out walking sticks that you can use to defend yourself...
The mountain is over 3000m tall (2400m from the base) and it should take about 12 hours to climb. On the first day, we (Anthony and Dave) only climbed for about 3 hours, reaching a monastery where we could stay overnight. It was a very peaceful night, drifting off to sleep with monks chanting in the distance, and waking to join in some tai chi. Oh, and pancakes with banana, apple, chocolate and honey for breakfast at the Hard Wok Cafe!

The second day, we climbed for over 9 hours to the summit. This hike was unlike any other mountain I have climbed. First, it was stairs the whole way. And I mean concrete stairs, perfectly even, with concrete railings, all the way up. I figure we climbed at least 15-20,000 stairs! And, it was foggy the whole way too. You could just about make out the 50 stairs ahead of you, and some trees to either side of the path. This was a little disappointing, especially when we reached the top and it was still foggy. I have no proof that I actually climbed a mountain. No beautiful view. No glorious sunset or sunrise. And we could barely even make out the shape of the majestic temples and statues at the summit. Kind of a bummer.

(not my photo)

But the monkeys were fun! The first time we saw monkeys was in the 'Joking Monkey Zone' - a section of trail that felt more like a zoo. There were lots of monkeys right along the path, but they were gathered there because tourists would feed them. And there were 'keepers' to make sure the monkeys didn't get too aggressive. Just past this area, we met our first threatening monkeys. There were no keepers about, and three monkeys were blocking the stairs. We tried banging our sticks and showing the monkeys that we had no food, but they weren't fooled. They bared their teeth and moved towards us and we began to worry. Just then, some locals calmly walked by and the monkeys moved out of the way. We darted past.
Our only other encounter with monkeys was near the summit. This area was also very touristy and the monkeys were well fed. I tried to dart past a monkey on the righthand railing. He suddenly ran down the railing, across the path behind me and up onto the lefthand railing (right by me). Before I knew what was happening, this clever little monkey had stolen my bottle of orange juice that had been strapped to the side of my bag. He ran off down the stairs. Once he was sure that we were not following, he stopped, quickly bit off the top of the bottle and chugged the whole thing. I would have taken a picture, but I was now afraid of having my camera stolen too.