A trip to China for my brother's wedding. Flying solo, sadly leaving my wife and newborn boy at home. A whirlwind trip, just 9 days; Beijing, the Great Wall, Taiyuan, Xinzhou, the wedding, and back home.
  • Day10

    Flying Home

    September 28, 2018 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Its around 1.15am China time, 3.15am AEST. That was a rancid mushroom ravioli dinner I just had. I'm dying for some good Western food... a steak or some schnitzels.

    I've actually been pretty fortunate with seat 54G. Its a middle aisle seat. I have noone next to me, noone in front of me, and no seat behind me. Just 9 more hours to Sydney.

    I'm now sitting in Sydney... waiting around after my second consecutive domestic flight was cancelled.. I was on the 3.30... then the 4.30... now the 5.30. Im scheduled to arrive in Melbourne at 7. By the time I get to Melbourne it will be 33 hours since I left the hotel at Xinzhou.

    Im sitting here chowing down red rooster, watching the clouds roll by out the window, thinking... did I see clouds in China? I feel like it was mostly smoggy.

    It was certainly an interesting experience in China, and it was a pleasure to be there for Jared's wedding. Im actually glad to be home and looking forward to seeing Nat and Ryland.
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  • Day9

    Back to Beijing

    September 27, 2018 in China ⋅ 🌧 15 °C

    I enjoyed my last drive through Chinese traffic madness as we arrived at Taiyuan airport. I said my goodbyes and thanks to the newly-weds and Yuans dad for all their hospitality.

    Arriving around 1.30 for a 3.30 flight, I was pretty early but a walk up checkin was still possible. Clearing security and boarding my China Eastern flight to Beijing went smoothly... the flight itself, not so much. It was a bumpy ride, the seatbelt side never coming off for the duration of the 80 minute flight. The landing was a rough one too, so much so it sounded like the wheels almost broke.

    Now, I had just a casual 6 hour wait for my flight from Beijing to Sydney...

    I'd say the time flew by, but it didn't. While waiting for checkin, I received a text to say my flight from Sydney to Melbourne had been cancelled. I'd been moved onto a later flight that just meant extending the journey another hour. Further to my dismay, my checked in bag would have to be reclaimed at Sydbey and then rechecked in.

    The Beijing airport is huge. Its a 20minute bus ride between domestic and international terminals. When u clear security at the international terminal, there's a train to take you to the gates. The international terminal itself is vast and impressive in design with a huge dome ceiling and millions of lights.

    I spent 3-4 hours lingering around the gates.. with astonishingly NO souvenir shops (only dozens of "duty free" = alcohol and smokes and luxury jewellers) I spent a couple hours at a "irish pub". Only 3 menu items of 50 were available.. but some chicken wings, a couple beers and a Starbucks coffee got me to boarding time just after 11pm.
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  • Day9

    Wrapping it up.

    September 27, 2018 in China ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    I woke this morning for my final day in China. With my bags 60% packed, I met family downstairs for breakfast around 8.30. I'd begin the long journey home around noon, still leaving a little time for a couple morning activities.

    Jared and Yuan met us in the lobby at about 9.30 and we piled into a couple cabs. First up, a trip to the local Xinzhou market. This place was huge and crowded. There were plenty of weird and wonderful wares for sale; fruits, vegetables, animals, cuts of meat, clothes, furniture and more. As always, we received plenty of stunned looks.. and my efforts to befriend a young local child went awry, bringing them to tears, their nightmares to reality, and potentially traumatizing them for life.

    We each picked up an assorted souvenir or two, before walking a few blocks to the Xinzhou gardens. These were a small but pretty gardens, with a few pagodas, ponds and ornate bridges - a popular spot for people to exercise.

    By a little after 11 it was time for me to catch a cab back to the hotel to finish packing and check out. Yuan, Jared and Ba (Yuans dad) would escort me on a 90 minute drive to Taiyuan airport, for a domestic flight to Beijing.
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  • Day8

    Rural China

    September 26, 2018 in China ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    The chaos and drama of yeaterdays wedding softened to a casual, leisurely start to this morning... at least initially. Around 8.30 I headed downstairs, equipped with phone, wallet and room keycard slip (with breakfast vouchers and keycard inside).

    Downstairs, I handed over my breakfast voucher to gain access to the buffet and met my parents, Brody and Alyssa for bread and a fried egg "Western breakfast". Then I got up to leave, picked up my wallet, phone and... no keycard. The whole slip was gone. Baffling, as I hadn't been anywhere to lose it.

    We explained the situation to staff and managed to get a second key (the other key remains in the room electric slot to try keep the room "cool"). This was fine, but when I returned to my floor there was a shady random local, loitering in a hall chair with view of my room.. coincidence, or had he found a lost room key to 2307?

    With Yuans translating skills we eventually had staff cancel all previous room keys, check those, and issue fresh ones. This was fun and killed a lot of the morning. By noon we had cars to take us 20minutes from the big city of Xinzhou to a small rural community with many of Yuans extended family.

    The town of Xin Wang Zhuang may well have once been a thriving farming community... now it feels 75% abandoned and much in disrepair. Still, many live here in little fenced blocks/squares that house a dozen or so. We'd spend a few hours here with locals, first eating wedding food leftovers, then a delicious charcoal bbq, kicking a ball around and playing cards.

    Following that, we visited the homes of some other friends, met a young newborn baby, (around Rylands size), visited a well maintained temple complex, and wandered about neglected cornfields, picked and tasted peppers, and poked around many abandoned homes. By late afternoon, as sunset approached, we bid family farewell and headed back to the city.

    Our final full family meal on my last night was arguably one of the best Chinese meals I had there. It was a private dining room and we feasted on things like; fish, prawns, chicken wings, donkey meat pastries, beef chunks, and Chinese burrito things. Red wine from a decanter to wash it down hit the spot.

    After dinner, dad and I went for an hour or so around the streets. For a city of 3-4 million, I've never seen a place with so little of interest. It was still good to stretch the legs.

    I'm half packed for tomorrow's long journey home. We hope to visit some markets in the morning. From there, its a China Eastern flight from Taiyian to Beijing. Then 6 hours... then Beijing to Sydney with Qantas, and again on to Melbourne arriving 4.50 on Friday.
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  • Day7

    Wedding Day

    September 25, 2018 in China ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    The big day finally arrived. It was a grand occasion; busy, hectic and lively from start to finish. We started off in the hotel around 8am, in the elaborately decorated room of the bride and groom for an extensive photo shoot.

    By around 9.30, we filed into wedding cars to be transported to Yuans parents apartment complex. On arrival, we were greeted by a spectacular dancing dragon show. After arrival in the apartment, the Mallegrom family was invited to a brunch feed with Yuans family.. and many more photos were taken.

    Then, back into cars and off to the wedding venue. There, we were greeted again not only by dragons but a vehicle with what looked like rocket launchers on its room that would deafen us all with a relentless barrage of fireworks.

    The wedding was set up for around 300 people.. and once the red envelopes had been handed over, we were ushered into the venue proper. It appeared some Chinese relatives had tried to steal our table, but once that was rectified, we were seated to await the commencement of proceedings.

    Food flowed before cutlery, just piled plate on top of plate. Nothing was ever cleared, as beer cans, peanut shells and litter soon cluttered and piled up on table and floor alike. The wedding ceremony was preceded by a few acts of singing, violin, harp, drums and flute before we got underway just after noon.

    The compromised and somewhat disjointed ceremony was largely effective and flowed without too much incident. My dad made the effort of memorizing his speech in Chinese to surprise the bride and groom. Sadly, perhaps 50 or less of the 300 attendees cared or even paid any attention, many talking loudly, drinking or feasting. Most didnt clap or stand when prompted via translation.

    The final touches of the wedding were a lovely coming together of the happy couple. Surprisingly, minutes upon conclusion of the official ceremony, 80% of the crowd trampled each other for the door, leaving a trashed garbage dump behind. By 2.30pm the venue was mostly empty. A few friends and family remained to toast the happy couple and enjoy some drinks; beer, red wine or "white wine" (45% spirit). I wasn't a fan of any.

    In time, drinking escalated and my parents and I opted to head back to the hotel. A couple of us went for an evening walk for a late dinner. Overall, the wedding was certainly memorable and different. It was a pleasure to be there for my brother and nice to see the bride and groom enjoy themselves so.

    Tomorrow is my last full day here. I think we have a bbq afternoons meal planned in a more rural setting.
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  • Day6

    The Day Before

    September 24, 2018 in China ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    No alarm was set this morning, which started at a leisurely pace. I met my parents, Brody and Alyssa downstairs in the lobby for a "Western Style" buffet breakfast. Well... Western it wasn't. There were some fried eggs and "bacon".. with a bit of bread, steamed pumpkin, wonton soup and that steamed corn thats so popular here. Washed down with a grape juice/ flat coke flovoured syrup it still filled a hole.

    We spent a few hours wandering XinZhou, through some shopping malls and streets. We are literally an exotic species here. I've never experienced anything like it anywhere in the world. We stopped for a "Chinese burger" and in turn stopped dozens of passers by in their tracks.. as they would literally stop, stare and grin at us from behind the cafe glass windows, like one would at a zoo... one guy pulled out a cigarette and basically got within 20cm of my dads face. It's not particularly pleasant.

    Westerners don't exist here, and have no real reason to ever come to this place. After an afternoon break, we piled into cabs to head tp the wedding venue to rehearse and plan. There was initially some major conflict between the "popular/celebrity" celebrant and the bride and groom to be.. largely stemming from a miscommunication about the bride's white and traditional Chinese red dresses, and procedural incompatibilities between procedure, tradition and process of Chinese and Western culture.

    Eventually, after 4.5 hours, enough compromise, practice and agreement had been made to satisfy a wedding plan. With the time drawing late, we settled on KFC for an unglamorous but delicious final family meal before Jareds big day. Tomorrow we look forward to what should be an interesting and memorable experience.
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  • Day5

    From Tourist to Guest

    September 23, 2018 in China ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    The train rolled into Taiyuan right on time, around 2.25pm. Here I headed for the West exit and found Jared, Yuan and her second cousin waiting for me to transport me an hour north by car to her home town of Xinzhou, where her parents lived, my family was staying, and the wedding would be held in a couple days time.

    An opportunity here to talk about traffic in China. It'll appear fairly erratic and wild by Western standards. Speed limits are guides, indicators are optional, horns are plentiful and cars go anywhere at any given time! Mobile phone use when driving is standard, and milimetre collision evasion is expected. You've got to constantly on your toes. Its chaos, but works. When crossing the street, a "pedestrian crossing" is a suggestion.. you've got to walk briskly, confidently and cautiously. If you can predict who is going where and weave between a car and bike, you can assume (and hope) they won't hit you.

    Busy traffic delayed our arrival in Xinzhou a little but we arrived without incident at the hotel I'd spend the next four nights; Funhua Jinglun Hotel. It's basically the grandest, most Western Hotel in the city, organised by Yuans (bride to be) parents. Its nice, and Im on the 23rd floor. I was pre warned about the lack of aircon and its the clear standout issue.

    By 6pm, we headed by 2 taxis (myself, my youngest brother Brody and his fiance Alyssa, my parents, Jared and Yuan) to Yuans parents apartment about 10 minutes away to meet her family and enjoy dinner and drinks. Yuans family home was lovely and her parents were gracious guests leaving us all well fed with plenty of home cooking (noodles, duck, soup, pork etc). The family dog (Jui jui) s a sheep like spawn of Satan but loveable none the less. There were many shouts of Gambei (cheers) as we tried Chinese white wine, some beer and whiskey.
    We saw plenty of excellent pre wedding glamour photos of the bride and groom to be, not before the family albums and baby photos came out. By 11pm we had taxied back to tbe hotel to rest up.

    I'm exhaustes from my Beijing adventures and content to relax, feast and experience true local over the coming days. If Beijing had the fewest Western tourists I've seen for a big city, Xinzhou has none... Tomorrow, afternoon wedding rehearsals! For now, sleep.
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  • Day5

    Heading West

    September 23, 2018 in China ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    I woke, finished packing and checked out of the New World Beijing Hotel. Sad to leave such a fantastic room, but satisfied enough with my time and experience in Beijing and ready for the next experience.

    Today I'd head about three hours west by Bullet Train to Taiyuan (initially). Getting there was about a 20 minute walk with pack and daybag to Ciqikuo metro station. From there, about a 30 minute metro ride on line 7 to Beijing West station.

    A bit about Beijing metro - In short, its fantastic. Colour coded, numbered, well laid out, regular trains, easy to navigate and understand, no different to the Tokyo or London systems. The trains run every few minutes and have that designated automatic door docking spot behind glass so you know where to wait. There are just seats along the carriage walls so most of the time you'll be standing!

    A unique feature of the train network was advertising screens outside the train, on the inside of the tunnel wall, visible through the windows as the train speeds by. The major annoying part of the metro was every entry to a station required a full security check with scanners for bags.

    Once I arrived at Beijing West my challenge was to find the place to pick up tickets I had prebookee for my bullet train. With previous advice, I exited at B South, went outside and guessed where the ticket hall was near a blocked off/ closed down ticket area.

    After a brief wait in a "business class lounge" (free orange drink and cookies) I headed to carriage 8, seat 1a for my business class (highest class) train ride. This ticket cost me around $100aud. It was pretty deluxe! 5 seats to the cabin, set apart that recline into beds. The trip came with lunch which was OK.
    The train whizzed us off to Taiyuan mostly travelling around 300km/p/hr.
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  • Day4

    Wonder Wall.

    September 22, 2018 in China ⋅ 🌙 9 °C

    Its awesome when a wonder, landmark, museum, attraction or place has such a high reputation, that leads to high expectations, and those expectations are easily met.
    Such was the case today.

    I had a private tour from Beijing to the wall and back. Pick up was at 7am, and the drive out took about 2 hours and 40 minutes.

    The route for the day was about 12km of "wild wall" from Gubeikou to Jinshanling. "Wild" in that the vast majority of Wall we'd see today was original and unrestored. The distance from Beijing and difficulty of walk also meant for minimal crowds/company.

    The hike itself took around 4 hours.. and aside from the first and final half hour, we probably saw less than a dozen people. Another reason for this is between Gubeikou and Jinshanling, theres a part of the wall that falls onto current military territory and is inaccessible. This means an hour off road "detour" down into the valley through jungle and thick vegetation. This was fun in itself, most notably a snake emcounter and discovery of an old, remote home, abandoned around 30 years ago.

    The views of the walls were spectacular, towers seeming to stretch on and on forever. Hiking it was sometimes perilous and nerve wrecking, with very high steep stairs, slippery dirt descents and high, narrow exposed sections of the wall with steep edges. Nonetheless we (my guide Henry and I) completed our route without incident and 4 hours later returned to our driver to head off for a nearby local lunch.

    This was definitely the best meal Id had in China so far - Eggs (like an omelette) with peppers, kung pow chicken, pork with onions and onions with chili all with rice. I even made do with chopsticks, not my finest skill. We washed that down with local beer and began that 2.5hour drive back to Beijing.

    By the time I got back, after the last three days, my legs hardly carried me from car to hotel bath. Hours later after a little revovery I set out to explore some extra territory and find some dinner. In yet another huge mall, I found just one Western style restaurant, a "sizzler".. which was decent but underwhelming.

    Now Im in bed, exhausted, half packed, for my last night in Beijing. Tomorrow morning Ill check out, look to pick up tickets for a bullet train and head for Taiyuan, with Jareds wedding just days away.
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  • Day3

    A Summer Stroll.

    September 21, 2018 in China ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    After yesterdays leg breaker, I'd planned and expected today to be more casual. I should know better. Thats never how it works out. Especially solo. By myself, I can see more and go further without consulting or hesitating, but at times I wonder whether Nats advice to rest, eat or slow down might have been wise, rather than my impetuous and adventurous enthusiasm wearing my legs to exhaustion. I've certainly learned that good experiences are more treasured and remembered when they're shared.

    It was a warm one again. High 20s- 30c and clear blue skies. I left the hotel around 9.30, in a different direction, bound for a different metro station to map out a few different blocks around the hotel. The bakery breakfast and ice water coffee wasn't great, but moving on.

    The train ride out to Xiyuan in the north west of Beijing for the Summer Palace probably took around 40 minutes. It was a further 15 minute walk (not really signed) to find the Palace. Entry (all access) with an audio guide cost 100yuan (60+40) and the latter required a 50yuan deposit. The gps audio didn't work near as well as the forbidden city and wasnt as interesting.

    The Summer Palace was shades of the Forbidden City, spread out, in hilly forest, by the water. The highest temples were probably the most spectacular, the trek up the many stairs to them being fairly awe inspiring. A major problem with this complex in its entirety was just how poorly signed it was. Many of their signs, directions and distances were outright false, if not misleading and deceptive. When the punishment for such deception is backtracking or climbing hundreds of steps in the wrong direction/ for no reason, this got annoying. I probably most enjoyed the lilies and tranquility of the aptly named Garden of Harmony, and the tower of buddhist insense which offered great views.

    Once I had my fill of the Summer Palace I headed back to Beijing Central via metro. I figured I'd get off at Qianmen and walk around Tiananmen Square proper, having just walked alongside it yesterday. It's a big square. Not too much to see or do there but some interesting monuments and buildings.

    Rather than reboard the metro, I figured Id just hoof it South, all the way to the Temple of Heaven. The good part of this decision was the walk through Dashilar and Qianmen Street (busy shops). The bad part, was that I'd not factored in how big, and how much more walking thered be at the Temple of Heaven when I arrived with weary legs.

    Ultimately, the Temple of Heaven was probably the highlight of the day. The Hall of Prayer for good harvests was towering and a little unique. The Round altar down south was also different. Further appealing was how pretty the entire complex was, basically a big botanic garden. Once I'd finished and turned back north to walk to the hotel, I really enjoyed the refreshing summer breeze between the trees filled with sparrows and these noisy blue winged magpie like birds.

    I certainly made use of the bath in the hotel when I crashed back here. After a few hours of rest I set out to find dinner, roaming around a few blocks and through a few malls. I eventually settled on a Chinese place, ordering a stewed fish and fried beans with chili. The latter was delish, but former 99.99% tiny bones. I've really had a hard time finding any appealing local food or even quality western or hybrid cuisine. I guess ill stick to western and get the authentic experience in Xinzhou soon enough.

    I've been pondering many observations and unique elements to China and Beijing today. Ill post them in the coming days. For now, rest and sleep. Im up.at 6.40am to head to the Great Wall.
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