Thoughts on China and Travelling

A monk in front of dragons in Datong makes us think about travel ...

We have been travelling for 6 weeks in China now. Thinking back, didn’t encounter any major problems and so far. The biggest one was the cold we just caught. Carrying a heavy backpack with all the climbing/ hiking gear and a notebook was something we had to get used to. Sometimes it is still difficult to enjoy sightseeing knowing the notebook back in a more or less secure hotel room.

On the other hand, who would have thought that a hotel room becomes homier if your own desktop is waiting for you offering cheap DVD entertainment and the possibility of displaying travel expenses as pie charts.

Isa working on the travel blog in a hotel room

Full-time travel without sightseeing stress

No weekends, no “day off” is equally difficult to get used to. There is so much to see, but the everyday stuff also takes up more time than we thought. Shopping and washing, editing and archiving photos (with the notebook!) writing the next blog entry and travel diary, reading about the next destination etc. We are still experimenting with our travel speed, trying to avoid the feeling of sightseeing-stress on the one hand but also the dissatisfaction of wasting a precious day for “profane needs”.

Indeed, we feel very lucky to have the chance to visit so many of the places we have read about so much. The Forbidden City and a holy mountain, Buddhist caves and the Terracotta Warriors, the Chinese “end of the world” in Jiayuguan, as well as bustling Chinese neighbourhoods, early-morning exercise in the park, Islamic quarters with mosques and kebab stalls…

In preparation for the stream of visitors expected for 2008 (Beijing Olympics), most of the sights are undergoing massive restoration. In some cases quite large areas and the most famous parts are not accessible to visitors. Except at some major sites with international cooperation, often apparently no art historians are involved. Artisans paint over the historic relics in new bright colours. Then they add a plaque full of superlatives and self-congratulations on thousands of years of history. Sadly this history is often not visible anymore and even being destroyed as we watch.

Always on our thoughts: Chinese food!

Youtiao / Chinese churros

At least there is one unbroken tradition: food! On the menu, meat, fish and vegetable dishes are listed separately. There is always a large choice of delicious vegetarian dishes. Compared to other costs, food prices are very low (wait for our pie charts!). Hotels are also usually a very good deal. Clearly, prices have significantly decreased since the system of special foreigner hotels has been abolished. Even the cheaper rooms offer hotel standard such as television, clean sheets, towels and 24 hour hot water.

Roads, however, get worse as we move westwards. We have spent hours in buses creeping over mere sand pistes, seeing lots of new highways being built that are, alas, all unfinished as yet. The train is far more comfortable and punctual, but tickets are often difficult to obtain.

Today we have arrived (by bus) in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a part of China populated mostly by muslim Uighurs. We are looking forward to more Nan and pilaf and keep you informed about our progress westwards.

Flatbread on the Turfan Market

Nice summer holidays to all of you.

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