From May 25 2009

Where in the World are Ward and Jacky....We'd like to know! Part 1

Hello, we are ending our 2 month stay in China and heading to South Korea. We
did a little side trek into Mongolia which you will read about in next month's
egroup. Because China is such a huge country we have a ton of information,
stories and pictures to share with you. Please remember that the info is from
"our" experiences. We will send out 2 egroups for China. All the China photos
have been posted in the photo gallery of our website under separate categories.
We are unable to update our blog since blogger (along with utube and other
sites) have been blocked in this district by the government.

Where on the map are we?

On March 24, 2009 a whole new chapter started for us....we entered CHINA! With
this brought 4 major goals: 1) hike the Great Wall, 2) see the Three Gorge Dam,
3) visit Shanghai and Beijing, and 4) bicycle another 3000km during our 60 day
Chinese visa allowance. All these goals were possible. What was standing in
our way? Getting through the Chinese border.

After visiting 42 other countries and adding pages to our passports, Jacky's
passport got tired. The outer cover separated from the inside pages and this
became a big problem. First of all, the Vietnamese border patrol was not going
to let Jacky leave Vietnam and secondly, the Chinese border guards were not
going to let Jacky enter China. Clincher, our Vietnam visa had run out and we
had to leave Vietnam. What do we do? After 2 hours of pleading with the
border patrol we were allowed to enter China but were warned that Jacky must get
a new passport before she could leave China. Border crossings always create
alot of anxiety. You're never quite sure what will happen and you're always at
the mercy of the border patrol.

China has only opened its doors to the world over the past 30 years. The
economic reforms that have occurred during this time have been staggering.
China has risen to be the world's 3rd largest economy. This growth was very
obvious as we crossed the border. We noticed new roads and new infrastructure
everywhere we turned. However, many of the buildings and toll freeways were
empty. We feel they may be over built for the present and future economic
conditions. Numerous, numerous, numerous apartment and retail buildings both
finished and under construction are empty. Many of the people cannot afford
these new apartments. There is a huge disparity between the wealthy and the
working class. A University professor makes an average of 4000 yuen ($600 U.S.)
per month.

The Chinese have also mastered the art of copying and reusing items. We
experienced this personally. We bought a 2 megabyte memory card that was
totally sealed in its wrapper. Through use and wondering why our card was
filling up so quickly we realized that 1.6 megabytes had already been filled by
a previous user . Another example is when our hostel roommate, Sebastian, tried
to play his new movie DVD. He started to laugh. The movie was recorded by
someone standing in the movie theater with a camcorder. When the guy recording
the movie had to go to the bathroom or get some popcorn he would just set the
camera down. Now you are watching the floor. Yes, its hilarious.

The Three Gorge Dam was a must see for me. This dam is the largest
hydro-electric dam in the world! It is located on the Yangtze River. The dam
is generating the electrical power that is fueling the Chinese economy. The
Three Gorge Dam is only one of many, many hydro-electric projects that have been
constructed during the past 30 years. This progress does not come without great
cost. The Three Gorge Dam has forced millions of people to move to higher
ground as the reservoir filled. Entire cities were moved up the hill and
rebuilt exactly like they were before. Many of these projects were met with
huge opposition because of the negative environmental impacts they presented.
It is believed that the weight of the water in the reservoir can potentially
cause seismic activity. The dam was interesting to see but we were not allowed
to go very close to it so I was a little disappointed.

Pollution, pollution, pollution!!! As we traveled north we started experiencing
headaches, sore watery eyes and scratchy sore throats. The charcoal black
vehicle exhaust and air pollution from an extraordinary amount of factories was
also leaving our bodies and clothing filthy. The economic growth coupled with
the human population growth to 1.3 billion people, with only a newly implemented
environmental protection plan, has left China wanting for cleaner air and water.
The problems are so bad in the south east part of China that running 2 miles is
like smoking a pack of cigarettes. (Side note: cigarette smoking is very, very
popular. 70% of men smoke.)

Like we have done in every country, we purchased a road atlas for all of China
and a dictionary. The atlas only written in Chinese was a problem. Not only
could WE not read it but neither could the Chinese! In the past their travel
had been restricted so they had no need to learn how to read a map. Our
dictionary helped us some because we could point to the Chinese word and they
could read it themselves. We tried very hard to learn their language but the
pronunciation of the words was changing every 100km. Did you know they have
about 50,000 characters in the Chinese language and over 2000 dialects? This
is a far cry from our 26 lettered alphabet. We tried to rely on our charades
that we had used with the 28 other languages that we had encountered but they
didn't seem to work in China. During our first 3 weeks in China we never met
another English speaking person. We only had each other to talk to.

The people of China are very friendly and tried very hard to help us. We would
pass the dictionary back and forth and this helped us get words understood but
it was impossible to have a conversation. It was not uncommon to have 15-20
people gather around us when we would ask directions. We found it more peculiar
that a large group would stand around us and watch us eat when we would stop at
a side stand in a small village. My question is...Don't they have work to do??
It was evident that they hadn't seen many westerners in their life time. When
we would stop we would joke and say, "the freak show is starting". Many, many
times we would avoid crowded areas so as not to draw attention to ourselves.
Sometimes it got tiring. It would even be too much for Elroy (Jacky's dad).

The Chinese study long hours in school. In public schools it can be up to 16
hours a day. The Chinese use a rote method for learning. They know many things
but, almost constantly, we felt they were lacking critical thinking skills. As
mentioned earlier, we realized that map reading and Chinese geography were
things not learned in school. I believe that the Communist Government wants to
limit what its population knows about its country. There was one day in
particular that this became very evident to us. We had accidently gotten onto a
rural road and we were riding through the mountains. During the day we asked
at least 20 people where we were on the map. No one could really point out our
location. After 6 hours of riding and 130km of twisting through the mountains
we came to a small town. We asked a young man where we were on the map. He
circled the town on the map and then we cried. We were actually only 30km away
from where we started that morning. This is when we had someone write the
following question for us in Chinese "where on the map are we?"

We visited the Yellow Mountains to Shanghai. The Chinese say that if you visit
the Yellow Mountains you've seen the best mountains and don't need to see any
others. The area was very beautiful and had many great hikes in the park. All
the hikes included thousands and thousands of stairs. We walked up and down
stairs for 8 hours. Aerobically we were fine, but our legs were not used to the
constant stairs. It was equivalent to doing the stair master for 8 hours. The
soreness in our legs lasted for about 3 days. At times the steepness and
narrow exposed areas of the mountains prohibited Jacky from climbing to the top.
(Note from Jacky: Remember I almost got blown of the mountain while hiking in
Torres de Paine, Chile.) A Chinese custom is to place a padlock on the safety
cable at the top of Celestial Peak when you are going to be married. They say
that if you get divorced you are suppose to climb up and remove it. The Yellow
Mountains threw an unexpected danger our way. As we started climbing up the
mountain we encountered a pack of baboons. At first they appeared cute but as
we approached them they started hissing at us. We waved to scare them away but
they were not afraid of us. They started lunging at us and chased us to the
bottom of the trail. It was really scary! We later researched this type of
baboon and found that it is very aggressive and can kill you. (Jacky: Oooh, I'm
glad I didn't know that then.)

China has some different rules when it comes to the good samaritan law. If
you help someone that is injured and they die or your actions cause additional
harm you can be responsible for the medical bills and even their death. We were
lucky not to see anything that would have caused us to jump in and help. We
heard about some cases where a huge crowd gathered around and would not help the
people injured. I just do not understand this cultural aspect.

Another thing that has not made any sense to me is the incredible amount of
construction that is occuring in China. As mentioned earlier, the number of
apartment buildings being built is unbelievable. I believe that the population
would have to grow by another 20% to fill them. That was disturbing enough but
the amount of deffered maintainance was unbelievable. How can you continue to
build new and not take care of the old. Buildings that were only 5 years old
looked like they were at least 25 years old. This does not seem like a good
model for building a country. As we were travelling on the roads we saw very
critical safety issues. The brand new cement grates on the brand new tollway
were already broken in half. It was very dangerous for us and for sure for a
car or truck that would need to pull off to the side of the road. I suspect
that a low minimun standard was purchased through the corruption process. Many
examples of this are easy to see. When you see "made in China" be weary. Who
got paid? the real question.

On to part 2.

Jacky and Ward Budweg
PO Box 133, Decorah, IA 52101