jn82’s Epic Adventure

Day 119 [28 May 09] – Dandong

Posted in Dandong by jn82 on May 29, 2009

As you can probably guess, I woke up very late today and missed the free breakfast due to the football game from the night before. Brooklyn came to the hotel around 1pm to pick us up for the day trip around Dandong. The first stop was to the Cenotaph of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, quite a mouthful to say. What this place is basically a museum set up by the Chinese dipicting how Chinese volunteers aided the North Korean soldiers during the Korean War, which started when the Americans decided to get involved in what was a Korean civil war. I will not do into details here or my views of the war, so you can read about the history of the war itself from the internet and make your own judgement.

I paid 15 RMB in the panoramic warzone at the Cenotaph for a printed and laminated photo with me in the war zone background dressed in an authentic (or so I am told) Chinese Voluntary Army uniform. It is an amazingly cheap souvenier I think, when compared to the S$25 I was asked to pay for a souvenier photo inside the mouth of the Merlion at Sentosa.

After the war museum, we were driven back into the city to 鸭绿江断桥 (Yalu River Broken Bridge), which is actually located right in front of our hotel. The reason it is broken is again due to our friends the Americans who bombed it back in 1950/1951, following which North Korea dismantled their half of the bridge. We first set out on a cruise of the Yalu River, from where we went under both the broken bridge and the bridge that is function now between Dandong and North Korea. After the bridges, the boat brought us close to the North Korean coast line, and from here we could peer in and have a look. Well not much going on really, a few boats, buildings standing by themselves and building cranes scattered along the grassy coast line, with a few North Koreans sitting around and looking, not waving back to the tourists on the boat. I had read that the average Joe North Korean is not allowed to interact in any way or even make direct eye contact with foreigners, so this is probably the reason for their lack of response, that and the binocolous using armed North Korean guard hiding in the trees (who had his eye on the boat) with a gun slung across his shoulder which would shoot them if they did anything.

40 minutes later when we reached back to shore, we saw a very displeased Brooklyn waiting for us. It was here and now that he delievered to us the bad news that we will not be able to make our trip into North Korea tomorrow, as the embassy was no longer issuing tourist visas for travel into North Korea as of today. Wow. What a disappointment. Earlier in the morning, I had read that the North Koreans had nullified their end of the 55 year old cease fire agreement with the South, but thought that this would not really have a major impact on the trip. Brooklyn said that the embassy assured him yesterday that everyday was okay, but only this morning had the news come from the North Korean government that no more tourists were allowed, for the tourists safety could not be guarenteed when the North was preparing for war. Extremely disappointed I am, but at least I am alive and will be for some time to come.

Heading back to the hotel for a very short rest before dinner, we decided that we would go to Harbin after Shenyang, since we would have an extra three nights now in China. Brooklyn bought us a very good Korean influenced Chinese dinner as he had planned yesterday, and the poor guy was very apologetic about everything, although it was no fault of his own. He also purchased a souvenier North Korean stamp book and a replica Kim Ill Sung pin as souveniers for each of us.

Following dinner, I went back to the same place as last night for a massage, this time opting to do a longer massage, which cost me 68 RMB (S$15) for 100 minutes, still an extremely reasonable price. My masseuse tonight must have been a champion farm plough girl, because she is extremely strong and really applied lots of pressure to my back and shoulders. The massage was good albeit painful, and I now at 3am as I sit and type this at the hotel, I can feel and see the multiple bruises on my back.

Today’s pictures here.

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Day 118 [27 May 09] – Dandong

Posted in Dandong by jn82 on May 29, 2009

This morning, we took the subway to the Shanghai Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) train station. The Maglev is a fast train which travels at 300km/h, reaching Shanghai Pudong airport Terminal 2 in only seven minutes from the city. The record speed for this route is 500km/h, but I guess for operational efficiency the top speed is capped at 300km/h. Costing 40 RMB one way if you can produce a valid airline ticket (50 RMB otherwise), it is not an extremely cheap way to reach Pudong airport.

We got to Pudong Terminal 2 about an hour and a half before our scheduled China Southern Airlines flight to Dandong city, so after checking in we had some lunch at a noodle cafe. The price of airport food in Shanghai is not as ridiculous as other Western city airports, but more expensive compared to downtown Shanghai. At around 12.45pm, we boarded the Boeing 737-300 CZ 6755 bound for Dandong. The flight itself was okay, and was filled with mainly PRCs except for two Indians and one Caucasian man. Although they did serve a simple lunch of either chicken or beef with white rice, there was no in-flight entertainment available. It did feel like a pretty budget flight as the plane was a narrow body single asile aircraft, where the seats were pretty narrow and had well worn cushions, and the whole plane itself was old. Around two hours later, we arrived in Dandong.

The airport was the smallest one I have ever seen, where there is a single runway which leads straight to a large concrete area outside the main airport building and control tower. There is no space for more than one aircraft at a time here. After a short walk from the plane, past the seemingly bombed out control tower, we arrived at the main airport building, if you can call it that. The building just consists of one baggage carousel and two toilets! Amazingly small, and I was very amused. Flying in to Dandong, you will not guess that the city itself has a population of 2.5 million as I later found out, with >700,000 people living downtown.

We met out guide Brooklyn at the airport, and he brought us to our hotel 中联大酒店 to check in and leave our bags. The hotel is a four star one, as you can see we are sparing no expense now, ha ha. No really, it is quite cheap at 388 RMB per night for a twin share, so works out to just S$42 per person per night, inclusive of breakfast. After dumping the bags, we proceeded to the travel agency to make the payment for the upcoming North Korea trip. Once that was done with, Brooklyn drove us 20 km out of the city to Tiger Mountain

Tiger Mountain is a small mountain range located almost at the border with North Korea. It is here that the Great Wall of China started, and so is quite a landmark in Dandong. Unfortunately in the years after the many wars and invaders China has had to fend off, the stones of the original wall were removed by the locals for the building of their houses, so the wall that stands at the site today is largely a reconstruction which was completed in 1993. At the base of Tiger Mountain, we got to have our first glimpse into North Korea, which was just one metre away across a small stream. All we saw in front of us was lots and lots of light brown coloured farm land, not very exciting. We walked from the base to the highest point of the wall, and from here you can look into North Korea and compare the difference between these two countries for miles. There is really quite a big difference, where although on both sides you see farmland, on the North Korean side there is a distinct lack of any other visible infrastructure, while on the Dandong side you can see many roads, buildings and cars around the farm land.

We left the mountain area around 7pm, and headed to the city where we got dinner, and cheap foot reflexology for only 38 RMB (S$8.20) for 40 minutes! We headed back to the hotel around 10.30pm, afterwhich I stayed up all the way till 5am to watch Manchester United get defeated 2-0 by FC Barcelona in the finals of the Europeans Champions League with her.

Today’s pictures here.

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Day 113 [22 May 09] – Shanghai

Posted in Shanghai by jn82 on May 22, 2009

I cannot update this travel log till I am back in Singapore because apparently, WordPress is blocked by the great firewall of China, i.e. the Chinese government does not allow access to WordPress for both reading and editing/posting purposes. This is really very stupid.

I am in Shanghai now, everything is okay. Slept from 8pm – 12 noon last night as I did not sleep on the flight over from Moscow. A bit of a minor hoo-ha on the plane ride over, which I will try and convey to you now through this chronological series of events:

1. A few days before the flight, a girl from Air China called to say that the airport we were flying into Shanghai from Beijing would be changed from Shanghai Pudong to Shanghai Hongqiao, with no change in the ticketed time of departure and arrival of 9.30am – 11.30am. This is not really a biggie as it is just a different airport in the city. Pudong usually handles the international flights, while Hongqiao handles the domestic ones. As we were transiting in Beijing from Moscow, it would make sense that Hongqiao was the airport we should have been flying into anyway.

2. Upon arrival in Beijing from Moscow around 7.30am, we went to the transit counter after picking up our bags to check in for the Beijing-Shanghai flight. We probably checked in just past 8am and got the new Beijing-Shanghai boarding pass for CA 1995 and checked in the bags. I noticed the boarding pass had the boarding time at 10am, which was weird considering the flight was scheduled to take of at 9.30am. I went to ask the counter girl, and she said the scheduled time for CA 1995 was indeed 10.30am, not 9.30am as was printed in the e-ticket. Ok not a big problem, just an admin error I guessed on the website and from the woman who called us a few days back.

3. After having breakfast at the airport and killing some time, it was around 9.10am when we headed to the gate (a whole 50mins before the scheduled boarding time of 10am), when I noticed on the big tv screen near the gate that the CA 1995 flight at 10.30am was CANCELLED!!! I also noticed that there was another Air China operated flight leaving to Shanghai Hongqiao at 9.30am!!! This is really stupid because the system should have put us on this flight when we booked the ticket. We rushed to the ticket counter and asked what in the world was going on, then they put us on the 9.30am flight and got the bags and all transferred also. Imagine if I had not been so kiasu to head to the gate at 9.10am, I would not be able to get on the 9.30am flight. I think the next flight was sometime around noon or later only! There was absolutely no mention of the cancelled 10.30am flight in the terminal!!! Really so stupid.

Anyway, the Moscow-Beijing flight was also not super. Someone (I am guessing PRC) near us removed their shoes and their sour food odour could be smelt throughout the flight! When we were checking in at Moscow airport, the Chinese have no sense of queues and 10 minutes before the counters opened (when there was already a single queue line formed), they all formed their own queue lines (i.e. just rushed to the front), so what resulted was a big semi-circle radiating from the only entry point to the x-ray machine before the check in counter. This is really stupid because the counters had not even opened and it was 2.5 hours before boarding time, so everyone was really EARLY and not late. Also when boarding the plane, they just all rush to the front when it started to board, just one big mass of people.

I am going to take it easy over the next few days and not do too much.

Day 111 [20 May 09] – Moscow

Posted in Moscow by jn82 on May 20, 2009

Did nothing at all today. Slept in late and went online till around noon, then checked out of the hostel and had lunch at the McDonalds nearby. Came back to the hostel to kill a bit of time before getting on the taxi to Sheremetyevo airport for our overnight flight to Shanghai.

Today marks the end of the European leg of the trip. Reflections to come later…

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Day 110 [19 May 09] – Moscow

Posted in Moscow by jn82 on May 19, 2009

So today was another pretty chill day where we did not have much planned. We headed to Red Square again, this time to see Lenin’s mausoleum, the first of three mausoleums we plan to visit in the next few weeks. Lenin’s embalmed body has been on display here since the year he died (1924), and it is free of charge to go in.There is usually a long queue to get in, but today there was hardly anyone in front of me, how lucky. Entry is through the left side of the mausoleum before the mass graves, just at the corner of one of the Kremlin’s walls. I forgot to take a picture of the exterior of the mausoleum today, but here is a picture from two days ago.

Lenin’s Mausoleum.

Metal detectors marking the first entry to the mausoleum at the base of one of the Kremlin’s towers.

Unfortunately photography (or even talking) is not allowed within the mausoleum. After walking down around two stories below ground level, the interior of the mausoleum gets really dark, except for the centre portion where the body lies behing what I assume are layers of thick glass. It is a pretty eerie feeling walking around the dead body of the first head of the U.S.S.R., and you can only wonder if it is really him, someone made up to look like him or a wax figure. There are guards all over the mausoleum, so you dare not put a foot wrong or do anything funny and run the risk of imprisonment.

After the mausoleum, we walked around Red Square and the souvenier market just outside the Resurrection gate for a while, before heading back to the hostel for a rest.

National Historical Museum.

Resurrection Gate and some souvenier stalls outside.

After a really crap Japanese lunch nearby, we walked around the neighbourhood that the hostel was situated in, Kitay-Gorod. This is a business dictrict in central Moscow which is very nearby to the Kremlin and the Red Square, and contains some very beautiful buildings. I am quite sick of Soviet brutalist architecture buildings, so I took pictures of the three religious buildings along what I think is Varvarka street.

Monastary of the Sign.

Church of St. Maxim the Blessed.

St. Barbara’s Church.

And of course, the typical Russian mall.

I am quite glad to be leaving Moscow for Shanghai tomorrow evening. I have not enjoyed the city as much as I thought as I would, for quite a few reasons. A few of the ones off the top of my head are:

1. The city is really polluted, and there are thousands of cars at all times in the streets.

2. The larger streets have ten lanes for car going in one direction, and no pedestrian crossings.

3.There are absolutely no English signs around (even McDonalds and the metro) and everything is in cryillic so I have no idea what is going on or where I am all the time.

I hope things get better in China, but then again my Mandarin is not that fantastic too!

Today’s pictures here.

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