A Travellerspoint blog

Thoughts So Far

First Impressions

Arriving in Shanghai Airport it became clear very quickly we were in a very foreign country.
The main signs for passengers are in Chinese and English, but as you move around the airport you see other signs just in Chinese writing, and it begins to dawn on you that you have no chance of understanding anything here.
When we left the Airport to catch a taxi you find that the touts actually speak English, unlike the taxi drivers. So at that point it is useful to use one of them. They can explain to the Taxi driver where you are going etc.
Hotels and Restaurants:
At the Hotels, most of the receptionists have basic English, but it’s no point asking them where somewhere is, as that is beyond their understanding.
The booklets and leaflets in the hotel rooms explaining how to use the TV, A/C etc are all in Chinese. So it is very much a guessing game to get the A/C to work, which was a must as Shanghai is experiencing its hottest summer since records began!
A phrase book may have been useful but in Turkey we could not find an English/Chinese one, so we worked blind, and with some help from the internet.
Some Restaurants have menus in both Chinese and English, although the translations can be confusing.
But all of them have menus with pictures on, so just choose the one you like the look of and hope.
Telecommunications:
Another imperative for us was a Chinese Sim.
There are 2 or 3 main Chinese Telecom Suppliers in the High Streets, but again, English is limited.
So we bought a card, not knowing what we were getting free for the money, as the paperwork is all in Chinese. But it worked instantly.
Then we learnt that the Sims are region related! So a Sim bought in Shanghai gives you cheap calls in and around Shanghai, but not in other provinces. So this meant we had to buy another one when we got to our final destination, to enable cheap and free calls between phones in that province!
Internet providers are good, but we will have to wait a while, as they require 4 months deposit.

Hong Kong
was different again.
Everything in Hong Kong is English based, so life was easier there.
The different Chinese Airline Websites also have an English option, which helps when booking online. They even give you a choice of currencies.
But things are a lot more expensive than China.

Currency:
To date we are still getting our head round the money. The main notes are very easy to understand. They all have English Numbers on them.
There are coins which also have English numbers on them, but then there are small notes. These we haven’t fully understood yet. Some are the same as the coins, but the Taxis don’t accept them. Some are in even smaller demonaters. 10 RMB (Chinese Yen) is around £1. That has made life simpler, but then when you get down to very small demonations, there is only one word really..worthless! So we have a tin we are collecting these small notes and coins.
All the ATM machines have an English option, which was a pleasant surprise.

Supermarkets:
Now this is when I really feel lost.
The Supermarkets are modern and range from very large to small corner ones.
Buying food has been a tricky project!
Nothing is in English.
Most of the time you can guess what it is. Crisps etc
Bread has defeated us so far.
We have bought 3 different kinds only to find it is yellow when sliced. Apparantly this is “Egg” bread. An aquired taste!
They sell some foreign foods.
Nescafe is everywhere. You can find Kellogs Cereals and Muesli.
Milk is fresh and tastes fine. We guessed the milk cartons, as they are very similar to Yoghurt cartons.
Cheese is mostly European.
The meat is something else! Walking around you are faced with all kinds of things my English Stomach balks at. Pigs trotters cooked in every imaginable way. Pigs Tongues line up on the counter pointing at you. Chickens feet lined up look like they might just start running away! Bendy Penis’s pointing at you! Then the blood. Large amounts of cubed ducks, pigs and whatever else blood stares at you, in the same way our cheese does on a cheese counter back home. But the absolute worse for me, and one I am sure I will never get used to, the chicks in eggs. They boil the eggs that contain chicks about to hatch. On the display counter they always have a few open for you to see, and I just cannot look at them.
Eels, Bullfrogs, and other unmentionable things are also everywhere for sale, as you wander around with your trolley.
Away from this carnage, the fruit and veg is great. We are still finding it hard to buy cleaning materials, Mr Muscle is here, but every bottle only tells you what it is in Chinese. So I bought, what I hoped was bleach, only to find it was blue toilet cleaner!
We stood looking at some packets of what we hoped were sugar for about 10 minutes before using the phone translator to show an assistant. Yes, she nodded when she read sugar in Chinese.
Back home, 2 coffees made, and Dan had his first, and spat it all over the table. Not sugar, not even salt, but some weird tasting cooking ingredient.
Back to the Supermarket the next day, I found a packet that said in English “Sugar” I sneakily opened a packet and poured some into my hand, and discovered it was Sugar! So we now have sugar!
A more pet friendly country, there is a good choice of Dog and Cat food, and treats.
They charge you for every carrier bag here, so I now carry a foldup bag with me everywhere.
Cigarettes were another problem. Lots on sale, but Brands we had never heard of. We got around this problem in the duty free at Shanghai.
We spent ages reading every carton for the nicotine, tar content, and finding ones that were the strength we wanted, we wrote the names down for future reference. Much to the disappointment of the guy in duty free, who I think thought we were going to buy lots of cartons! For the pro smoker readers, China is smoker friendly!

The Shopping Malls / Centres are bright big and modern.
Very Western and with the usual Designer shops etc.
Chemists are tricky, as they sell Chinese Remedies alongside traditional medicine.
I wanted some body lotion, and I eventually found 2 bottles with English on them. One said Snakes Oil Cream. Gave that a miss 

Transport:
The taxis here are everywhere and very cheap.
In our city it costs £1 to go anywhere within the city.
The bus fares are 10p but they are sparse after 9pm at night.
China has special lanes for bicycles and motorcycles. The Electric bike or “E” Bike is very popular here, and cheap. Around £180 to buy, so we shall invest in one shortly.
Every apartment block has charging outlets in the entrance.

Tipping:
There is no tipping expected here. All Restaurants and Cafes include a service charge, and the Taxis do not expect tips. It is an unusual thing here to tip.

Thoughts:
The biggest bane of my life so far has been our washing machine. It is a toploader, new, with Chinese Instructions!
We spent 3 hours one night with Dan writing down the Chinese Symbols from the instructions and copying them into his phone translator, before we managed to get some idea of what all the buttons did.
Still I have problems. The other day, on my day off, my washing was washed for over 3 hours! It kept repeating and repeating, but not emptying and spinning!

We know it is going to be frustrating for a while. Especially as I had mastered living in Turkey so well.
I miss being able to communicate with shop keepers and taxi drivers etc. We have to have everything written in Chinese and just show it to people. Or just point to things and hope.
I know it will come, but it will be a slow process for this old brain
Still, we are here. We made it alive and we are still speaking to one another!
The bonus side:
We are in a country most people will never visit. We are experiencing the warmth and unusual culture of the people here.
From here, it is easy to explore so many other places.
I can see modern apartment blocks and Pagodas from my window at school.
Things are incredibly cheap and, once we get over this initial hurdle of having little money, we will be able to live very well on both of our salaries combined.
We now finally have a lovely home.
Our school is laid back and relaxed. No strict rules. The students are shy, polite and curious. From them we will learn about the culture and customs here.
My little dog has settled very well and is always happy.
So, after a very hectic 2 weeks, it is now time to chill, relax and go with the flow..with coffee of course 

Posted by TravelnTurkey 21:40 Archived in China Comments (3)

From Turkey to China

Farewell

sunny 39 °C

It started as a faint idea 4 months ago,
My son had arrived to Teach in the same school as me, and I was looking forward to working with him and having some company for the first time in 6 years.
After he had been here nearly 1 month and was enjoying it, one evening we started discussing Teaching in other countries. A friend of mine had been telling me about China so we discussed that possibility and decided to test the water,
We put our CV’s out on the web, and BANG we were inundated with offers in one week.
We spent some time deleting the ones we were not interested in. Both of us had taught Children in the past and we were not keen to go down that path again. I was tired of teaching Children, and Dans experience in Thailand had scared him to death…50 Children in a class all aged between 4 and 6.
We spoke to a really nice guy who made us a great offer and we debated. It was high school ages, but after further questioning, he admitted there maybe around 40 children in a class. We declined.
Finally we settled on one and started the process.
We made a date of the 1st August for leaving Turkey.
This gave us some time to try and save, and to make sure everything would be in order for my small dog.
The school do refund flights etc, but not until you have worked for them for 3 months.
So the process began.
For a month we were sending scanned documents back and forwards by emails. Contracts arrived and were scrutinised. Everything was on track.
Then the school casually informed us that to get a work visa, we would have to return to our home country.
This was right out of the question. The cost and the time was not feasible.
I rang the Chinese Embassy here in Turkey and was assured that, providing the school in China, named Turkey on the top of the application papers, there would be no problem.
In the following weeks I phoned them on 4 separate occasions to keep checking that was still the case.
We had some work to do ourselves to get the visa.
We both had to have full medicals, which was not a cheap process. We had to make sure the dog had all her jabs up to date, including rabies, and also a Health Certificate for her. My Vet was an angel where all this was concerned.
There were forms coming every week via email for us to sign and photos to be added. Then they were sent back to be readjusted.
It was a good job we had allowed this time period.
As July drew nearer I started to get little panic sessions, but my son has a solid head on his shoulders, and was a great support. The problems I kept throwing up, he talked through and made them seem irrelevant.
Finally the Work permit papers and Invitation papers arrived by Fedex from China.
Believing now that this was finally happening, we found some very cheap flights to China, and decided to book them, as flights were increasing daily in price, as the time drew nearer to August 1st.

We booked a flight to Ankara to go to the Embassy,completely confident everything would be OK.
The early morning flight to Ankara saw us both excited and nervous. But we had checked and double checked with the Embassy website, and we had all the papers they required and even more.
Having never been to Ankara, we decided to take a taxi from the airport to the Centre. Big Mistake.
The taxi driver saw us coming, and took us on the ring road all around the outskirts of Ankara. My heart sunk lower and lower as I watched the meter climbing to ridiculous amounts, but there was nothing we could do, as we were on a main highway with nowhere to stop,
As soon as he turned off the highway into a built up area, I told him to stop, threw some money at him (Not the full amount of 250 lira on the meter) swore at him and we walked off.
Where to now! We were in Ankara somewhere, with not a clue how to get to the Embassy. We assumed the taxi had actually brought us to an area near the Embassy so started to walk. Asking a few people where it was, we eventually found it 1 hour later.
We handed our precious papers over, and our passports and Turkish residency books.
The girl checked everything and then made a phone call. She asked us to wait.
About 30 minutes later we were ushered into a small room.
They had a problem! I needed a paper from my present school to say I was working. This was not possible as I had no work visa. I spoke calmly to the man and told him, I am here on a long term tourist visa, as shown in our residency books. He would not budge. He said we would have to come back next week with the original document. I explained we had booked flights etc, and we brought everything that was on the website, and also that I had discussed this a few times direct with the Embassy, but he would not budge. He said, even if we came back the following week with the paper, they would not be able to process it for at least 5 days. Another 2 weeks!
We left the office and my legs buckled.
I sat a few minutes thinking, and then we made our way to find a café for food. I had one mouthful of my omelette.
We found our way back to the airport by bus, and had 4 hours to kill. We both just sat for a while in silence.
Then we started to talk about our options.
By now we had told our landlady we were leaving, and the “For Rent” sign was hanging from our balcony, we had handed our notice in, and some of my things had been sold, to be collected later.
The job thing was not a problem. We could have stayed and continued to work for them. I know they would have been pleased by that.
The apartment was a problem, as she had now let it for the 1st August.
So if we stayed another 2 weeks, we would lose a lot of money changing our flights, and be homeless.
Time to go home and re think.

Plan B

We were both very depressed and we could have given in I guess, but I have not struggled in Turkey alone for 5 years without learning some survival techniques.
So, after some calculations, it was decided that to lose the flights would be crazy, to change them, out of the question as our home had now been let again for the 1st August, so the decision was made to go. To use the tickets to get to Shanghai as planned, then to go onto Hong Kong, where we could get a Chinese Tourist Visa for 1 month, fairly easily.
The school were in agreement with this plan, and assured us once we were here on a tourist visa they could easily get it changed to a work visa. So I booked a cheap hotel online in Shanghai.
As UK Citizens we can stay in Shanghai on a 72 hour visitor’s visa. Our plan was to stay in a hotel in Shanghai, as we would arrive on a Friday (Nothing was open Embassy wise until the Monday) and then travel onto Hong Kong on Sunday.
I arranged an agent online who told us the visas could be done in one day.
If we had them there at 8.30 am Monday, he could return them at 1pm, at a large cost of course. But we needed to get this done quickly and get back to Shanghai, so we agreed.

So plan B consisted of:
Flight to Shanghai (as previously booked)
Drop dog into Shanghai Quarantine for 7 days. (Already planned)
Stay in a cheap hotel near the airport for 2 nights (Booked online)
Fly to Hong Kong Sunday afternoon (Booked online)
Hotel in Hong Kong for 1 night (Booked online)
Visa papers to agent at 8.30 am Monday morning.
Kick heels around Hong Kong until Monday afternoon
Find a way back to Shanghai
More expensive than our original plan, but do-able.
So after selling everything we possibly could in the apartment to raise any extra cash, we left Turkey in better spirits.

The flight from Adana to Shanghai is around 14 hours. A long time for a little dog, but I had faith that if she was with us, she would cope. She behaved wonderfully in every airport, and we did not have to confine her to her travel bag until we were boarding.
She stressed, but only I knew this, in so much as she would not drink any water and slept and slept. We sneaked her in between us on the seats in the plane, when the lights went down. As soon as we arrived in Shanghai, I opened her box and she walked through the airport with us, tail wagging.
Shanghai Airport was a pleasant surprise. Large and modern, with great signs to direct you.
Arriving at the customs area, I found an Officer and told her we had a dog with us. We were then fast tracked to the front of the Immigration queue for the visa. The Immigration officers were polite but non talkative, and in a few minutes we had our 72 hour visa stamp.
Then the Agricultural Customs Officer showed us the way to her Department. The Vet on duty was very helpful and polite. It took around 10 minutes to book my little girl in and then she was gone. And I was left with 3 slips of paper that said to collect her in 7 days.
This was a relief actually as we had some awkward travelling to do, and to take her to Hong Kong was impossible.
Tired and very weary, we went to the nearest Money exchange booth, who informed us they didn’t change Turkish Lira. Bit of a blow, but we had a little English money which we changed for Chinese Yuan, imagining we could get a currency exchange in Shanghai City later that day.

Leaving Shanghai Airport you are accosted by all the usual touts.
We took one of the touts’ taxis and within 10 minutes pulled up at a very strange looking motel type building in the middle of nowhere. Nothing like the ad on Booking.com!
The rooms were filthy. Sticky dirty carpets, but the beds were clean. We left a bit of Coffee in a cup overnight, which attracted Cock Roaches!
The Hotel kept asking for payment and we told them we needed to change money first.
Showered and changed and really not wanting to move at all after travelling for nearly 1 day, we made our way to a bus stop to go into the City Centre. The bus driver would not accept the note we had, so he let us travel for free and dropped us at the Metro. We learnt the ticket system, and caught a train, with no idea where to get off. I suggested we get off when a large amount of people did, as it should mean a busy area. We found ourselves in the centre, near Peoples Square, and started the hunt for an exchange office. It was now 8.30 pm and we asked some Australian Tourists, who told us most big Hotels would change money. We tried 3, only to be told on the third attempt, that no one in China would accept Turkish Lira! Great. All our money was in Lira. We grabbed a cheap bite to eat, and so tired we could not think anymore, headed back to the hotel. It was 10pm now.
Again we managed the Metro, and actually felt a little pleased with ourselves. Then suddenly the Metro stopped, nowhere near where we wanted to be, and everyone got off. The Metro closes at 10.30 pm!
We piled out of the station besides a busy highway, along with 100’s of others, to be greeted by a mayhem of Taxis. The Taxi system in Shanghai consists of 2 types, private and metered.
We were approached by a private, told him where we wanted to go and he quoted a price. We started to walk away and I suddenly turned back and offered him half. He argued a bit, and agreeing on a price we got in. Lesson : Chinese private taxi drivers can be bartered with.
We didn’t know if it was fair, if it was a rip off, but we were both past caring. The little English Money we had managed to change was disappearing quickly.
Back at the Hotel, we camped in the room. No water, no food, in very dire circumstances, we tried to sleep.
The next morning we contacted some friends to see if somehow we could send this money back to Turkey in exchange for a deposit of same amount into our Turkish Bank Account which appeared to be working in China.
Drawing a blank with that option, the only other option was the Ex. My son contacted him, explained the situation, and he immediately agreed to deposit £250 into my sons Bank Account in the UK. Finally a little hope. We waited for 3 hours until the money showed online in his account, and once again headed into the Centre to find an ATM.
When we got the cash, I think we were both just so elated we grinned like Cheshire Cats for 1 hour.
We tried to get back to the Metro in a decent time, but again, we got turfed off at 10.30. We made our way, again by taxi, to the Hotel and paid the room bill.
The tickets for the flight to Hong Kong had been paid for before we left Turkey, so early in the morning we got up to catch breakfast at the hotel before making our way back to the airport. As breakfast was included in the price of the room, we thought it would be good to try, as we overslept the previous day and had missed it.
Breakfast Chinese Style. Not to be repeated ever. The buffet consisted of noodle soup, hard boiled eggs, fried things which may have been vegetables, and hot water.
I took the boiled eggs, and proceeded to shell them, only to find the egg yolk inside was green. Breakfast was not eaten!

The Hotel took us to the airport, and we had already planned to leave our oversized suitcases in the airport, and travel with hand luggage only. What a great idea it is to be able to check your bags into a secure room and leave them there for as long as you want. The cost was minimal and it gave us the freedom of not having to pay excess baggage charges on the “internal” flight.
Neither of could enjoy the airport, as we both had the same thing on our minds..Please God, let them change Lira in Hong Kong. 2 people had told us they wouldn’t and we really didn’t know what we were going to do if that was true. Another important part of all this travelling is finding Wifi to keep in touch with family and also to keep the school advised on our whereabouts. For this, Airports are useful.
We caught the “internal” flight from International Departures! Scrutinised by the Chinese Immigration now, we sighed with relief when the plane took off.

Hong Kong :
As the plane approaches Hong Kong, you get some idea of the beauty of the place. Incredibly green, and mountainous, with long white scattered beaches.
The Pilot was British. A taste of things to come!

The first thing I saw as we were waiting for a bus to take us to the baggage collection, was a small Money Exchange Bureau. Heart in mouth I approached, and asked him if they changed Turkish Lira. Without looking up from his PC, he said, “Yes, how much”
The young man behind that desk will never know how near he came to being slobbered all over by an elderly woman and a young skinny guy!
Finally I felt my body began to relax. Yes, we could do this now.

Hong Kong airport is the most confusing airport I have ever been to.
Seemingly miles and miles long, it took us forever to find an exit to have a cigarette.
Then back into the airport again to try and find the coaches that take you to the various hotels.
We spent nearly 2 hours walking round looking for the right place.
Finally on a coach we left the Airport and began to take in this amazing City.

We had decided before leaving Turkey that as we had booked a very cheap hotel in Shanghai, we would spend just one night in a better quality hotel in Hong Kong. We had pre booked a hotel in the centre of Kowloon and it was better quality. Definitely no Cockroaches in this room!
The view from our room on the 13th floor was amazing.
We showered and left the Hotel and turned a corner to find ourselves right in the Heart of Kowloon. What an amazing place. For shopping it is to die for. We spent lots of time window shopping the amazing Gold shops and huge malls.
The other surprising thing about Hong Kong is its “Britishness” So much is still left over from the colonial days. The traffic signals, the crossings, the obedient behaviour of everyone! Everything was written in English and Chinese. Almost everyone spoke reasonable English, and were generally friendly and helpful.
Frustrated by not being here with expendable income, we ate some real Chinese food, had a beer, and returned to the hotel.
We had to be up very early to make our way to some Metro Station to meet the agent at 8.30 am. A bit cloak and dagger’s !
We got to the rendezvous point at the bottom of the escalators by McDonalds. I was disappointed not to see a James Bond look alike, but a large Chinese man whose English consisted of “yes” and “ Money”
In front of us were a guy from Ireland and a guy from the States.
We waited our turn, and gave him the papers and passports. I asked him where we would meet him that afternoon to collect them, only to be struck dumb, when he said, “No afternoon today, Afternoon Tomorrow” I tried to explain we had been promised a same day return, but he just kept shaking his head. Defeated, we left the passports with him and returned to the Hotel.

Another Dilemma! We had not allowed for an extra night stay in Hong Kong.
Reluctantly we went to reception and asked to stay another night, only to be told, there were no vacancies that night! Could this really get any worse?
Then it dawned on us we also had no passports to check into a hotel! That would have to be dealt with when we found a room.
Temperature outside was 42 degrees. My dear Son decided to walk around the City to try and find us somewhere, after exhaustive Internet searches were coming up with no availability. I parked myself in the Hotel Reception with the bags, and he set off into the City. I took the opportunity to make use of the hotels laundry room, as by now we were both running out of clean clothes.
2 Hours later he returned, exhausted and soaked to the skin.
The only available places he could find were either a flea pit run by a dodgy Indian Guy, with stained mattresses and obviously a place for taking ladies of the night, or an upmarket one around the corner, which had 1 room left. It was much more expensive than we could have imagined, but we seemed to have no choice. So we dragged our bags around the corner, and checked in. They accepted the Photocopies of our Passports.
Feeling very deflated now, and extremely tired, we spent the evening in the room watching a movie online.
After checkout in the morning, we had to kill time until 3.30 when the visa guy would return.
Not wanting to waste anymore of our money, which was rapidly disappearing in this wonderful but expensive city, we made our way to the Railway Station to wait for the visa man.

We sat on benches and discussed our options for leaving Hong Kong that night. We had to leave that night, as there was no way we could afford another night here.
We checked flights, but they were coming in as very expensive for that night, and arriving in Shanghai at 1.30 am, when no one would be around to meet us.
We decided on the sleeper train, as it was a lot cheaper, and although takes more time, would get us into Shanghai at a reasonable time, even if a day later.
Therein followed another problem. The one Sleeper a day left Hong Kong at 15.15. Our visas were not coming until 15.30. A begging phone call to our mystery agent, brought no joy. 3.30 pm no earlier!
OK, we thought some more. Checking online we discovered it was possible to pick the Sleeper up the next day in another city. So we decided to take a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, spend the night in yet another cheap Chinese hotel, and pick up the train there to Shanghai.
The visa man came as scheduled, and visas in hand we went to book the trains.
The woman shook her head and said not possible, I asked her calmly to please check her computer, which she did shaking her head. Then she smiled and said, “you lucky, 2 sleepers left, but expensive”. We knew the price and had allowed for it, which was a lot cheaper than the plane. We knew the expensive sleeper consisted of a room with just 2 beds and a toilet attached. We smiled, sighed and bought the tickets. We reserved a cheap hotel online, and set off for the platform.

As we would be leaving Hong Kong and entering China, this part of the railway station is actually an emigration department, exactly as you would find in an airport. Once on the train, it has no stops, until it reaches Guangzhou…leg one of the Journeys.
What greeted us when we descended to the Platform took my breath away. A double decker train. We were shown to our seats on the upper deck, and during the 2 hour journey, we received refreshments and snacks from hostesses. I have to say this part of our journey, really impressed me. The train was comfortable and very similar to the layout of a plane, except a lot more room.
We pulled into Guangzhou station feeling rested and more optimistic. This was to be short lived!
Taking a taxi, we realised that the hotel was very near the station. As soon as we checked in we also realised immediately it was in a red light area. But the room was large, with A/C and clean.
We showered, changed and went to look for somewhere to eat.
Walking a short distance, we passed a few girls on the street under street lights, and the whole area had a bad feel to it. We saw a large upmarket hotel on the other side of the highway, and went into the lobby. We asked if there was a restaurant, and were shown to an upstairs room, which had quality. The food was excellent, and reasonable, and we made friends with one of the waitresses. I think they were all in awe of 2 foreigners. We felt they did not get many foreigners in that area.
Making our way past the girls again and now some dodgy looking characters who accompanied them, we returned to the hotel.
In the morning we checked out and decided to walk to the station, as it was not far. Unfortunately we took a wrong road, and in the ceaseless heat, pulling bags, decided to give in and hail a taxi.
We had just started to wave at cars when a Rickshaw motorbike pulled up. We looked at each other and were so hot and fed up, I just said, Oh to hell with it. Jumping on, we both squeezed onto a small seat. When it was turning corners, it was a heart in the mouth feeling, but he got us to the station quickly and cheaply.
We located the platform for the sleeper, and I was so looking forward to a relaxing journey, where we could sleep and wake up in Shanghai.
On boarding the train, we were shown into a compartment with sleepers consisting of 4 berths. We looked puzzled and showed our tickets again to the steward, who nodded and pointed to a four berth. Again we had been misled!
Very very disappointed now, we sat on the bottom bunk and waited. 10 minutes later a young Chinese couple came in with a very small, sick baby! No sleep tonight then!
Daniel took the top bunk as did the Chinese man, so that left me lying opposite the woman with the baby.
At around 7pm a man came along selling meals. We ordered 2 after seeing the Chinese couple order. It was edible, but I later discovered it was not meat cubes, but cubes of blood.
Everyone on the train went to bed after this meal, which was around 8pm. We were a little lost at this point, and lay top to tail on the bottom bunk talking, but soon realised we would have to leave if we wanted to chat, as they were sleeping.
We wandered around the train for a bit, but every carriage was the same, people in bed! Some in 6 berths, and some 4 berths.
Daniel took his laptop into the top bunk and listened to music. I actually lay down and tried to sleep.
By now my stomach had that feeling that something was seriously wrong. I tried to ignore it, and must have dozed a little. I woke suddenly to the knowledge that I was going to throw up. I ran to the disabled toilet (The cleanest one) and projectile vomited for around 10 minutes. Feeling extremely sorry for myself, I climbed back into bed and tried to sleep. Every time I was drifting off, the baby would wake, and then the whole process of heating water for the bottles and changing nappies began.
By the time people were waking up in the morning at around 6.30 am I was exhausted and still feeling unwell.
I sat on the bed and looked out of the window as the sun rose on China and the countryside swept by, and I was seriously beginning to doubt our decision at that stage.
Finally the train pulled into Shanghai station and we disembarked, dishevelled, tired and utterly fed up.
We caught the Metro back to the airport to collect our suitcases, and sent a message to the school to say we would be at the airport for 12 noon for them to pick us up.
I had been in contact by mail most days with them, keeping them informed to our whereabouts.
The message came back that they were surprised, and it would be at least 3 hours before anyone could collect us. Almost ready to catch a flight home now, we made our way to some chairs, and began the wait.
Daniel managed to sleep sprawled out across the chairs and bags, I just sat and reflected.
Finally two young girls appeared to take us to our final destination. We piled into a taxi, and they tried very hard to make polite conversation with us, but by this time, Dan was in a deep sleep in the front, and I kept dropping off.
Finally we arrived at a Hotel as promised by the school.
It was pleasant and we had a room each for a change!
The girls were insistent that they had to take us out for a traditional Chinese meal, which had my stomach making strange sounds again. We tried politely to explain how tired we were, but they were not to be budged. So we washed, changed and walked to a large Restaurant.
I think they ordered nearly everything on the Menu, and although we were probably hungry, we were too tired to eat a lot.
Finally they left us alone, and we made our weary way back to the Hotel. Saying goodnight to each other, I fell into bed. My eyes had just closed when the room phone went. It was Dan. Telling me that his room was haunted because a light kept coming on and off in his wardrobe and bathroom, and he was coming to sleep in my room. He turned up at the door with his quilt and pillow, and made himself a bed on the floor.
I laughed and laughed at this point. How ridiculous the whole situation was!
At exactly 9.30 am my phone woke me from a deep sleep. It was my new Boss telling me she was outside my door, and sure enough she started to knock on the door. Nearly tripping over a sleeping mass on the floor I opened the door a fraction, and had to put my foot in the way to stop her barging in!
My initial reaction was, how the hell do I explain Dan asleep on the floor, when he has his own room!
I asked her sleepily, to give me 10 minutes. She reluctantly agreed to wait in the Lobby and I closed the door.
Frantically waking Dan, I told him to go back to his room, and get dressed. He stumbled out of the door, wrapped in his quilt, and I prayed that no Staff saw him!
Respectably washed and dressed we made our way to the Lobby, looking like we hadn’t slept for a week, and made our introductions.
She was a busy, efficient person and had our day organised. Not quite what I had in mind for today. We were going to the school, and then onto to look at some apartments.
Still in a daze, she checked us out of the hotel. At this point something kicked in, and I did politely ask her what happened to the week in a hotel we were promised, to allow us time to view some apartments. She smiled and said “but the hotel very expensive, we will find apartment today, and tonight you will be in new home”
I lost my ability to smile at anything then.
So after a quick coffee in Starbucks, we were bundled into a taxi, and her HR manager gabbled on the phone in Chinese to someone for ages. We arrived in a street that looked like something from a horror movie. All windows had bars, and electric poles carried wires which were hanging in a precarious way. We waited at the side of the street for ages. When I asked what we were waiting for, I was told “Agent, with Key”
About 10 minutes later a small old woman pulled up on a scooter, and the 3 of them carried on a nonstop conversation in Chinese.
We walked a while in unbearable heat, and then as we turned a couple of corners, I realised the area was getting poorer and dirtier. I stopped and told my Boss; no way could I live in this area. She smiled and said, “just look, we have 3 to look at”.
Reluctantly I followed them up some stairs of a dark, dingy apartment Block to a place that I have no words to describe.
As soon as we walked in, I told her “No way”
She argued with the agent for a while, and all this time the temperature was increasing.
After much raised voices, we marched back down the stairs.
The woman left on her scooter, and we got in another taxi.
There followed another short drive, to another area. A bit better than the last one.
We entered the apartment Block and again I was dismayed to see how dirty the stairwell was and no lights. She took us up five flights of stairs, and arriving breathless and soaked to the skin, I looked around, and started to cry. I guess it was a combination of tiredness, and disappointment. I could not speak to anyone, so my son spoke for us. He made it very clear that this was not what we wanted, and please take us to a hotel, and let us stay there for a few nights to give us time to look.
Again there were many raised voices, and we were told over and over that this was good and cheap!
The HR manager was adamant that this was the amount of money they were prepared to front us, for deposit etc. The agreement had been made earlier they would front the deposit etc
So we left again, and this time we were taken back to the school. We were abandoned at this point, and sat drinking water in a daze.
After lunch, My Boss came to us, and said there was one more in a better place, but more expensive than they had planned. That would be OK, if we agreed to take the money as a loan, and pay the school back. I would have agreed to anything at this point, so we said Yes.
Back in another taxi, we pulled down a back street that was undergoing a lot of road works. I sighed again, but after getting out of the taxi, we walked around the corner and in front of us was paradise!
Security gates with 2 guards allowed us through, and we found ourselves inside a large site, with gardens, trees and brand new low blocks of apartments. Some were still being finished off. My spirits lifted a bit.
Then another wonderful surprise, a lift.
We got out on the 5th floor and walked into heaven.
Brand new, everything was dusty, but immaculate.
I didn’t think twice. Agreeing immediately, everyone smiled and money began to pass hands.
2 hours later, we collected our bags and returned to the apartment.
There was no A/C and the landlord was out of town for 2 days, although over the phone he had agreed to install it on his return.
The next day he came to see us, and another nice surprise, he spoke English.
True to his word, the next day 3 A/C units were installed and a new fridge freezer appeared.
The next day, we caught the coach to Shanghai, and then a bus to collect the Dog from Kennels.
It took us all day, but as she was beside herself to see us, it made it worth it.
The following day, Sunday, I had hoped for a quiet day to unpack and clean a little, but we were inundated by the Landlord, My Boss and some workman, tying up loose ends. After the contracts had been signed, the Landlord and his wife took us for a meal, and he even took us to a large shopping mall to buy some small bits.

My Boss had agreed to give us Monday and Tuesday off and our first working day would be Wednesday.
Monday morning we were summoned for a “Training Day” 9am to 5 pm!
Tuesday morning we were summoned for our medicals at 9am with nil by mouth since the night before.
Finally Tuesday afternoon we were free!

I feel as if my feet haven’t really touched the ground since leaving Turkey, and I realise it is going to take this old body a while to catch up on all this, but things seem to be OK now, even if I have my doubts about the truth behind the apartment business.!
The next saga is the Work Visa, which she has casually dropped into conversation, that we MAY have to go to Hong Kong for!
To be continued….

Posted by TravelnTurkey 00:10 Archived in China Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises bridges buildings night trains turkey visa border Comments (2)

Turkish Folk Tale

THE LEGEND OF ŞAHMERAN

Today I would like to recount a Turkish Folk Tale told to me by my students.

We were discussing snakes and if Turkey had poisonous ones, and I was told that indeed she does.
There is one variety in particular which resides in the area of Adana and also other areas along the Mediterranean coast. They did not know the correct name, they described it as black and that it can reach 2 to 3 metres in length. Three of my students have physically encountered this variety in the countryside and all of them warned of how dangerous it can be.
I have since learnt that this snake is probably the Black Cobra, which does indeed live in Southern Turkey.
So from learning that there is a nasty variety of a LARGE snake here, they proceeded to tell me the Folk Tale regarding this snake.
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THE LEGEND OF ŞAHMERAN

The legend of Şahmeran comes from Mesopotamia. It has been told and retold in Mardin for hundreds and hundreds of years. The name "Şahmeran" actually comes from the Persian name "Şah-ι Meran," which means "the shah of the snakes". Şahmeran was half a snake and half a very beautiful woman. She was a snake from the waist down, but from the waist upwards, a beautiful woman. Her portraits are traditionally hung on walls inside houses especially on girls’ bedroom walls. It is believed that hanging her pictures brings good fortune for them.

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Once upon a time, there was a tall and handsome boy called Tahmasp who lived in Mardin. One day, by mistake, he walked into a cave where thousands of snakes were sleeping. There he met Şahmeran.
Tahmasp couldn’t hide the fact that he was attracted to her although she was a snake from the waist down. Tahmasp remained in the cave for days on end, listening to Şahmeran tell incredible stories about the world and humanity. He was in awe, but when Azahmeran had told him everything and there was nothing left to tell, Tahmasp decided that he was missing the outside world and left. Even though Şahmeran didn't like this idea, in the end, she accepted it.

So Tahmasp returned to the land where he used to live. But one day, the king of that land got very ill. One of the king's assistants who was quite evil told the king that the only treatment that would cure him was to eat a piece of meat from the body of Şahmeran. The search began. Anyone who might know anything about Şahmeran was asked to come forward. One day, as Tahmasp was at the hamam, he was identified by soldiers who spotted snake scales all over his body. The soldiers brought him to the king's evil assistant. It turned out - not surprisingly - that the wicked royal aide's real aim was not to make the king better, but to hear about the secrets of the world straight from the mouth of Şahmeran.
Tahmasp was tortured until he revealed the location of Şahmeran's cave. So the assistant and the soldiers went to the cave and found Şahmeran who revealed her great secret, saying: "Whoever tears off a bit of flesh from my tail and eats it will be endowed with all the secrets of the world. But whoever takes a bit of flesh from my head and eats it will die instantly." No sooner were these words out of Şahmeran's mouth than the villainous assistant cut the half-snake, half-woman into two pieces, and ripped a bit of flesh from her tail. Tahmasp, horrified by what he had just witnessed, bit into a piece of flesh from Şahmeran's head so as to die immediately. But what happened instead is that the king's evil aide - having eaten a bite of Şahmeran's tail - died on the spot while Tahmasp appeared completely unaffected. It turned out that Şahmeran had anticipated the king's assistant’s plot and had seen to it that her lover, Tahmasp, inherited all her knowledge, while her enemy went to his death. However, in the wake of Şahmeran's death, Tahmasp was so bereaved that he isolated himself away from the rest of humanity.
Afterwards he is said to have become a legendary doctor, Lokman Hekim.

Posted by TravelnTurkey 01:54 Archived in Turkey Tagged children animals turkey snakes adana Comments (1)

Fethiye to Meis

Day visit to Meis / Kastelorizo

sunny 42 °C

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Having decided to renew my visa at Meis this time, I travelled down from Istanbul to Fethiye for a few days holiday and from there would do a day trip to Meis via Kas.

Also known as Kastelorizo, the current official name in Greek is Megisti which means “Biggest” ,ironic really as it is only 4 square miles (10 km²) and is the smallest of the Dodecanese, but the biggest of the small archipelago; (Turkish: Meis , Italian: Castelrosso).
It lies roughly 1300 metres off the south coast of Turkey.
Over the Centuries this little Island has been fought over by many Nations. The island was conquered by the Romans, the Byzantines and then in 1306 by the Knights of St. John of Rhodes who built the castle with its tall twin walls and loopholes, making it one of the strongest fortresses of the Aegean Sea. The Egyptians, French and The Turks have also captured it at one time or another.

I arranged with one of the tour companies to be picked up in Fethiye early morning, and waiting outside Migros at 6.30am in the morning, it gave me some quiet time away from the hustle of the tourist resort to reflect.

Fethiye will always hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. How happy I had been living here, how sad I had been here at times, and how amazingly beautiful this place is.
In this town I had seen my family enjoying fun holidays, I had healed a broken heart, I had fallen in love and I had done, seen and experienced crazy times.

The transport arrived on time, and I was pleased I was the only passenger. The driver spoke perfect English, and kept me entertained with his stories on the journey. He stopped at the scenic places briefly so I could take photos. Then we swept down into Kalkan and collected 4 other passengers.
Finally we arrived at the Harbour in Kas.

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Views of Kas from the Road

Kas is a place I will never tire off. It is so different to other Tourist towns. A little more “upmarket” and a different kind of clientele. My heart was a little heavy remembering a special weekend here at the Reggae Bar with a special person. Shaking off my melancholy I made my way to the Tourist Office to give my papers and pay the Fee.

I had a small argument with the guy running this place as they wanted the Visa fee in Euros, which meant the £10 note I had exchanged my lira for was actually useless. So changing yet more liras, this time into Euros, and muttering under my breath that I was actually paying more for my Visa this way, I left his office.

We boarded the boat after handing our passports over to the Captain, and I made my way upstairs, cornered a piece of the deck and settled for the short journey.
Meis is only 25 minutes from Kas on the ferry, and usually you have around 5 free hours on the Island before returning to Kas.
Even if you do not need a renewed visa, I would recommend it as a great place for a visit. So near to Turkey yet within a short time you are really in Europe.

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Approaching Meis and the Harbour Area

Disembarking I strolled around the small harbour, captivated by the colourful houses which really give you a true feeling of being in the Mediterranean region. I passed a small building which houses the Duty Free…YES Duty free.
As I passed one small café I noticed a sign for sausage rolls. OMG Yes, I forgot this is not a Muslim Country. I sat quickly and ordered 3 !
Sated with 3, although they tasted so good, I possibly could have stayed there all afternoon eating sausage rolls, I decided I should now exercise them off.
At one end of the harbour walk is a small bar with some sun loungers and from the concrete area, people were diving and swimming in the most amazing clear waters.
I grabbed a bed, and proceeded to copy everyone else and relaxed with a drink and a cooling dip.
Of course everything is in Euros, although some of the shops did take Turkish Lira, I have to say I really don’t know if it was cheap or not.
Refreshed I dressed and wondered around for a while.
I know there are a few places that are must visits here, but the Temperature was in the 40’s and I did not feel inclined to wander too far from the waterfront.

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The Waterfront and the Crystal Clear Waters

After visiting the Duty Free and stocking up, I made my way back to the boat.
I sat in a small café and was quickly joined by a couple of people who have retired to Kas, and their friends, some Turkish Captains. We ordered beers and snacks, and spent the last hour or so jovially recounting our experiences in Turkey.

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Finally it was time to embark for the short journey back.

Arriving in Kas, as we disembarked the Turkish harbour Police checked our documents, and waved us off.
I meandered around Kas for a while, marvelling again at this wonderful slice of heaven in Turkey, and then it was time for the pickup to take me back to Fethiye.

The journey back was quick, with a different driver, and after dropping the others at Kalkan I was once again alone.

We sped along the Highway towards Fethiye and I glanced briefly at an old man across the other side of the road, walking with some goats and his dog, when suddenly the dog dashed across the road. My driver had no chance and there was an almighty sickening thud and then the car lifted as it went over the dog.
Panic stricken I imagined he would stop, but no, he calmly looked in his mirror and assured me the dog had got up and was walking. I turned to check, but all i could see was the old man hurrying across the road. Would I ever get used to the indifference towards animals here.

Pulling into Fethiye, the sun was setting, and I thanked the driver and quickly checked the outside of the car. There was a tiny indent on the front bumper, but that was it.

As I was leaving for Istanbul the following morning, I wanted to savour the last few hours in Fethiye so I made my way to the Harbour where I ate a fish meal, and people watched before heading back to my hotel.

Posted by TravelnTurkey 12:49 Archived in Turkey Tagged animals boats travel turkey visa border kas meis Comments (0)

“Fire in the Mountains”

Cirali

sunny

For a long time I had heard of the “Fire in the Mountains” near Antalya and had wanted to see this phenomenon with my own eyes.
Known by the local inhabitants as the Yanartaş (burning stone), it is caused by natural Methane gas escaping from the rocks.

I had done some research and found out it was a Mountain near Olympus and Cirali.

I finally had the opportunity just before I was leaving Turkey to come home for a visit.
My Turkish friend and I left Fethiye to spend a few days in Olympus, before going onto Antalya to the airport.

My friend was also very curious to see the flames, as he totally did not believe this was possible. A fact I found very amusing. Firstly he had never heard of “Chimera”, which I was amazed at, as a lot of foreigners know of this place but this was his Country and he did not know about it. Secondly, he was convinced it was a “sham” for the tourists. So eventually I persuaded him to accompany me and see for himself.

We drove down into Cirali looking for a small hotel. I really wanted one with a pool, but the main ones along the front where way out of our price range.

Finally we found the wonderful “Canada Hotel”. Set back a bit from the beach on the road into the village, it is run by a Canadian Woman and her Turkish husband.

Very clean with a wonderful pool, and great food, the setting is lovely, tucked away in a quiet spot, and very peaceful.

It is about a 20 minute walk through the Forest to the beach from here.

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We had been told the best time to visit the mountain was as the sun was setting, as it is cooler for the climb, and the fires are more dramatic in the dark.

So filling a backpack with some Beer and snacks, we drove to the base at the North end of the village. Here there are signposts to the burning flames of the Chimaera. If you are staying in the village or in the Tree House areas, there is a tractor and trailer, which will bring you to the base.

Historical info : The famous myth of Bellerophontes is said to have taken place here.
When he arrived in Lycia, Bellerophontes found out that every night the Chimera, a monster with the head of a lion and the tail of a dragon, terrorized the village taking the children, women and livestock away and leaving their bones alongside the mountain.
Bellerophontes became the hero killing the fire-breathing Chimera from the back of Pegasus, who not only carried the hero but actively participated in the battle himself.

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There is a something special about this place that draws people to want to undertake the steep climb of this mountain. The climb is about 1 km uphill, and it consists of a series of wide very steep rock steps and it normally takes about 20 - 30 minutes depending on the individual.
I have to admit I had to stop 3 or 4 times to catch my breath, as it is very steep in some parts. On the way up, we passed trees laden with small pieces of cloth. When I asked I was told that they were prayers, given to Allah asking for help, or a small thank you.

I am also ashamed to say that twice I was passed by elderly Turkish Women looking fresh as daisies!

We did this climb in late September, and I imagine that late Autumn or early Spring would be the best time to attempt it, as the weather is a little cooler then.

Closer to the flames the path opens out to the natural terrain of the area.

It is more difficult walking back down and a MUST is good walking shoes. No flip-flops or high heeled shoes. We found that a torch was a must, and the best ones are the ones you wear on your head, as this leaves your hands free for the climb.

Staggering, gasping and crawling the last bit, we finally arrived at the top. It opens out here into some flattish areas with small pockets of flames everywhere.

It was still daylight, and difficult to appreciate them at their best, so we found a flat spot, spread out a blanket and cracked open the beers.
The views down over the bay are worth the climb alone, plus it is noticeably cooler at that height. It's about 180 metres above sea level.
The sun slowly started to set, and the fires seemed to dance alive.

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I can understand now why people make the climb. It was a magical sight.

My Turkish friend, inspired by a few beers, and who was still not convinced, started poking sticks and other things into the holes, to catch the Man who must be underneath the rocks lighting the fires. It was an amusing sight.

He spent ages running from one Methane hole to another, extinguishing the fires, only to be astonished when they magically relit themselves.
We stayed a while, sipping our beer and watching the Turkish Families using the natural barbecues to cook sausages and chicken.

Coming down is a whole new experience, especially with a few beers under your belt !

This is a high conservation area, and still unknown to a lot of tourists. I do hope it retains this charm.

One other place we found was a Nightclub high in the rockface at Olympus, called Babylon Town. Dancing all night under the stars with a cool breeze was great.

Quirky but fantastic location.

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Posted by TravelnTurkey 09:00 Archived in Turkey Tagged mountains beaches travel turkey antalya olympus Comments (0)

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