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Intrepid Journeys


China: Katie Wolfe

Day One - Shanghai
The skyscape is like nothing I've ever seen before - shapes, silhouettes are like a scene from Bladerunner. Some of the towers are so beautiful, gleaming steel against inky night sky - shot with neon, vertically - WOW.

Day Two - Shanghai
The civic nature of Chinese life is incredible - cooking, cutting vegetables, working, washing your hair, playing cards - it all happens in the street. I bought a statue today.  I've called him JY after a lovely 86-year old man I met. He is a terracotta figurine from the Han Dynasty& that is 2,000 years old and only $100 NZ. I am assured he is a fake but maybe, just maybe, he is a genuine antique. He is stunning. I could have filled two trunks with the antiques in the market here. I've always loved junk shopping and this was like the ultimate. Shanghai really is a funky city.

Day Three - Shanghai
Yesterday I met JY on the street and went back to this house - a fascinating and a sprightly 86 year-old. He invited me to go dancing this morning but it was so different from what I expected& a bizarre nightclub. I expected sedate gentle waltzing in open space but it was a smoky nightclub jam packed at 9am - didn't seem all that healthy.  That's the thing I am learning about travel - never count on your expectations - expect to be surprised.

Day Four - Nanching
The state of pollution in Nanching is bad. The sky is brown. When you come from a country that literally sparkles, the air is pungent and the sky so many shades of blue, and are then presented with a landscape of grey and brown and a head heavy from fumes and goodness knows what else.. .you kinda wonder& how do you live like that? I surprise myself by being so at ease in the frantic hustle and bustle of traffic and people.

Day Five - Nanching
I was anxious about going to the Nanching memorial to the 1937 massacre of its people by the Japanese as I'd read a little about it. I found the physical design impressive, theatrical - they even had music playing - however, the sight of the excavated mass grave was overpowering and very upsetting. I saw the skeleton of a three-year-old and I couldn't hold it together. Death, cruelty, evil on that scale is hard to conceive and in the case of Nanching, this is so recent. However, in hindsight, it is also hypocritical - there was only a matter of years between China building this memorial and the events at Tiananmen Square.
Day Six - Train to Xian
Trains really are the perfect way to travel. I can't help feeling frustrated that we have given away rail travel in NZ. Being able to board a train and sleep and wake up in your destination is such a pleasure. Arriving in Xian I am once again presented with a Chinese city that is on the up. The plasma TVs and glittering shopping malls literally hail "we're on the move here". I begin to wonder if there is any China left that hasn't had the swathe of modernism and money sweep over it.

Day Seven - Xian
One of the pitfalls of traveling is the tourist trap. The Terracotta Warriors fell into that category. Approaching the site, the roadside was dotted with replicas of the warriors - at petrol stations, souvenir shops - so when you see the real ones, the impact is diminished. The Muslim quarter is more of an experience - hustle, bustle down narrow streets with a smoky, hectic atmosphere& I think that it almost pays to avoid the main tourist attractions and head for the back streets. Without a doubt this is where you have the most genuine experiences& a chat with a street vendor, watching a mum play with her child, seeing a man wash his hair in a blue bucket& the detail and simplicity of everyday life.

Day Eight - Yangtze River
Walking down the gangplank approaching the tatty river boat, the busy port with the city humming in the background, was a great moment. I felt adventurous - about to sail the Yangtze River& an iconic journey that millions have done before me. One of the world's great rivers. Today I left so lucky and blessed to be able to travel - to be in China - although, I am starting to hanker for Western food.

Day Nine - Yangtze River
The greatest onslaught of culture shock today - not just the spitting (which continually makes me laugh) but the Muzak. Being pumped everywhere on the boat& right into my room at 5.30am. Why isn't anyone complaining?  Don't they understand that synthesized Barry Manilow is not good for your health? The boat is quite grotty, my room stinks of rat piss, but I'm enjoying just hanging out watching the Yangtze sail by.
Day Ten - Three gorges
I'll never forget the sight of the empty towns. Apartment blocks in the fading light with no one light on in the building. Whole societies up and moved for the dam project. I can't imagine what it would be like to see your home slowly drowning. Such a drastic undertaking - to flood the historical and spiritual heartbeat of China.

Day Eleven - Dam project
Seeing the dam in construction was a window into its absolute ruthless impact. I have never been around a project where man has made such an impact on nature. Having been here for ten or so days now, that disregard for the natural world is everywhere. I guess I notice it because we revere our land - its part of our identity. I am reveling in the freedom of travel - away from work and commuting, house work and cleaning up after my rather delightful but messy daughter. We are in the midst of potty training so your life can seem inundated with wees and poos. It's fair to say that I have been feeling some regrets& I wonder if I should have travelled more in my 20's& maybe it's not too late.

Day Twelve - train to Beijing
Another awesome train trip& last one with my far too heavy backpack. Despite the constant moving, long days, long nights, pollution and working I have so much energy.  I look forward to everyday because I know it's going to be a great time.

Day Thirteen - Beijing
I was expecting a big city& malls, people, construction, progress& and that's what I got. Did the tourist spots - the Great Wall, the Forbidden City - immense, beautiful, and ancient. Hit Beijing at night. The rickety Hutongs (old houses and streets), a bit of shopping, a facial! Dodging cars, I'm conscious of how I feel so at ease, brimming with energy, energized and sparkling with life - China has been a rocking good time.

Day Fourteen - Beijing
Bye China & I'll take good care of JY for you.