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Adventure, Art, Culture

Koyasan Temple Stay – Rengejoin

The day started off in a panic, we woke up at 7:20am, when we were supposed to be out of the hotel by 7. Danielle and I were ready and out by 7:40, we stopped downstairs to check out, and made coffee as I took a picture of the directions to the airport. It was going to be a long day of travel.

We got on the train, by 8, but didn’t get to the transfer in time to catch the 8:03am train… So we had to wait for the 8:30am. It was a rough start to the day. By the time we got to the airport we were 3 minutes late to check into our flight, they told us our bags wouldn’t make it on the plane with us, and they’d have to change our flight. The fee for that was $52.

We made our new flight, but when we got to Osaka, we knew we were quite a bit behind schedule. The plane didn’t make it as quickly as it should have, and we quickly figured out we’d need to catch a train, to make another transfer. After 6 different modes of transportation (bus, subway, car, train, plane, and tram) we end up in Koyasan. The last mode was a tram up the mountain, which picks you up right where the train drops you off.  It doesn’t seem like more than 1000 people live in Koya (Mount Koya), but, as we discovered, there are over 30 temples located within the small town. We finally get to the information office and they tell us all but 2 of the temples are booked for the night – and that dinner time is upon us (which means we would miss eating if we didn’t get to a temple soon).

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Art, Culture

Terracotta Warriors – Emperor Qin’s Army

What do people really come to Xi’an, China for?

The Terracotta Warriors of course! Before we came to China I always had an interest in this site, but to be honest, I didn’t have any real knowledge or rationale. Now I know.

The Terracotta Warriors are one of the most impressive creations I’ve come across and seeing them was a real treat to say the least.

So what is the site all about?

Emperor Qin, the first Emperor of China, had his entire army recreated to have them buried with him when he passed.  These men are known today as the Terra Cotta Warriors.   He had the army recreated in hopes that they would protect him in his afterlife. So, some 2,200 years ago every warrior was individually recreated from clay to depict the actual size, statute, apparel and ranking of the men. Today, there are over 6,000 warriors across 3 large pits. The story is they were built and arranged in the typical battle formation to represent the true nature of the army. At the time they also constructed pillars and a roof to house this amazing site. Unfortunately with time the structure eroded and the men were exposed to the elements.

Somewhere in the last 2,200 years the warriors went missing so to speak (no one was aware of their existence). In fact the ground that had amassed atop of the site was being used as a burial ground. The land (in between a mountain range) was also being used by local farmers for agricultural purposes. In 1974, the farmers were digging to put in a new well and they hit clay. Much to their surprise, the Terra Cotta Warriors had existed below their feet this whole time.

http://youtu.be/r5VrY6XGOcQ

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Adventure, Art, Culture

Datong, China – City of Chinese Characters

Datong – the city of Chinese characters

I mean that literally. As we embark on the journey across the Silk Road, I know that English speakers will dwindle, but I didn’t expect such a drastic shift so soon. Datong was our first stop on the Silk Road after Beijing (you can stop at the Great Wall or Chengde alternatively). We’d already been to the wall earlier in the week, so we headed straight for Datong on the train (bus is another option). People flock here for the Yungang Grottoes and the Hengshan Hanging Monastery, but their mostly local tourists. The two sites are spectacular and certainly worth the visit, just not developed for those that expect communication in other languages. You can get to the sites by bus or local tour with CIT (group tour is 100RMB/pp or you can hire a private car for 350RMB for the day). Walking the streets of Datong, there are almost no signs in English and most locals will stare at you as though you’ve landed from another planet 🙂

So how do you deal? Well luckily David has patience, which you’ll need for attempting any effective communication (basic 20 second questions will take minutes). Then to support charades and gestures – We downloaded a series of apps to assist us.

Offline dictionaries are best if you have no service – then for those that have service, there are these top 3:

  1. Google translate (great translation, which stores your history, you’ll need service to translate new phrases, but not for the history)
  2. Waygo (which lets you hover your phone over Chinese characters and converts it to English – helpful for menus, signage and things that locals will write down when attempting to communicate)
  3. Wechat (which lets you text any person in the app and translate the conversation into your native language).

David and I literally had a full conversation with the train conductor on Wechat on our way over to Datong, which was perfect as we were hoping for full use of 4 seats and a table to work, and he made it happen at no additional charge 🙂

Learn to make translation conversations a fun activity as you’ll encounter them often here – frustration gets you nowhere, so patience really is a virtue while on the Silk Road in China!

Art, Culture

Shanghai – the NYC of Asia

Shanghai – the NEW YORK CITY of Asia, equipped with the best fake market in the WORLD.

Never did I expect to love this city so much. I’ve actually never considered residing in NYC, but after being in shanghai just a few days, I was ready to declare it as my new home. Anything and everything you could ever want/need is in Shanghai. And in the off chance that they don’t already make what you’re looking for, you can have it created exactly to your specifications for almost pennies on the dollar.

Does this mean you’re sacrificing quality? Not always. If you know what you want and can spend a little time in shanghai, you can find the best place to make it for you.

There is of course a fake market, where quality is more commonly questionable. This is still a must see on your visit as you will not experience something like this anywhere else in the world. The market is actually presented in the form of a 4-5 story shopping mall with many small “shops” on each floor. This is somewhat of an overwhelming experience if you step into it not knowing what to expect, but if you go in ready to haggle and with some items in mind, you’ll likely have a great time.

Just remember there are many floors, you will see the same item several times and therefore have the upper hand in all negotiations. My general rule of thumb is that I will never pay more than 1/4 of their initial asking price. That may seem a little harsh, but with the right approach you can make this happen almost every time.

For those of you that are new to the haggling world – I’ll give a bit more guidance…

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