Saturday, June 30, 2007

On the road again

Well, made it to Beijing, and managed to rustle up a ticket to Hong Kong tomorrow, by which time I'll be only 12 hours over my visa, and thus hopefully beneath the notice of immigration officials.

My baggage at check in at Shenyang was 15 kilos over weight, even after I threw out or gave away most of what I owned (thankfully excess baggage costs next to nothing flying domestically in China) and I thought for a heart stopping, three years off my life shaving moment that I'd forgotten my ticket.

I also committed a flagrant act of abuse against the carry on luggage system, with about 20kgs of whatnots strapped about my person.

Anyway, I've deposited most of my worldy goods at a friends place in Beijing and I'm stripped down to about 8 kgs of stuff that will be slung about my shoulders as I begin phase 2 of operation 'go somewhere that isn't liaoyang'.

Its starting to feel like an adventure now.

Friday, June 29, 2007

All alone in my big empty apartment

Well, I'm packed. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be well over my 20kg limit (I have about 100 more DVDs than when I arrived), but I'm packed. My apartment is once again the sparse white box it was when I arrived.

There have been times over the last 10 months when I've thought about this place as a cell, albeit one that I often preferred to stay in rather than face the bewildering outside world. I'm indescribably glad to be moving on, but I'll miss my little sanctuary of internet, peanut butter and banana on toast, rock n' roll and air-conditioning.

So I guess this is the end of one chapter of the saga of this particular decadent western dog, the next time I write, assuming none of the innumerable possible disasters in my immediate future decide to strike, I'll most likely be in Hong Kong. Incidentally if you know anyone who has a couch there I could crash on, that'd be great.

At this stage I'll be back in Australia on August 7th. I hope to have a souvlaki in hand shortly after arrival.

zai jian?

Thursday, June 28, 2007


So I just handed in the last of my grades and am now officially, indefinitely and blissfully, unemployed.

I will never again have to stand in front of a class and deliver my half-baked lesson plans to those indifferent, insolent, incurious ingrates.

I'm gonna miss them all.




Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Great Escape

I am now a mere 4 days from leaving this town for the ever, and about a week from getting out of China altogether (for a while anyway). Unfortunately, my residency permit expires in 4 days too, so I'm going to spend a few days experiencing the heady thrill of being an illegal overstayer (high-five Leon) and then pay about 1500 RMB (round $250) as a fine when I leave. At this stage this seems to be kind of unavoidable, as the dour police lady wasn't convinced I was worthy of a visa extension, and 1500 RMB is probably less than I'd pay to have one, ahem, arranged.

So the plan for now (well, more of a 'notion' than a plan really) is to do the following (dates in the dd/mm format, as is what we use in New Zealand and thereabouts):

30th June: Farewell Liaoyang, drive to Shenyang, catch flight to Beijing
1st July: Catch train to Hong Kong
2/7: Arrive in Hong Kong, find cheap accomodation, apply for Chinese Tourist Visa
3-4/7: Faff about in Hong Kong, (hopefully) receive Chinese Visa, apply for Vietnamese Visa.
5-7/7: Get Vietnamese Visa. Hop on train to Nanning, China.
8/7: Train from Nanning to Hanoi Vietnam

Rest of July: Travel around Vietnam, look at stuff, sweat a lot, lie on a beach or two. Cross in Cambodia, check out things thereabouts, cross into Thailand

1/8: Fly from Bangkok to Beijing
2-4/8: Spend whatever money I have left in Beijing (alternatively: Survive on 2 yuan bowls of noodles for three days)
5/8: Fly from Beijing to Melbourne, Australia
6/8 - ???: The madness begins afresh.

All of this is being done solo, relying on my minimal Chinese, mediocre wits, and my 'meh I guess he's okay if I'd had a few to drink' looks.

Potential Problems with this scheme:

  • The good folks of the Chinese Communist Party, in an act of extraordinary foresight, chose to arrange the re-unification of Hong Kong and mainland China exactly 10 years ago, this July 1st. Thus ensuring that finding a train or accommodation will be a complete pain in the ass.
  • My finances, whilst probably adequate, are finite, and Hong Kong is expensive.
  • I am for some reason, denied a Tourist visa to re-enter China. This is extremely unlikely, but its also China. Nothing is a given.
  • Its approaching the stinkiest hottest part of the year in IndoChina. I might actually sweat to death.
  • Malaria.
  • Monkey attack.
  • Landmines (in Cambodia)
  • One, or a combination of the above factors meaning I don't get to Bangkok in time to catch my flight to Beijing.
Should be fun.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nazi Pirate Sports Shoes

Because I guess even Nazi Pirates like to have comfortable feet:

nazi pirate shoe

Further Scenes from a TiTTi bar

Well, Friday night was supposed to be THE big night for Liaoyang, the TiTTi bar was officially opening, and we were guests of honour. Alas, like much else in this town, twas a disappointment.

Here I am at the door, brimming with excitement:



and here I am inside, with Raphael, Andrew, and The Proprietor. Frank took the photo, and there was waiter guy sitting in back there. This was the sum total of patrons on the supposed grand opening of Liaoyang's hottest new night-spot.

IMG_0114nazi pirate shoe

In that photo, or shortly after, The Proprietor is trying to convince us to come back at 9.57 on Saturday morning, a time that various numeroligical consultants have assured her is the most propitious. "That's when TiTTi bar really opens". She assured us. Oddly enough however, the allure of TiTTi bar had begun to wear off by this point. (As an aside, those of you who have known me since I was 14 may recognise the shirt Andrew is wearing).

Promising (lying) to return the next morning at 9.57 sharp, we toddled around the corner to "That bar with the Chinese name were Lulu works" (For the record, the other bars in Liaoyang are referred to as: "Woodstock", "That other bar next to Woodstock", "That bar with the really bad music" and of course "TiTTi Bar".)

We were fortunate enough to arrive there when the owner was entertaining some Party Bigwigs, and, by managing to outdrink them all, I gained a shiny VIP card. I have no idea what it actually does, but its gold and made of metal and it says "VIP" so I feel special. I may have also agreed to marry someone's niece and sell New Zealand's state secrets to China, but they were paying and my nations reputation was at stake, so we kept drinking well past what might be deemed reasonable.

12 days left. oh yes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Scenes from a TiTTi bar

Warning: The following blog post deviates somewhat from the usual sombre, measured tone of this blog. The post below contains descriptions of gross acts of immaturity, and laughing at funny names for parts of the human anatomy, particularly as uttered by oblivious Chinese ladies.

Act I

North-East China, a small industrial town, a bar, the outside covered in neon advertising drinks they don't sell, the inside smelling of fresh paint and scrawled with zodiac signs, gingham table cloths, and those fan things with the orange ribbons which are supposed to somehow call to mind flames.

Dramatis Personae:

Ben (a New Zealander, quiet, but radiating and understated aura of uncontrollable awesome)
Ian (a fellow from the UK. A slight predilection for tea and scones)
Andrew (an American, but a good guy none the less)
The Proprietor (a cheerily rotund Chinese woman in her late 30s, blissfully unaware of any meanings that the word 'TiTTi' might have in English)

Scene 1:

Ben, Ian
and Andrew, drawn like moths to a neon flame, approach the bar

Andrew, Ian, Ben: Hi! giggle

The Proprietor: TiTTi bar is not open yet! but come into TiTTi bar, foreigners love
TiTTi bar!

Andrew, Ian, Ben: Okay! snigger

The Proprietor: How do you like TiTTi bar? TiTTi bar is Liaoyang's newest and best bar!
TiTTi bar!

Andrew, Ian, Ben: Yeah, its uh, nice. barely restrained laughter

The Proprietor: Well I am very happy to welcome you to TiTTi bar! I hope you like TiTTi

Sometime later...

Ben: (noticing the conspicuous absence of the bar's namesake) So, uh, why did
you call this bar “TiTTi bar”

The Proprietor: Well, my cousin went to United States of America a few years ago, I told him
I wanted to open a bar, and asked him, “What is the best bar in the United
States”. He replied: “The TiTTi bar, American's LOVE the TiTTi bar”, so I
called my bar the TiTTi bar”

Ben, Ian, Andrew: Oh. I guess that makes sense guffawing, holding of sides, uncomfortable
squirming at the idea that if The Proprietor says 'TiTTi' one more time,
pants will be wet.

End Scene.

She also said at one point, slightly bewildered by our uncontrollable fits of laughter: "During the day I work as a teacher, but my dream has always been to open TiTTi bar"

Anyway, TiTTi bar opens for realz on Friday night. The Proprietor said we should bring some CDs, and she will have a karaoke machine set up.

Liaoyang will not know what hit it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Liaoyang Pub Crawl

Now anyone who has ever driven through, lived in, or even heard much about Liaoyang, will immediately think "that's impossible - unless you count going from Woodstock to that other one bar next door that isn't Woodstock" but, I have discovered (within 30 days of leaving this town for ever) that there may be as many as FIVE bars in Liaoyang. Sure, there all identical, kitschy as all hell, overpriced, and completely empty, but they exist, and I never knew.

The only reason I found out, was that I met a whole raft of new foreigners, who's presence I had been totally unaware of these long months. They work for Liaoning Petrochemical, a subsidy of China Petrochemical and are helping to build a new Polyester plant in Liaohua, an outer suburb of the town (I went there, remember?). They're all from the UK, and good blokes to a man. They all consider me something of a local legend for having survived almost 10 months in 'the yang' and I have been regaled with tales of how Liaoyang will one day be wiped from the map by a stray cloud of semi-intentionally leaked acetic acid (ohhh, that's what that valve does!). These guys have worked all over the world, 1st to 3rd, and have never seen safety standards as lax as Liaoning. With the flash frying of 3o or so people a little ways north a few months ago and a spattering of mining disasters from time to time, it certainly shows.

Also, one of the guys is a dead ringer for the 'this week I have mostly been eating' guy from the fast show. If anyone gets that reference please high five me in the comments.

anyway, we managed to perform a respectable tour of the Liaoyang's drinking establishments, leaving confused looks wherever we stopped for a warm bottle of Snow. However, it seems that what may potentially be Liaoyang's greatest drinking establishment of all, is yet to open:


Friday night. I will be there.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How much is that doggy on the menu?

MYTH: Chinese people will eat any kind of animal, flying, crawling, slithering or swimming, including dogs.

FACT: People from Guangdong province will eat any kind of animal, flying, crawling, slithering or swimming. And its mostly Korean people that like to dine on rover.

With this in mind, Andrew and I headed down the street to a nearby Korean restuarant, figuring that everybody would be disappointed if we didn't have at least one dog eating story to tell when we returned to the 'civilised' world.

In keeping with my theory that anything fried and appropriately spiced probably won't taste that bad, we skipped past the varied delights of dog skin, dog soup, cold dog salad, dog penis, and dog face, and went for a straight up stirfried dog with chilies.


The verdict? Not bad. kind of like slightly stringy beef I guess. The trick is not to think about this:

Image Hosted by

Monday, June 04, 2007

I want to ride my...

Number of maladies my bicycle was suffering from: approximately 3

Time taken to repair these problems by a deaf-mute Chinese guy, aided by his overbearing septuagenarian mother: about 20 minutes

Price of repairs: 5 yuan. (about 70-80c)

Number of functioning gears my bicycle had when 'repairs' were finished (of a possible 24): 12

Hours it took to restore my bike to pre-repair gear function: 2

So after that, I took a celebratory bike ride, and some snaps, including:

Kongfuzi Statue (better known to you ignorant barbarians as 'Confucius')


Might = Right (of way)


Some of the many views of my school that could've been taken 50 years ago when it opened (though the power pole probably wasn't there):



Though subtle hints of modernity are around, if you look very carefully:


I also managed to get a good shot of a local Chinese Opera Diva under full sail in a nearby park. If you click through and look at the larger image, you'll notice that about half the audience is actually looking at me.


I leaned up against a tree to watch her for a while.

Then I realised that the tree smelt like a urinal.

Then I realised that the tree WAS a urinal.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Heaven above Heaven

I just ate a whole Honey Dew melon. It was delicous and cheap. I might do the same tomorrow even.


Last weekend, I found what I think may safely be called 'the only good reason to come within a 2 hour driving radius of Liaoyang'. That thing is Qianshan ('a thousand mountains' a slight exaggeration).

Any description I could offer would pale in comparison with that composed by Eternal Spring Tours. So here you go:

Qian-Shan Mountain
Mount Qianshan is the most famous tourist site in north China. It lies in the east, about 20 kilometers away from Anshan City, and boasts 999 mountains altogether, covering 152 square kilometers. So, it is also called thousand-lotus-flower mountain.

Mount Qianshan features many beautiful peaks, precipitious cliffs, secluded valleys, high-situated Taoism and Buddhism temples, grotesque pine trees in strange shape, exuberant flowers of various kinds, etc. So, for a very long history it has been given the name of Treasure Pearl of North China.

Ever from Shui Dynasty, it has been the religion center, and many Buddhists and Taoists came here to construct many temples, pagodas half way or at the top of the mountains. It is seldom for both Buddhism and Taoism temples stationing in one mountain area and left with present people so much cultural contents to read, understand ans explore.

For Taoism the most imposing temple is Infinity Temple who was built half way up the steep mountains and has very strange layout. Visitors coming here will sigh at the fine scenery and have the feeling of walking casually into a fairy land. Many poets left with us much poem praising the sights and so many poem inscription tablets stand fully or partly in deep shrub. Emperor-Visited Scenery Zone, Western Ocean Zone, Great Buddha Zone, Bird-Tweedling Zone and Immortal's Platform are present spot sites very deserving visting and at least 4 days are necessary to tour them all.

Well, we had one day. Actually around four hours. But I think we managed to get the requisite amount of walking casually into a fairyland.

Now, with so many mountains, and so little time, we chose to make a bee-line for this guy:


I think it was the "Mountain of Freaking Huge Buddha in some big-ass temple" or some such. The other peaks held such delights as "One Step Heaven", "A Line Heaven", "Heaven above Heaven", "Heaven slightly to the right of Heaven*" and the alluringly named "Strip Heaven".

After discarding my serfs and chicken entrails as dictated by point number seven on this sign:


We started the walk up the wide, lightly inclined avenue, keeping an eye out for marauding uber-golfcarts carrying the lazier tourists, till we got to this guy:


You'll notice how he's laughing, and looking very relaxed. This is because he knows that you are about to climb a bunch of stairs, whereas he is not.


Though again, for the Chinese tourist who insists on showing up either in impractically high heels or a full shirt/tie/jacket ensemble, there is the soft option:


We took the stairs.

Getting closer:


Seeing what must be several hundred tons of marble at the top of a very tall hill, accessible only by a narrow winding path (and a cable car) conjures images of Buddhist super monks effortlessly hefting huge slabs of stone on their backs, leaping from peak to peak to build their sequestered house of prayer. This sense of awe is somewhat dampened when you see plaques indicating that it was constructed in the ancient year of 2004.

Eventually, we found ourselves at this door, (flanked by two rather ridiculously muscled monk type fellows) What mysteries would it hold for the determined supplicant who had completed their hour long penance of stair climbing? (or 3 minutes of cable car riding?)




Which is, as they say, something that you do not see everyday. Now I'm not one of those people that comes to the mysterious Orient and goes all gaga over the 'sublime beauty of Eastern Religion over Western Dogma' or whatever, but if the new testament involved more Jesus riding giant anthropomorphic giant eagles, I wouldn't complain.

Anyway, all of this aside, the reason why I think this is the best place I've seen in Liaoning Province so far is this:


You can look out over the landscape for about 270 degrees, and see no signs of human civilisation whatsoever. Just trees and mountains and more trees. Authentic wilderness. The thing about China, is that it has been continuously inhabited pretty much forever, certainly for the last 6000 years. Almost every inhabitable inch of soil has been farmed, flooded, burnt, built on, dug up, filled in, slept, shat and died on, by thousands of people for thousands of years. And it shows. There are really places in this country where you have an overwhelming sense that the very earth is worn. So to be able to stand not 20 minutes from a city of several million people, and stare out at pure untrammeled nature, bonafide wilderness, is, I think, something special.

* Okay I made that one up. You can quit looking for it in your guidebook.