Sunday, August 31, 2014

hongcun, anhui

"Where are you from?" the Chinese man asked my friends and I when we were climbing Huangshan. He asked because we spoke English to each other. He was not the first and not the last that day - but he was the one who replied "Impossible!" to my answer of "Australia". To most of the Chinese, only white people can be from Australia. It's a bit of an oxymoron - they demand to know why you speak English, but you can't say a Western country because you look Asian, not matter how poor your grasp of Chinese. If they weren't being rude and demanding (rare), or if I'm feeling particularly nice (it does happen), I'll tell them my mum's hometown of Huangshan, where I was born. Though I probably know and feel more comfortable in Beijing than Huangshan, where in the space of a day: a) I got ripped off when buying a bottle of water; and b) failed to grasp how to order at a restaurant my aunt recommended and have been to before (she ended up riding a bike over to order for us). But Huangshan is my hometown by Chinese definitions and three of my friends visited me for a few days while I was with family.

After a horrendous night on Huangshan, which I'll save for another entry - I'm still a little scarred - we went straight to Hongcun, a UNESCO heritage site. It's also known as where they shot a portion of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was my second visit to the village. I went there last year as part of those prima-facie-$99 tour aimed at ex-pats. Who goes on a tour to their hometown? Me! But I really fell in love with the place, and I suggested it to my friends when they were planning their visit.

Despite it being the middle of Summer, the time we spent in Hongcun was wet and grey. Fortunately it didn't rain until night, so we were able to take some photos. Because it was Summer, lily pads covered a portion of the pond, which was lovely. (However, Hongcun in February last year, at the end of Winter, blew me away. You also get to miss the brunt of tourists, which is fantastic.)

This was how clear the water was on an overcast day. It's really a sight to behold when there is absolutely no wind and the sky is blue.

Wearing sneakers with my qipao - no sir, I don't think I'll have a future as fashion blogger any time soon. Or any time at all. (But for all the sane and practical reasons, the only shoes I had on me were the sneakers I climbed up Huangshan in. Champion!)

Water caught in the centre of the plants...shine bright like a diamond. (Yes, that was a terrible Rihanna reference.)

Sometimes China feels too much to handle - too many people, too fast, too loud, too many assaults to the senses. Hongcun was a nice, lovely respite. Unless you are a local, you have to pay an entrance fee of around 100RMB (half price if you are concession - not really advertised, but my aunt told me and I asked the desk). This means if you spend a night inside the village, which we did, you get to enjoy and explore a slice of historical China without crowds of tourists. In a small and beautiful village like Hongcun, with very narrow alleyways, this is a blessing. There is a small convenience store and many family restaurants, and prices were all very reasonable. A lot of the hotels are converted homes, like the one we stayed in, and really charming. (And I'm trying not to say it, but I can't find another way to describe it, so yes, the homes converted to hotels are up to western standards if you make sure to book one with western-style bathrooms.)

For the cost of 6RMB (1AUD) per person, this was our breakfast. (And the corn our hostess told us they grow themselves.)

The hotel complex wasn't very big so it felt very homey. We had dinner late and the hostess left it on a table outside our rooms, next to the pond that runs through the centre of hotel. Such a nice difference to how miserable we were the previous night.

One of my friends and I woke up at five the next morning, hoping there might be a sunrise. There was no sunrise, but it was very nice and peaceful. Except for the three humping dogs that followed us around.

Monday, August 25, 2014

korea round up

After carrying my DSLR around for over a month in China and Korea, I haven't touched it since I got back to Sydney. I really should take photos more regularly, but I've been the biggest homebody. That, and researching and planning Europe. My excitement is through the roof. One of my high school classmate's boyfriend is from Germany, so he's going to help us buy football tickets! Ah! Super pleased.

First, though, here are the rest of my Korea photos. I was in Seoul for seven days, and to be honest, three to four would've been enough for me. Majority of what I did was eat and shop. I think I expected some of the magic from my Japan trip, but instead I found Korea very similar to China in a way. Of course, from the obvious differences. There was just a similar feeling. Probably because most people I interacted with weren't very friendly - when it came to service, or when I asked for help. (The exception being the staff from my guesthouse, who were so incredibly lovely.) I don't know, it's a little hard to explain, but it comes down to moments of genuine friendliness from strangers. The really small moments you experience on a day-to-day basis, like a nice interaction with a stranger, a stranger helping you out, et cetera. Just strangers spreading a little warmth. It's not something I feel in China, and Korea was the same.

Forgoing a data or sim card meant the struggle was real. We went into a lot of cafes to use the wifi. This was one of my favourite cafes, with walls filled with books.

Macaron ice cream burgers on a very hot and humid day. It rained the moment we stepped out of the shop. Look how nice and photogenic they are.

A truck passed us while we were walking in Hongdae, with crates of empty soju bottles. Ah, Korea likes alcohol.

We hopped into Sunnye Dog Cafe after the macaron ice cream burgers. When I told my friends back home I went to a dog cafe, their first reaction was: "You don't even like dogs." Well, I like them on my laptop screen. (This goes for animals in general.) Maybe this comes down to never having a pet, but real life I am not a fan of the saliva, hair everywhere, and the smell of animal (excrement). I did make an exception while on holiday - walking around Korea in humid Summer... 'Nuff said.

It was kind of crazy! There is a sign outside the door that you have to sit down on the bench immediately when you come through, as all twenty or so dogs come running and barking at you until you do. Then they quieten down and go back to finding something else to do.

Similar to the Princess Cafe, each person has to get a drink. I'm still figuring how they manage the upkeep. It's not like they would be making much money through beverages, not with so many dogs.

Best waiter? I think so too.

Food was definitely affordable in Korea. (But, uh, a bit of a struggle, as I've stopped eating meat for a couple of months now, with the exception of seafood. It did restrict the food available. It meant a lot of kimchi, and a lot of carbs.)

Korea was the first time I made plans by myself. That I met up with friends was a nice coincidence! I stayed in Duriworld House in a dormitory, and it was really comfy. (The only con being a single shared bathroom, which was a little annoying when you needed to use the toilet and someone was showering every time you went to check.) But Duriworld was cozy, and I spent a few nights in the common room chatting with other people. We had a nice celebration on one of the nights before a few of us were leaving. Celebration of fried chicken and chips and Korean alcohol.

The woman who minded the desk during the week was so, so nice! She saw us celebrating and bought us two bottles of a type of alcohol she said Koreans commonly have. She was finishing her shift but she got it for us. So lovely! But whatever it was, it tested like intestines. Eek. I had a sip and had to spit it out. Just too much.

We did go to the Trick Eye Museum and Ice Museum, which was a lot of fun! My 50mm was a bit useless in the Trick Eye Museum. I definitely need to pick up a wider lens for landscape photos.

This is gelato from a vegan chain I went to thrice in Sinchon. I did take photos of the food I had there, but the focus was a bit off (again, disadvantages of a 50mm lens. I have to stand up and hold the DSLR in the air to fit everything into the frame, and then focus is questionable.)

I did really love how young and vibrant places like Hongdae and Sinchon were. Felt like Newtown, but much more alive. It's nice when shops open past six. Looking at you, Sydney.