Hong Kong, China

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 29 Apr, 2010 21:37:02

I spent one and a half day in this megapolis! Trying to experience all there is to experience (as cheap as possible of course). Therefore I went to the markets, in and around Temple St. To say it at least, it was buzzing with people and a therefore great spot for people watching, which I quite enjoy after numerous trips to Stromstad and Svinesund. I went up to “the Peak” for morning exercise (not tai-chi) and of course a compulsory stop at the “city planning museum”. As a Civil-Engineer-student who is interested in sustainable cities with good infrastructure, Hong Kong is a must-see! Skyscrapers everywhere and fancy roads delicately placed in between. Add some elevation challenges (at the Hong Kong side) and a location prone to stormy weather. Then you need carefully planning! Unfortunately the museum wasn’t too educational, but still fair enough.

Then there was the Star Ferry, which famously runs the strait that separates the two main parts of the city. You feel some sort of absurdness (although a good absurdness) when the boat itself is centuries old and the surrounding skyscrapers belong to the future.

My last impression of Hong Kong was “the symphony of lights” which takes place each evening at 8pm. The music was not as impressive, and the lights gave me just a “been there, done that”-feeling. Still I very much enjoyed to have been there and to have done that. The same applies for Hong Kong, it is an interesting city, with a divided soul.

Yangshou, China

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 01 Apr, 2010 06:51:41

Leaving the smog of Xi’an I arrived the much more tropical city of Guilin. The city itself had a rewarding climate (t-shirt friendly) and a pedestrian street similar to those you find in “syden” (a Norwegian general term of places in Southern Europe where “charter” holidaymakers go), but without the tackiness. Guilin was pleasant; we (Berit, Jon Magnus, Henrik and I) enjoyed sizzling hot-pot at a place where we gave the choice of hot-pot meat to the giggling waitresses (at least 15 of them). Surprisingly we didn’t get any stomach-problems (hot-pot is raw meat you boil yourself), actually Henrik, Jon Magnus and I felt overly energized by the meal, and we went for a longer run (where we of course got lost). The Guilin experience was finished with not-very-comfortable massage for all 4 of us.

The following day, the Li-river was on hold. We boarded what was supposed to be “bamboo rafts”, but us engineers (especially those with above-normal interest in the sewage) noticed that the raft was made by sewage pipes. Amusing! But these cultural oddities weren’t the reason for our Li River cruise, the scenery was! Amazing, among the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen, and there we was, floating down the river on sewage pipes, the four good friends of us.

Later we reached Yangshou, a village situated in between this ever-amazing landscape. We had more cultural (body wise) encounters, as Tai-Chi (kind of boring), Yoga (surprisingly good, some time I’ll join a class in Trondheim), and 3 times massage (much more quality than the Guilin massage, three of us got obsessed with taking massage, when it’s 10USD for an hour with therapeutically pain you might also get obsessed ). We also did more strenuous activity like biking the Chinese countryside, I was fully equipped with my emergency rain-poncho during biking, so I melted perfectly in with the Chinese population. But kayaking the Li River was the thing to do for us, hard but still rewarding.

Yangshou was a place where we spent 6 days, so we experienced even more, my personal favorite was Comorant-fishing. An old man owns 8 birds; he knit something around the bird’s neck, and during the boat-trip he suddenly throws all the birds into the river. The birds then go “scuba-diving” for fish, but since the cannot swallow their prey, all the small fish will clogh up in their troat. Then the old man use a stick to get the birds in, and he force the bird to let go of the fish in the troat. Sounds unlikely that he will get any fish? Maybe, but actually after half an hour of “fishing” a big casket was almost full.

I also owe the Chinese people an apology for me critizing the food. The Beijing food was not that tasty, but in Guilin and Yangshao it was perfect. In Yangshao we only went to McDonalds once (or twice). I think we all got accustomed to the way of eating, typically we ordered 4 main courses (each one’s favorite) and then supplementing with something vegetabl-ish. Soon the four Norwegians also mastered the secret of Chopsticks, what we didn’t master was the whistle-men (ultra high-pitch) in the streets – luckily we didn’t throw a fake rolex after them.

Speaking of fake, everything is fake in China – except if you are sure it’s not, then it’s just a good copy. No, I’m just kidding, but there is a lot of faking. A gem of story is this one: In the streets you could buy “real” Swarovski diamonds at the size of a big dice, all wrapped-in in luxury purple and gold boxes, I‘m pretty sure the wrapping might even cost more that the item itself (2USD)

Another musing of great cultural encounters were the night-bus we were about to take Yangshao-Guangzhou-Shenzen. With proper beds! Albeit small ones – Chinese style. When the bed is elbow-wide and no more than 170cm long (with “knees to feet” inside some compartment) us three 181cm+ tall guys believed it would be but uncomfortable. But hey, it wasn’t! It was actually even more comfortable than all-time favorite NSB Oslo-Trondheim. The situation was funny – (3 norwegian vikings (and one vikingette (a word?)) cramped together in each our tiny bed among 40 “small” Chinese in their own bed plying the night down to the Pearl River Delta. Just imagine (or try it)!

The whole Yangshao experience was great! Thanks a lot to my dear friends for making the trip memorable. Hopefully some of my backpacking-virus passed over to you!

Xi'an, China

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 01 Apr, 2010 06:50:43

Daniel, Andreas, Sondre and I travelled by Z53 here, a terrific high-speed train. The 12 hours night-train where comfortable and the trip sort of felt too short, that's how comfortable it was!

Xi'an was also good, it's another of these BIG Chinese cities, but maybe less touristy than in Beijing (if imaginary possible) the only downturn was all the smog (aka pollution). I was standing inside a BIG roundabout, actually 30 meters above the trafic, on top of the old Xi'an belltower and looked in each direction. Due to the smog you could actually see less than 1 km in each direction. It's these days I really appriciate living in (clean, controlled and tiny) Norway.

But smog wasn't the reason for going to Xi'an, the Terracotta-warriors were!
We had a private guide (in my opiniton, without to much know-how), we got piled through a compulsary terracotta factory and a we got to experience noodles in a "recomended" restaurant. Nevertheless, to be on the site of the Terracotta warriors were great. All of these (over 8000, possibly many more not yet found) were made 2200 year ago and buried together with the emperor Qin Shi Huang, and they really looked real!

Apart from the beuty of the site, it was great fun to backpack with people I knew and to pose on multiple pictures, either with or withouth 30 japanesee girls and/or a dutch blond woman. I also had a repeat of the 2007-"Thunder"-"Russe"-photoshoot (I bet Jorgen disagree with the grammar in this word). While jumping a splithop then (in 2007) my "russepants" got a rift "under there", amd while jumping a splithop on the terracotta warriors sight, my long-time-favorite-backpacking-levis jeans tore apart (over the but), revealing my Bjorn Borg to 1000nds of Chinese at the sight, and even more while sightseing Xi'an later. Thankfully I'm not that shy, at least it worked as a conversation starter (when needed).

Beijing, China

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 29 Mar, 2010 05:40:41

After 2 months and 3 weeks backpacking in the Americas I was on my way to a new continent, for me, the stop in China was also special, I was going to meet my class from Norway who are on 17 day-fieldtrip. Unfortunately my class had some academic on the days, so I wasn't able to spend too much time with them on the sights, sights I visited alone. But in the evenings we had a great time exploring ups and downs in Beijing.

Personally on of the down things for me is Chinese food, maybe I'm spoiled or maybe I'm just used to other cultures, but China is the first country on the trip where I don't enjoy the food. It's oil (usually a lot), it's noodles, it's strange-tasting meat and there s no bread culture. I'm a bit awkward to tell this, but thank God for McDonalds! (Apologies to those who read this and who are proud of their Chinese food)

But what Beijing doesn't have in food culture, they have in their Cultural heritage! The Forbidden City is enormous and awe-inspiring! I was lucky enough to join the tour-group of my class (Of course I paid my own admission ticket) so I got some info as well. But on the other sites my companion was the Lonely Planet.

Yonghegong Lama Temple is one of the most magnificent Tibetan Buddhist Temples outside Tibet. And what made it more special is that it's actually a temple, and not just a tourist sight, so around every corner there was incense being burned and people worshipping. Strangely enough I felt rather accepted walking around; none seemed to take notice of a few tourists. Of respect I didn't get photos inside the temples. But who is not amazed by a 18m tall shining Maitreya Buddha?

Just an incense stick's toss away was the Confucius Temple and the Imperial College. The Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, philosophical and quasi-religious thoughts that have had tremendous influence on the cultures and history of the East Asian countries. The ideas date back to Confucius, a thinker who lived in China around 500 years BC.

While speaking of temples, my favorite was the Summer Palace and the Longevity Hills. The Summer Palace has long been a “getaway” for the Chinese Nobles, But It was destroyed be Anglo-French troops during the Opium Wars (1860). However, it was re-build during a massive overhaul in 1949. Today, it serves as a “getaway”for the ordinary Beijinger, and I can understand why, it truly was a tranquil spot in a hectic megapolis.

I did my share of shopping as well. The Silk Marked was exhausting, high pitch sounding Chinese girls trying to get you in to the store and loads of cheap clothes (haggling essential) makes it fun the first 20 minutes, then you sort of get enough. Far better was the Aliens Street Marked. A lot calmer and when you got addressed by the vendors it was usually in Russian (Because this marked was aimed towards Russian tourist) making my “spasibas” from Ekaterinburg (Feb’09) useful. But In fact I couldn't really buy too much, I have to carry everything with me, but what I DID buy was a tailor made outfit! 180USD for the whole package - nice price and nice fitting!

No trip to Beijing is complete without a walk on “The Great Wall”. Somewhere in Central American I got a tips from a couple that I should head to the “Emperor Guesthouse” and ask for “The Secret Wall”. I did, and I booked a trip, not really knowing what to expect, just that it was supposed to be authentic. After a three hour trip north of Beijing we reached a small village and we met our guide (a 80 year old man). We then climbed 50 minutes up the hills, and then reach the wall, a wall you will not find in any glossy magazines. But still beautiful in its natural shape! The nature (or man?) had been on this wall, bricks were missing and towers had fallen down. We (it was only the 7 of our group as long as our eyes could see) walked 3km on the wall, the icy wind just made it more real! This was the Wall, the real Wall, not the touristy made in Badaling. Just imagine the man-power used to make 8851km rock put in system, meandering the highest peaks North of Beijing (actually, north of China). Imagine how many warriors that guarded the Wall or centuries, they experienced icy wind and loneliness. I was stunned, even from a Civil-engineering point of view, the Wall is a masterpiece (Bet you knew that already)! I think the name of the segment we visited was “mi mi chang cheng” but I'm not sure.

Apart from going to cultural sights, I rode the subway quite a lot and spent time with my friends. We went to bars, cinemas, cafés, teahouses, restaurants (and McDonalds)

If you go to Beijing, prepare yourself for a culture shock, the language is difficult, people don't speak English, people hark and spit on the street, and the normal toilet is a hole-in-the-ground. But apart from that (and the food) Beijing is an interesting spot and everything is extremely cheap. I spent 6 days in the city, and wasn't bored once; I could easily spend more days. If so, I don't need to get rich and intellectual as Chicago, I just need Antibac, some Chinese knowledge and a pair of good walking shoes.

Vancouver, Canada

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 28 Mar, 2010 18:30:08

After a short stopover in Seattle I arrived Vancouver, the aim of the visit was to see my old friend Andrea, and of course to experience some Canadian culture.

I got to se the UBC campus, it was among other thing made famous for being the campus in “Smallville”. For me it felt a bit special to be back on a campus (you know it’s been a while since the Trondheim days now), to feel the buzz of students with coffeecups and the sound of lap-tops in the library. One of the days we were also lucky enough to go to a lecture by Paul Rusesabagina, the real person portraited in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. For me it made an extra impression, as I might go to Rwanda in May/June.

Have you ever heard about Henry A. Larsen? Most likely not, here’s a small wikipedia update: If you have ever been to Skjaerhalden, Norway you have noticed that there is a bronze statue outside of the library, right? That is Henry, he is quite close in my family, my grand-mother is his cusin, so the whole family knows about him, and we all knew something about him being more known in Canada than in Norway. Therefore I went to “Vancouver Maritime Museum”, with no expectations at all. But, here’s the big surprise: It turns out that half of the entire museum is devoted to St.Roch (a polar vessel) and Henry Larsen (Henry was the captain). I was litterally walking in the same footprints as Henry did some 70 years ago (the real boat was a the museum) when he crossed the Northwest Passage, of course feeling a bit proud of his achivements

Another day in Vancouver, there was St.Patricks Day (the day everyone party, not a parade- or “wearing green beads for fun”-day). I borrowed a Green Polo shirt from Tobias, and got myself some Guinness (expencive in Canada!). We had a pre-party in MacKenzie Street before heading out to town. Great fun!

Thanks to Andrea and the others in the appartment for hosting me..

Milwaukee, USA

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 19 Mar, 2010 12:51:05

When backpacking around, the normal ice-breaker question is “where are you from?” following up by “where have you been so far?” and “where are you going next?”. When I, at the latter question, answer Wisconsin I get a big “WHY?”. The reason is that I was going to visit Amanda, a good friend I met in Turkey two years ago.

As elsewhere in the States I was in search of American Culture, and during those 4 Wisconsin-days I was closer to become “Borat” than I’ve ever been before: “Karl: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of NORWAY” Well, not in the way of a green tanga, but in many other ways!

First of all, Amanda works with a company called “Weathertight”, they exhibits their products on big State-fairs, hockey-matches and other events. Day number one I joined Amanda to her job that day at Wisconsin sport State fair. Seldom I’ve seen so many stuffed animal at one place! The on-site fishing pond also captured my attention! You could buy guns and rifles, or join a simulated boat-trip. I got to learn that you’re not really required to have a licence to drive an ATV or a moped (definitely bigger than the happy Norwegian 50cc). But I got the feeling, that it’s only off-road racing. Also, and this is for real – I spoke with an US official: You don’t need any kind of licence to handle a boat (all size whatsoever) in the state of Wisconsin – Good to know!

At one point I had a 15 minute conversation with the US Army, although I wasn’t too interesting after I revealed my citizenship. But I learned a lot of the US Army History, from the civil war till present day!

And shows! No state fair without shows! Lumberjack shows were highly popular, while people gave dogs running for plastic ducks big applauses. I was just amused by being there!

This was THE premium spot for people watching, not that I’m categorizing anyone, but the average person was white, man, in his 40s, with beer in his hand and with rather boring clothes. If I could observe his mind, he was most likely supportive to Sarah Palin as well. Please understand me, I don’t mean this categorizing in a negative way! I spent 4 hours at the Fair and spoke with a lot of interesting and great people, people that showed me the real American hospitality (in contrast to the US border officials). So no hard feelings folks!

The day after I supported the struggling US Postal system by shipping 8kg home to Norway, it was not cheap. But when you impulse-shop in Guatemala you got to take the consequences! I did 89,20 USD!

We also got surprised by a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Milwaukee. Strangely enough, I turned into a kid again when candy was thrown through the air! We also got green beads, bagpipe music and loads of riverdance (loved it!).

One day after, a new day of work for Amanda, at the Bradley centre for an ice-hockey match. Why not volunteer for Weathertight for an hour, I thought, and I did! When I left Norway in December I didn’t imagine that I was going to persuade Americans into filling out forms from a window company. But why not volunteer? They provided free ice-hockey tickets for me! Actually it was fun, just like sweet old days in BEST!

The Ice-Hockey match was good, 3 fights and decent pause entertainment. While everything finalized with a concert by the “Foreigners”. Apparently popular in the 80s. Thanks to “Kanal 24” (radio in Norway) some of their music lay in my hidden consciousness making sing-a-long possible.

My whole stay in Milwaukee was a perfect! Plentiful of American Culture! Amanda, thank you so much for hosting me! And thanks to all the people I’ve met!

Chicago, USA

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 19 Mar, 2010 11:19:36

I had some hours doing touristy things, I ended up walking the “magnificent mile” (aka skyscraper avenue), taking the L-train (train line above the ground, “L”-evated), the Field museum (amazing, could spent longer there) and eating all kind of American stuff, mostly “subway” and Chicago style pizza.

In addition I experienced bureaucracy at the Chinese Consulate, but I’ll let the incident slip since the lady by a mistake charged me 30 USD less than I was supposed to pay.

Chicago was a quite nice city, I felt safe and it was kind of Norwegian. When I get rich and more intellectual I’ll return for its museums, architecture and other cultural extravaganza!

(Sue at the Field museum, she is the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex that exists)

Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala

UpdatesPosted by Karl Kristian Larsen 16 Mar, 2010 22:37:09

Aldous Huxley: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."

I had the idea of going to Santa Cruz de Laguna for Scuba-diving in the crater lake, seriously how cool is that! But when I arrived, it turned out to be too difficult. Nevertheless I stayed at a gem-hostel for 4 USD a night, with lakeside location (picture number one is taken from the hostel garden), making most of my time there one till these tranquil moments when you sit there with your book sipping coffee or coca-cola.

Actually not much more need to be told, I can confirm Aldous Huxley words; it REALLY WAS beautiful!

On my way back towards Antigua we passed an erupting volcano (Acatenago). The Mexican hippies in my shuttle bus laughed (friendly) when I found my camera, and experienced a “Sony-moment”...

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