Hello from Mongolia!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004
We arrived today to Mongolia by train from Beijing. It was the first of many legs on the Trans Siberian Railroad! It was a great ride, really interesting. We woke up this morning to the sight of the Gobi Desert rolling by. It was flat as far as the eye could see. Occasionally there’d be a ger, which is a round Mongolian tent used by most people, and maybe we’d see a bird. That’s it! The scenery was beautiful and the other people on the train made the time pass quickly ?we shared our cabin with an Australian and a Japanese guy. In the 2 cabins next door was the Mongolian State Circus. They were coming back from a tour in Taiwan. Tomorrow we leave for a week jeep ride around the country, but when we return they offered to take us out for a night while we are in the city of Ulaan Bataar, the capital. I’m sure a night out with the circus will be fun!

Beijing was our last stop in China and by far the best place we visited in the country. There is so much to do there! We climbed the Great Wall of China, visited the Forbidden City and went to the Summer Palace. China may be communist, but they have fully embraced capitalism. Did you know that you can now buy a Starbucks coffee at the Forbidden City? This is a place that for thousands of years the entire world was kept away from?and now thousands of tourists pile through every day and Western products are sold! Anyway, it really is an interesting place to visit. We got to see where the emperor kept his harem, all 33 of them!

Beijing also has fantastic food! We ate Peking Duck - the city’s specialty. They stuff it, fill it with broth, marinate it and then roast it. Then you eat it with plum sauce and thin pancakes. It ends up being like a Chinese duck tortilla! I also believe we stumbled upon the best food court in the world. It’s just like your normal food court, but Chinese style and much more crowded. They gathered up all the different kinds of street vendor type food, cleaned it all up, use the best ingredients ?and voila ?you have Chinese food heaven. We ate there 3 times in five days. Beijing is also the site of the 2008 Olympics, and they are already gearing up for it. Everywhere you look there is construction ?they are building or rebuilding everything, including lots of new metro lines.

I'll write again after our trip through Mongolia!
Love, Alison

Ni Hao from China!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Greetings from China! Before we arrived to China we heard so many things from other people who had been here - some hated it and others loved it. One thing is for sure though, if you were here more than a few years ago, China has become a different place. They've just knocked down whole blocks of buildings are replacing them with skyscrapers. It is changing so quickly that even some of its own people don't know what to do about it. In the subway in Shanghai they use a card system for paying the fare, and there is almost always confusion at the entryway. The first time we used the subway there was a woman in her forties or fifties who just didn't where to put the card! Also in Shanghai, while walking down one of the main pedestrian shopping areas, we saw an older couple going for an evening stroll in their pajamas. This is common thing to do in Asia, wearing your PJ's outside in either the daytime or the night... but in such a modern looking place it seemed odd.

We have been taking the train from place to place in China, and unlike most other countries we have been to on this trip there are many local people on the long distance hauls with us, not just other tourists. And, since we have been on so many trains, it has been a really easy way to get to know some Chinese people. On our first Chinese train we went from Hong Kong to Guilin. Some of our traveling companions turned out to be local high school students on their way to English camp. This scenic area is very popular with foreign tourists and many Chinese students go there to meet foreigners and practice their English. The "camp" invited us to go sightseeing with them for two days, and so we briefly became part of a Chinese tour! It was great! They also taught us a few words in Chinese. Thank you is "sheh-sheh"?

After taking so many uncomfortable bus trips around South East Asia, it has been a luxury to be able to sleep in a bed while plodding along to our next destination. On the train they have lots of things to keep you comfortable including comfy pillows and a duvet for your bed, and an endless supply of boiling water so you can eat your endless supply of noodles and endless cups of tea.

Today we went to see the Terracotta Army outside the walled city of Xian. It was amazing!! Two thousand years ago an emperor had 6,000 soldiers buried with him to protect him in his afterlife. In 1976 a peasant digging a well happened upon one of them and within a few years the site was excavated and history was made! The site is really interesting and although we have been looking forward to visiting this place since planning the trip, we were not disappointed. They even had a photo of Bill Clinton and his family's visit to the historical site on display in the museum.

Another highlight of our trip to the People's Republic was the few days we spent in Hong Kong. What a skyline!! I knew it was supposed to be spectacular, but it really was impressive. Every night there is a lightshow projected onto the buildings that you can watch from across the water at Kowloon. It's one of the tallest places you could imagine. One of my favorite things there was the escalator. It's used a form of transport! It's about 800 meters long and people use it to get to and from work everyday... there are lots of super-duper high rise apartment buildings at the top of the hill and they all have to work somehow. There's also a practically vertical tram to get you up and down, but is mostly a tourist attraction now.

Soon we will be climbing the Great Wall of China so stay tuned!

Love, Alison