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September 30, 2005

Postcards from China

11 days is not long to get a good picture of a country but in the traditional style, here are my thoughts anyway...

"Toilets" - silly me getting all shocked about Japan's toilets. My favourite toilet experience so far has to be in Xi'an's train station - the cubicles were waist height with no doors for all to see, and the toilets of the squat variety. I am sure they will get worse in Thailand.

"The Great Firewall of China" - we were fairly worried when coming to China that we wouldn't be able to access our website and I was also quite curious to find out the extent of the said Great Firewall. From an initial poke around the internet it looked like it was just the BBC news website (and Nige's website possibly) that's blocked with no other British newspaper sites having the same restrictions. However on further research it is actually much worse. The English TV station CCTV9 (which is government run/controlled) have just casually announced that the government have introduced new laws to help regulate "misleading" news websites, internet gambling and pr0n by stopping the use of group sms messages from websites and also message boards. It seems to be aimed at bloggers (Blogger is already blocked); anyone wishing to host a website in China must first register with the government or face the concequences. Interestingly enough, I looked at this the other day (am no longer able to access it now) and the UK doesn't come too close to the top of the list.

"Spitting" - it is very common to hear Chinese men and women having a good loud spit. I do realise it's a culture thing but to the untuned western ear it's quite odd at first.

"Tunnel Vision TV" - Chinese TV is about promoting that everything is shiny and good about the country (well the English channel anyway). Everything seems to get a positive spin - e.g. A news report about a potential 100% rise in tax features interviews with people off the street only saying that they think that it's a great idea and infact they don't think that a 100% increase in tax is enough. Of course there will be people who don't think it is a good idea - where are they? Anyway, it reminds me of a certain teleco that used to send out group wide emails putting a positive spin on everything. Not that I'm bitter or anything :)

"2008 Olympics" - You can't miss the fact that China will be hosting the Olympics in 2008, there are signs of it everywhere.

"Tracksuit School Uniforms" - Was trying to work out why all kids wore matching tracksuits but then we worked out that it was the school uniform. They look like big Olympic squads walking round.

"Streetside Activities" - It all happens by the side of the road - ballroom dancing lessons, tai chi; you can even get a hair cut.

"Crazy Roads" - A good time to remember the green cross code is in china. Don't bother with crossings, or anything traffic light related - the drivers often don't either so it is a life in your hands type activity.

"The people" - The Chinese language does at first sound very harsh (even coming from Japan) and first assumptions can be that the people aren't all that friendly. On the train back from Xi'an I realised it was quite different, a guy sitting opposite me offered me some (unknown) spirit and sandwiches & opened my beer for me, some other people talked to me (in Chinese) trying to work out where I was from and a nice lady sat and talked to me for ages (patiently, knowing very little English).

"Vast Wide Roads" - Am not sure if they have always been like this, I suspect not, but most of the roads in the parts of China we have been to are very wide to make way for all the traffic. We didn't find many small winding streets that you almost expect to see.

Posted by deb at 10:30 AM | Comments (2)


i like a good smorking once in a while

Posted by robl at 05:04 AM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2005

If I could walk 500 miles

Actually we walked more like 10km but if felt a bit like what I imagined 500 miles to feel like. So many steps and steep climbs but we thoroughly enjoyed our walk from Jinshanling to Simatai apart from a minor hiccup but I will get to that in a minute. Most people go to Badaling which is the restored section of the wall + very busy so we opted for the quiet, more rustic version.

[2 Great Wall galleries here and here]

Along the way we got chatting to a guy who seemed experienced in seeing China sites etc so we didn't bat an eyelid when he refused to pay a fee midway through the treck as he said that it was a con and he'd experienced this kind of trouble in China before. The guy stood his ground and nearly ended up getting thrown off the wall (quite a drop) and had a bit of a scrap with the fee collector guy. Still, we stood by the guy and also didn't pay our fee (the collector was far too busy to bother with us). So the ticket collector followed us all the way back to the bus and refused to let the whole bus leave until this guy paid. As you can imagine, this was a very angry bus of tourists. Once the guy reluctantly paid the fee (which incidentally should have been paid it turns out), further money was demanded of him for hitting the ticket collector, which he didn't do. Eventually they agreed to an apology from the guy and we were all able to leave. As both set of people were correct (and incorrect) in their different ways, Rob and I spent most of this time hiding in the back of the bus hoping not to be spotted by either the wall security or the guy.

Posted by deb at 07:13 AM | Comments (3)

Summer Lovin'

As if the Summer Palace wasn't enough to see, it also has huge gardens and a lake to the rear. We had a wicked time in our own electric powered 1 mile an hour boat exploring the lake. As it was quite relaxing, neither of us ended up in the lake which was a bit of a relief. Actually I can see why it is called the Summer Palace, its a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Beijing. Plus it's not being rennovated which made it all the more charming.

[2 Summer Palace galleries here and here]

Posted by deb at 07:08 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2005


the great wall

Posted by robl at 01:06 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2005

Ming the Merciless

You'll notice Rob smile with glee as he rides round on his pink bicycle around the walls of Xian. A mixed bag of a weekend in Xian, the highlight being the Terracotta Warriors, the lowlight being the lack of decent cycling and a laclustre guide. Still, Rob enjoyed his bike even though it was raining. The sleeper train was actually quite good fun (even though not much sleep was had) and we met lots of nice people on the tour.

We do a 10km hike along the Great Wall tomorrow as long as the typhoon doesn't stop us :)

[2 Xian galleries here and here]

Posted by deb at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)

Ni hao

Ni hao is hello in Chinese by the way. From Beijing we bring you a glimpse of Tianamen Square (currently being decorated with flowers for the Olympics 2008 - a little early perhaps), the Forbidden City (also being heavily rennovated for the same purpose) and around and about in Beijing (yes being rennovated too). Beijing is very much on the rebuild in general for the Olympics and it is happening on a large scale everywhere you look. We are yet to find what we assumed China to be, but I suspect it is hidden in the depths of the Hutongs which we are yet to see. Still, travelling is a learning process and if you see what you expect to see then where is the (Rob and Debs big) adventure in that? Actually, I lie, there are as many, if not more bikes than I imagined. The Forbidden City and Tianamen Square were both very spectacular to see and did give us an excellent glimpse into old China.

[2 Beijing galleries here and here]

Posted by deb at 09:56 AM | Comments (0)


suzhou street at the summer palace

Posted by robl at 04:04 AM | Comments (0)


marble boat at the summer palace

Posted by robl at 03:31 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2005


the terracotta warriors

Posted by robl at 05:24 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2005


rob and his pink bike

Posted by robl at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)


ming dynasty pottery honour guards

Posted by robl at 03:05 AM | Comments (0)


can anybody spot the mathematical property of this double six square ?

Posted by robl at 03:05 AM | Comments (5)

September 23, 2005


deb on the top of 3 bunks on the sleeper train

Posted by robl at 07:04 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2005

On Yer Bike!

We've just booked ourselves on a trip to go and see the ancient city of Xi'an... by bike! Actually the only cycling bit is on the old city wall, but we get to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors and the Chinese Pyramids!

Posted by deb at 05:19 AM | Comments (2)


big lion - rawr !

Posted by robl at 01:29 AM | Comments (0)


entrance to the forbidden city

Posted by robl at 01:26 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2005

10 day takeover

It's not long now until we reach Thailand where our internet connectivity gets better but until then we're stealing ideas left right and centre to get content on the site. The idea is - you get to let us know what you've been up to while we've been away. If you have a fancy MMS enabled phone then add pics@urbanwide.com to your contacts and send us an MMS with a picture and a descriptive subject (to pics@urbanwide.com !). It will then get posted to the takeover page (it's also linked off the main page side bar). I've posted a picture from Tiananmen Square to get you all started.

Then, if you do anything interesting over the next few days send us an MMS so we can see what you are all up to - easy really :)

In other news we have updated our itinary page so it provides a more accurate picture of where we are going - you'll notice a few new destinations ...

Posted by robl at 07:06 AM | Comments (6)

September 20, 2005


1 quid for noodles !

Posted by robl at 11:58 PM | Comments (0)


hello china

Posted by robl at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2005

Postcards from Japan

A few words to remind me of Japan:

"Bullet trains" - woosh, one of the trains we travelled on told us that it was going 285km/ hour. I think some of the newer, more expensive ones go at 400km/hour+ (but I worked that out from Japanese TV so am not exactly sure if I guessed right). The trains were always on time too - if only British Rail could take some efficiency tips (but not costing tips) from the Japanese.

"Toilets" - Really they go from one extreme to another. Public toilets away from tourist attractions are generally hole in the floor types and the toilets in hotels are usually western toilets with some electronic extravagance like a heated toilet seat or 5 ways to wash your bum.
"Sushi" - we did eat quite a bit of sushi, and ate out at a place with a sushi train one day which was quite an experience. Of the non-raw fish kind, strangely we found tuna mayo maki rolls in a corner shop, which is Rob's preferred sandwich flavour.
"Style" - wow, the Japanese are a noticibly sylish lot & Rob and I were very messy in comparison (more so than normal :) ).
"Safety" - never felt safer - no evil intimidating chavs running around causing chaos.
"Baths" - Japanese baths are about 2 thirds the length of a western bath and a little higher so there's no baths for two.
"Bright Lights" - you have to wonder what vast quantity of electricty Japan's neon lighting obsession uses up.
"Vending Machines" - 4 million of them selling drinks, beers and cigarettes. If you put stuff like that in vending machines at home, it wouldn't last 5 minutes before getting broken in to.
"Typhoon" - first time I have been in a country which was having a typhoon. We weren't near the typoon but we got the weather...
"Thin-ness" - everyone is sooo slim (apart from the Sumos who have to work very hard to get fat I'm sure), but Japanese people tend to have small frames so I guess that could explain it. I am sure the diet helps too and the fact that there is not much junk food in the shops.
"Pachincho/Games Parlours" - 5+ floor buildings jammed packed with game and slot machines. In the entertainment quarters, these are everywhere and pretty busy too.
"Temples & Shrines" - how many? wow we saw quite a few and we just scratched the surface.
"Slippers" - what a complex set of rules there are for slippers in Japan. I stopped wearing them when I was about 10 and all of a sudden we are within a whole society based around slippers.
"Service" - Even though we were staying in cheap hotels (these were very expensive by travellers standards for other countries), the rooms were always very clean, the service good and the staff polite & accomodating.
"Bikes" - people ride bikes on the pavements and not on the roads in Japan which is very confusing when you first arrive as you are constantly having to adjust your position on the pavement for passing bikes. I think Rob saved my from collision on a couple of occasions.
"Politeness" - its true, the Japanese are on the whole a very polite lot.
"Mobile phones" - mobiles phones are even more of an obsession here than at home. The phones are different, they are more of the clasp variety with internet and email
"Replicas" - not the Rolex variety, more the mini Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

Posted by deb at 08:50 AM | Comments (3)

Lost in Translation

This set of photos is from our last week or so around Tokyo, so its quite a large and varied set. It shows our adventures round Akihabara, the electronics district, Ginza, the swanky shopping district, Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge, Shinjuku, where all the bright lights can be found and Harajuku, the Camden Town of Tokyo. There's also lots of photos of the gadgets we have hunted out, mainly from our visits to the two Sony Centres and Apple store. Not sure if the Ipod Nano is out at home, but it's on sale here and available to play with. Ohh they are soo small.

We're off to China tomorrow for 11 days, where we'll be mostly hanging out in Beijing before heading off to Thailand. Not sure how restricted the internet will be but we're hoping out phones will work.

When we get home, I'd quite like to watch Lost in Translation again and compare it to the Tokyo we've seen.

[2 Tokyo galleries here and here]

Posted by deb at 07:51 AM | Comments (7)

Tokyo Game Show 2005 Roundup

We visited the Tokyo Game Show 2005 on Saturday, billed as being the first real viewings for the next gen consoles (PS3 and XBox 360). The show itself was a great mash up of Videogame and Japanese culture. The main points of interest (apart from the game show girls !) were the Sony and Microsoft stands. The XBox 360 stand was definately a big hit where there were about 10+ actual playable XBox 360 games whereas the Sony stand, whilst having a big presence, didn't actually have any playable hardware. The pre-renders on the big screens showing the next-gen graphics were expectedly impressive (but you have to take them with a pinch of salt !). Overall Microsoft won it for me just because they had everything ready to go and they are also heavily concentrating on the Japanese market where they failed last time with the XBox - we'll have to wait and see how being late to market for Sony affects the PS3 takeup.

The other stand that looked interesting was Sega (believe it or not) where they seem to have a good selection of upcoming games - Phantasy Star Universe was one we played and it was a third person RPG style game that was fun to play (coming to PS2 I believe).

Finally - the best swag of the show - it goes to Microsoft and N3 (Ninety Nine Nights) where if you played the game (and we did - it was really easy to pick up and contained lots of fun slash n kill style action) you recieved a mini maglite style torch which when you turn on has an N3 logo in the beam !

[2 Tokyo Game Show galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 07:47 AM | Comments (2)

September 15, 2005

Picture Perfect

It might not suprise you that as we've been working our way around the world we've actually been working on a few little projects here and there. The first one that has come to fruition is my MMS::Mail::Parser library. They basically let you recieve MMS messages from people and manipulate them within Perl (so you can do things like the MMS strip above). Generally each network provider (e.g. Vodafone) encodes their message in a slightly different fashion so I've only got a Vodafone message as an example as thats the Network I'm on.

If you have a fancy MMS enabled phone and you're not on Vodafone then please, please, please send an MMS message with a picture and some text to mms@robl.org.uk and help me out so I can add support for other networks to the library.

Thanks !

Posted by robl at 10:24 AM | Comments (6)

It's a small small world

It's funny when you travel all the way round the world and you end up meeting someone who lives in Hyde Park. It's even funnier when you talk to them and find out they also work with computers. It's even funnier when you mention that you used to work for Energis that virtually the first thing they mention is the Planet Gateway (and not in an entirely complemntary tone funnily enough).

I suppose this one is for POL people only.

Posted by robl at 10:18 AM | Comments (4)

September 14, 2005

I think I'm turning Japanese

A few days ago we went for a wander around Kyoto. It was a very hot day but we persisted in our Temple spotting along with hundreds of others. We thought the crowds might scare the temples away but apparently they are very domesticated in their natural habitat and were happy to pose for pictures. Deb spent hours working out a walking tour and we faithfully followed it around the Sanjusangen-Do temple (where we weren't allowed to take any photos !), the Kiyonizu temple and the Nanzen-Ji temple.

The Sanjusangen-Do temple was probably the most impressive with 1001 statues of the 1000 armed Kanoon (the budhist Goddess of Mercy).

We've been in Tokyo for a few days now and we have been visiting the various districts within the city. We have elongated our stay in Tokyo so we can take in the Tokyo Games Show and take a peak at the new XBox 360 and maybe even some PS3 games. We'll now be leaving for China on Monday.

[2 Kyoto galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2005


Yesterday we took the bullet train over to Hiroshima. The A-Bomb dome was really quite something to see, it was just metres from where the bomb hit. We also had a look round the Peace Memorial Museum which gave you a very good overview (if not quite gruesome at times) of how it all happened and the effects that the bomb had on the people and the area. Peace Memorial Park showed the Statue of the Children - quite heart wrenching, in memorial of one particular child who died of leukemia. The statue is surrounded by thousands of origami paper cranes made by the children.

[2 Hiroshima galleries here and here]

Posted by deb at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

Culture Club

Japan, really has to have been one of the most amazing countries I have been to in terms of culture, social graces - in fact pretty much everything about it really. With it all being so different, primarily the language, it has meant that the simple day to day things like eating, finding accommodation, transport have been much more difficult; however I do think that this is what makes it all the more of an adventure. The main problem we have had is getting our mits on some nice hot take-away Japanese food (we decided to try and eat Japanese food where possible and not go for the easy option of Mc Donalds). With Japanese restaurants being very expensive for your average traveller, it is not possible for us to eat out (ok maybe once or twice during our stay) and so we've been on the hunt for a good take-away which has the added bonus that we can take back to our room and fumble with chop-sticks in private.

So after walking around for hours trying to find a Japanese take-away we realise that perhaps Japanese do not really have the concept of take-away, (the closest thing we found is ramen bars where you go in and eat at a bar) maybe because (we read in the lonely planet), the Japanese people do not like to eat food in the street and so perhaps there is little demand for it. So what about Sushi then? Well we've both been dining on sushi here and there, but sometimes you just want a nice hot meal. Bento boxes? we've only seen them in restaurants. So we discovered that you can walk into a seven-eleven type shop and pick up a nice looking boxed noodle meal (that you can almost guess what it is) that they warm up for you when you pay for it - winner, these are a very cheap way of eating and pretty tasty too.

Just as we thought we had mastered it, we picked up 2 of these boxed meal things and gestured to the lady behind the counter to warm them up as we had done previously and she seemed to understand what we meant and then proceeded to pack the un-warmed noodles into the bag along with the drinks we had picked up too. So we gestured again towards the microwave and she took the drinks out of the bag and put them next to the bag and handed us the bag of cold boxed noodles. So we took our noodles back to the Ryokan and ate them cold and left the lady behind the counter thinking that we were anal enough to make her take the drinks out of the bag for us. I really wish I had seven years to learn Japanese.

Just so as you don't think we are starving ourselves, yesterday we managed to locate a less intimidating noodle bar with at the train station and we managed just fine, and we've also re-mastered the boxed noodle buying. In fact our chop-stick skills are coming on in leaps and bounds. Really, it is just a matter of going for it and trying stuff, but with my lack of chicken eating and our general fear of getting something we might not like, we are taking it one step at a time, but we are getting there.

Toilet Training

Everywhere we have been so far we've been lucky enough to be blessed with western toilets, even in the Ryokan, you can choose between a Western and a Japanese hole in the floor affair. Yesterday, however, when I really needed to go, the only option was a hole in the floor toilet - not a pleasant experience when you are in a rush, however perhaps a good way of forcing you to learn how to use them.

BTW, many of the western toilets over here have heated toilet seats, even in the Ryokan, where you must put on a different pair of special designated "toilet slippers" to enter the toilet!

Hurricane Update

You may have read about Hurricane Nadi that has been striking destruction upon southern Japan over the last few days. Thankfully, we have avoided the turmoil, as we have been staying in Kyoto which is north of there, however we were told by the nice lady at the tourist information that we should expect "hurricane weather" (not something Rob or I have experienced before, so as you can imagine, a little worrying) and were to get back to Kyoto before dark last night and not to stray far from our accommodation today. So today we have been wandering round Kyoto town and the weather actually is better than it has been for the last few days, blue skys and scorching hot so it looks like we can go to Hiroshima tomorrow and all is ok once again, yippee!

Today we had fun exploring the department stores food halls, which is an experience in itself, plus we had a wander round one of the huge gaming/amusement arcade 6 floor building with a whole twenty or so machines dedicated to networked Counter Strike - Rob's dreams come true. Plus we won some pac-man soft toy things which are rather cool. The Japanese really seem to love the pokie machines, we saw loads of men queuing outside to get in at about 10 in the morning in Tokyo. There are gaming and pokie halls everywhere with lots of glowing lights, it really is something.

The Ryokan

Staying in a Ryokan isn't just about sleeping on a futon on the floor, it's more than that, there's a whole set of social graces you have to understand. Firstly, slipper wearing, which I touched on earlier.. you must take off your shoes and put on your designated slippers before going anywhere beyond the front step. You must not wear your slippers on the Tatami mats in your room (easy to do when you are used to walking round the house in shoes). You should really wear the special toilet slippers too. Also, there's bath time. Bath time is between 5pm and 11pm and you must tell them when you come in what time you want your bath so they can run it for you. You must wear your robe to the bathroom (left side over right side, as the other way is dressing the dead). You must wash yourself thoroughly before getting into the bath. It's like staying in someone's house I guess really, and, like many things, it doesn't exist just because of the foreign tourists.

Posted by deb at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

Castles in the sky

In case you were wondering we seemed to have survived Typhoon Nabi. In Kyoto it meerly seemed to bring lots of rain and some gusty winds. We braved the elements yesterday and travelled to Himeji-Jo one of best (still standing) examples of a Japanese castle. Again, it was a huge piece of architecture with a gigantic wooden frame. It dates back to the 17th Century and the Shogun period and is seven stories tall.

[2 Himeji-Jo galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 03:26 AM | Comments (6)

Singing in the rain

We had a nice day out in Nara today (with a huge number of UNESCO sites). We visited the amazing Todai-Ji temple and the worlds largest Buddha (the Daibutsu). It's a shame the pictures don't do it more justice but it was huge, no actually it was HUGE ! We also visited some other temples it the area including Kasuga Taisha which had loads of stone lanterns dotted around and was the embodiment of a Japanese temple. There were also loads of deer roaming the park area around the temples - very friendly too - one tried to eat my t-shirt (probably the soy sauce I spilt on it trying to use chop sticks ...)

As you'll notice from the pictures it was raining - we seem to be in the grip of typhoon Nabi. The only weather warnings appear to be for rain and gusts where we are so we should be okay now we have our trusty umbrellas.

[2 Nara galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2005

Why does it always rain on me ?

I'm getting a little paranoid that I'm actually a rain god (see Dirk Gently for details) after our 3 weeks of rain in Auckland and now we're in Kyoto and it's started raining after the blistering sun in Tokyo. From what we've managed to gather from TV there seems to be some bad weather coming our way but hopefully it should blow over in the next few days.

Anyhow, we're staying in a lovely little Ryokan and we're out on the road for the next few days visiting some shrines/castles/big buddhas. Tokyo was fun but we only had a little taste so there is lots more to see and do there - I'm most excited about seeing the Godzilla statue ...

Oh and bullet trains really do lean and they go very very very fast !

[2 Tokyo galleries here and here]

[2 Ryokan galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 11:11 AM | Comments (1)

September 03, 2005


Just a quick note to say we have made it to Japan. Our flight was delayed by three hours which meant the subway (the only practical way to get to Tokyo centre - a 1+ hr journey) was just closing - it actually shut down as we were riding to Hotel Sakura so we never made it there and ended up staying in a small hotel in Ueno. We are back on track now though however and we've been to a local park this morning and we're in downtown Tokyo now. We are jumping off to Kyoto tomorrow for 6 days for some temple and castle gazing and then we come back to Tokyo for the remaining 6 days. Our phones don't seem to work so it's contact by email only and the number of web cafes seems pretty thin so we're not sure how easy it's going to be to get the pictures up - but we'll try our hardest - my sign language is growing in leaps and bounds !

Posted by robl at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)