24 May-Summer Palace

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Last day in Beijing today. We ventured out on the very long subway ride to the Summer Palace. The subway was packed by towards the end of the journey we managed to get a seat.

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The summer place grounds are quite massive.

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It overlooks a big lake that you can catch boats to/from various parts of the shore.

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From the edge of the lake near the palace you can see the CCTV tower we went to last night.

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We took a boat from the place to pretty much the middle and then walked across the bridge to the shore.

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After a bit of a site was wandered around the edge of the lake back to the palace then back to the front gate.

We’ve nicely used all the credit on our subway cards now. If we have time at the airport tomorrow I’ll attempt to get my card deposit back. Heading off early-ish to the airport tomorrow to start the long journey home. Have a 5 hour stop in Hong Kong so we’ll get to see a lot of the inside of airports tomorrow.

 

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23 May-Blue Sky, Great Wall and CCTV Tower

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After giving up on getting a clear day, let alone a blue sky we’d planned to go to the wall today. We must have spent enough time at the Department of Perfect Picture Day at the Taoist temple yesterday or something as today was the first clear blue sky we’ve had in Beijing! We set off at 7am and got to Mutianyu right on 8:30, grabbed our cable car ticket and were one of the very first people up the wall.

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That meant not only did we get a blue sky but pictures without people!

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There was a nice breeze up on top but the sun was still pretty harsh and we’d left the CP filters in the hotel.. DOH!

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Least it meant we got some colour rather than a dull grey haze in our photos. We went a little to the east first got a few pictures before heading for the extreme west. The last bit of that section is insanely steep with lots of stairs.

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I needed a bit of a break half way up…

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While I sent John on ahead so he could get a good view without any people. The last stretch is tough, after a bunch of stairs you get the last bit that is like 3 stairs high per step. My legs were definitely sore by the time I got to the top. Then it was back the way we came, past the cable car and trying to get to the other side.

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The surface is pretty rough underfoot and you do have to watch out for random drains, missing steps etc. We made it a little past the chair lift before we decided we’d better head down as we didn’t thing we’d get up, back and then down the wall in time to get picked up by our driver. So we bought a slideway ticket.

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Started off cool for the first two bends till we caught the lady in front of me. She pretty much sat on the brake, barely moving, all the way down which meant we had a slow, dull ride…but better than walking down all the stairs. A few private tours and school groups were there as we left the mountain. As we were heading back to Beijing we saw all the buses of tour groups turning up so glad we’d made it up and down without hitting all the crowds.

Had a bit of a rest in the afternoon before heading to the CCTV tower. We caught the train a fair way west and after a bit of a walk through some dodgy streets we finally made it to the base of this guy.

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We bought our entry + dinner at the revolving restaurant ticket and went up to the top open air platform at 238m.

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The view was AMAZING! After being on subways for a few days I had no idea of the scale of the city till I got up here. The buildings right on the horizon is the CBD and the view all the way round the tower is like this. The city is massive. Then we went to the restaurant which was quite expensive (compared to most meals we’ve had). Turns out it’s pretty much all seafood which John doesn’t eat at all so we had slim pickings till we found the beef slices they cook for you on demand and of course the desert bar. The view from the restaurant is pretty amazing aswell and nice to sit and eat and slowly move around the city.

Felt a bit lazy/tired and got a taxi back to the the hotel. Tomorrow is our last day in Beijing and thinking of going to the Summer Palace which should use up the rest of our credit on our metro cards. Hope tomorrow is as nice a day as today was.

 

 

22 May-Dongyue Temple, The Egg and Olympic Green

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This morning we braved the subway again and headed over to Dongyue Temple – a Taoist Temple which is seemingly in the middle of the business district. After switching lines and wandering out of the train station we walked about 700m east till we found what looked like a temple. The person at the gate nodded at my Mandarin name for the temple so we set off inside for 10 yuan ($1.50). I’d found this place on the internet so knew what to expect. It’s not your usual temple – all the statues are a little “different”.

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Even the ones just of people didn’t have the standard smiling face.

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The all had expression.

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Even without the English translation it’s obvious what happens when you’re bad.

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Then there’s the animals that look like tv characters….

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Pigsy?

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Monkey or one of the characters from the original Plant of the Apes movie?

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That creepy bunny from Donnie Darko?

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The admiral from Star Wars?

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Maybe some of the Jedi council?

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Then there’s bunch of others that are a bit creepy looking like the cat lady

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And these two fine gentlemen.

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It was really quiet in the temple and there were no other western tourists there. Not surprising since I had an interesting time working out where the temple was in the city even after I knew it’s name. Then we headed back towards Tianamen and had a look at “The Egg” and the square.

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Didn’t have the wide angle with us so had to go for a more arty shot of the egg

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It’s pretty cool metal and glass look. There was a nice breeze blowing that kept us cool but meant no cool reflection in the water.

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Then Tiananmen Square lined on both sides with fully in bloom flowers. Then we headed back to the hotel to put our feet up before or subway mission out to the Olympic Park to get some night time photos of the buildings after an afternoon shot of the Forbidden City moat.

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We used 4 subway lines and made it to the Olympic Park in time to get some photos of the birds nest and the water stadium

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These are really massive in real life and still very impressive all lit up.

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Not sure what this one is called but it was near the subway station. Everything got switched off at 10pm, so back 4 different lines and 1.5 hrs later we’re back at our hotel. Getting up early to go to the Great Wall tomorrow.

 

21 May-Forbidden City, Ghost Street and Ferrari

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Today we did the touristy stuff. First we wandered down from the hotel to Tiananmen Square.

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Then we got in the queue to enter the Forbidden City along with 100’s of other tourists.

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It was a pretty grey day so not great for taking photos. The city is massive but in need of a bit of TLC.

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There’s quite a few sculptures around the place, lots of dragons.

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Lots of intricate details on the banisters.

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People seem to be obsessed with getting their photo taking while touching something, so we can see why the handles on these massive bowls are shiny.

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You can see how big the buildings are in comparison to all the people in the sqaure

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We wandered out the north gate and swung around to the NE corner to get a view of the moat. Want to come back here at sunset one of the days and get a better picture with some pink sky in the background

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After a few hours of wandering around we weren’t dealing well with the pollution so headed back towards the hotel and grabbed lunch and chilled out for the afternoon. In the evening we decided to try to get to “Ghost Street” via the subway.

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On the way we passed by this cool tea house with a nifty tea water feature. I’d worked out the best way to get there was to use the subway and they have tickets like the Go Cards at home so we could put a bunch of credit on it and not have to talk to people to buy tickets. When we arrived at the station the machines were out of order so had to go to the ticket desk to try and buy the cards. Luckily we managed to get these without too much trouble and we were off. The subway is really well signed and once you’re inside it shows each of the stops, which one you’re up to etc so it was quite easy to get to where we were going.

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The street if fairly long with the first block near to the station covered in lanterns on each side of the street which give it a cool atmosphere once it goes dark and they are on. It’s a street full of restaurants so we were spoilt for choice. Had some dinner and made our way back to the hotel via the subway. We’d spotted some shops near the station so we went for some window shopping on the way back to the hotel.

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We came across one of these outside the Ferrari shop, at what seemed to the an opening ceremony. Nobody seemed to mind us getting up close and taking a photo of the car. This section of the street is full of expensive car shops. Will have to venture back in the daylight and get an idea of what these cost here.

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20 May-To Beijing

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Today we were up early to head to Beijing. It turned out to be a big day of waiting. We were told it could take 1.5 hours to get to the airport so we left at 7:30am with a cab that was sitting just outside our hotel. The cabbie got us there in 40 mins – there wasn’t much traffic and he seemed to know the back way to get to the airport avoiding all the freeway tolls.

We tried to check in but were too early so had to come back an hour later. We found a chair with power, John played on the computer for an hour and back we went. This time there was a much longer queue. When we checked in there was no gate allocated. So we sat around hoping a gate number would appear. Turns out in that hall it only shows which checkin counters are for your flight. So about 40 minutes before our flight we went to information and they sent us back to the check in queue. After a long wait in the checkin queue I had our gate  and more importantly which security gate to go through.

Through security we went only to find our flight has been delayed for 2 hours. 3 hours later we head to Beijing. 45 mins waiting for our bags and an hour to town and we were where where our hotel was supposed to be (see top picture). It looked like a camera store but was the correct address and turned out you go inside and there’s a set of stairs to the rooms etc. Couple of other tourists turned up while we were checking in asking the same questions as us. I’d read a few newer reviews on our hotel recently that left we wondering if our stay would be short. Luckily it seems all good, just have to work out how to get the internet working which we’ll have by the time you read this post Winking smile

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Went for a bit of a walk along our street – we can see the eastern side of the forbidden city wall from the front of our hotel and up the other way are these markets selling all sorts of interesting food.

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Couple of varieties of different scorpions.

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Cicadas, spiders, centipedes, sheep penis, water beetles etc. all for sale. As tempting as it all looked we decided that we didn’t want to spend the rest of the trip with an upset stomach so went for a much more traditional looking restaurant. Straight away it’s apparant we’re in a more touristy part of China. We saw more westerners in 5 mins than the whole of the last 2 weeks.

Tomorrow we’re going to wander over to Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Jinsang Park.

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19 May-Mt HuaShan

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This morning we set off for Mt HuaShan. Gave ourselves plenty of time to find a cab and get to the train station. Luckily there was one sitting outside our hotel so that was nice and easy.

Driving around in Xi’an is interesting. They have lights that count down to the change of green/red, seems that everybody kinda ignores that and quite often runs red lights. There’s pedestrian crossings and crossings with the red/green man. Cars, buses and bikes seem to ignore those too so you have to be careful crossing the road. It’s much like crossing the road in Egypt – you have to talk out in front of oncoming traffic and be prepared to stand in the middle of lanes until you get enough of a break to get to the next lane.

The Xi’an North Railway station is a fair way out of town. Our cabby found a fellow cabbie to drag off at each set of lights we went through. On one set, the light went green and our cabby missed 1st gear so the other guy got ahead. Then BANG! A car smashes the other cab, does a 180 spin in front of us and stops a car width to our right. No worries, our path is clear so off we go. Seems you don’t have to stop for accidents here. Lucky he missed 1st of that coulda been us getting our bumper taken off by the other car running the red light.

So we made it to Xi’an North with heaps of time to spare and in one piece. The train station is really massive, new and tidy. Jumped on our train in our allocated seat and off to the mountain we went. It’s a bullet train that can go pretty damn fast be we “only” made it to 244 km/hr. 40 mins later we’re there (instead of the 3 hour bus ride). Jump in a cab and off to the visitor centre to get our tickets, then in a bus to get to the entrance. Our driver seemed to like the precarious mountain bends so would drop the speed so the bus in front would have a bit of a headstart and then he’d floor it around the corner.

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This is at the base of the mountain – looks awesome but is covered in smog. Then to line up for our cable car tickets and line for the cable car.

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This was the queue we faced…

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An hour later and we’re at the other end of the queue and up the mountain we go.

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The hour wait was worth not having the 4 hour walk up a billion stairs. It’s a very steep climb up the mountain, so don’t go up here if you’re afraid of heights.

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At the top there’s a bunch of locks and red messages.

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Some of the stairs are insanely steep, and narrow. This set is more like a ladder where the width of the step i barely fit my foot on sideways. Lucky there’s a chain to appease my fears of slipping and dying.

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A lot of the stairs (like the ones behind John) are carved out of the rock so they’re very irregular so you have to keep your wits about you when you’re walking around.

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Impressive set of cliffs that I can only imagine would look amazing if we could get a blue sky.

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There’s lots of carvings on the rocks – no idea what any of them say but they make the people look really tiny.

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It’s really busy on the mountain with lots of people trying to get up and down on paths barely wide enough for one. They look like ants on a ledge.

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We found a shady spot that wasn’t near the toilets to sit and watch everyone go by.

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We wandered around awhile and then headed back down, changed our train to an earlier time and headed back to Xi’an. Guy next to me on the train got up in a hurry and spilt something warm and smelling awful all over me. I’m going with it was some sort of smelly tea. Lucky it was time to put those pants in the dirty pile.

Headed out for some dinner to random restaurant and picked some random dishes off the menu. They turned out to be very yummy and so much food, no wonder the guy asked us if we really wanted 2 dishes. Getting up early again tomorrow as we head to Beijing via plane and need to leave a decent amount of time to get to the airport. Hoping it rains tonight or tomorrow to clear some smog so we can get a blue sky for the wall (one can only hope right).

 

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18 May-Bye Bye Pandas, Hello shower

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Today was our last day volunteering. Many thanks to Tiger who was absolutely tremendous. No request was to trivial or too much trouble for him. He was Mr. FixIt for the water, washing machine etc.

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Today we also had to say goodbye to our panda babies from the last week. Erlang and YaYa has provided such amusement with their antics over the last couple of weeks we’ll definitely miss them. Dabao has kept John busy with cleaning and feeding and making sure she gets every last crumb of panda cake.

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We made our way back to Xi’an this afternoon and boy was I glad to have the first real shower in two weeks. The water pressure at the volunteer house has been so bad we’ve barely had enough of a dribble of water to wash with let alone wash my hair with. Getting up early tomorrow to head to Mt Huashan for the day via the bullet train. Looking forward to checking out the impressive peaks before we head to Beijing on Sunday.

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17 May-Farewell fireworks

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This morning the pandas were out and ready to get their pictures taken.

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They were out looking for food and apples.

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The mountains were fairly clear with a decent blue sky this morning. Rain forecast for tomorrow and a hot sunny day for Saturday hopefully means we’ll get a clear day when we got up Mt Huashan on Saturday.

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Showed my keeper a few of the pictures of the pandas. Should have taken notes as he was calling out all their names and I don’t know a few of them still.

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Had our last english lesson today, our “last supper” at Mr Deng’s, did a powerpoint night with each person’s favourite 10 photos, with the finale of the night being fireworks.

Tiger went to the shop and picked up a box of fireworks for us at 200 yuan (about $30 Australian). It had a single fuse and let off about 25 individual fireworks into the sky. We sat them in the middle of the street and let them off. They were quite cool with the highlight when the motorcyclist rides past them not even blinking and eyelid. Well worth the money!

Last morning with my pandas tomorrow morning before we head back into Xi’an in the afternoon. Looking forward to Mt Huashan Saturday before we head to Beijing on Sunday lunch time.

 

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16 May-new panda keeper

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Got up early but the pandas weren’t out and about much at all today. Erlang was up near the side fence chilling just before first feed at 8. Today I had yet a different keeper. This one is the usual keeper for YaYa and Erlang. So after 2 days of pretty much being left alone to do everything, Mr. Lee did a lot of the work for me. He was very cute with them, tummy rubbing, doing some strength training etc. He got me to hand feed them the apples I usually throw in which was a bit scary putting my fingers that close to those big teeth. Last session of the day he got me to do some strength training with an apple on a stick making them climb right up high. No wonder these two are such good climbers.

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John got a few pictures of his panda Dabor out in the yard doing some training with an apple on a stick.

No school or keeper english training today so it was fairly quiet. Tomorrow we’re doing our last english lesson with the teachers, doing a best of everyone’s picture night, and letting off some fireworks so should be a busy last full day. Friday we head back to Xi’an.

 

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15 May-Pandas, kids and a safety lesson

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The pandas weren’t very active this morning. Many weren’t out at all or just sitting a long way from the camera.

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Erlang and YaYa were up on the hill mediating.

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Others were looking for someone to play with. I had a different keeper today but she was just checking in on me. So I was pretty much left to move, clean, feed and generally just not get my arms ripped off by myself. While it’s nice they trust me to look after their precious pandas I do worry that someone might pop past and let the pandas back into the enclose while I’m out there picking up panda poo. To guard against this, I place lots of tools inside the cage and near the tunnel to indicate that I’m outside in the hope that they’ll at least come into the cage to move them and maybe notice me before they let them loose.

I did the clean at 2 and fed them their 4pm milk early so I could go back to the school with Norma to work with the grade 6 class.

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We read some dialog and then the kids repeated it a few times and then had to answer some questions. Their English writing is crazy neat!

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Norma encouraged a few of the students through a few of the lines.

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Then to end off a picture of the class. On the right is the teacher and her little girl.

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At 5 we did our 2nd lot of teaching the keepers English. We did some numbers/time and then some safety. Moyra dressed up in Rebecca’s panda souveniers to play the panda that grabs the volunteer who is too close to the bars. It was hilarious to watch!

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After dinner we walked up to the leaning pagoda. It’s an old Buddhist temple that’s a bit overgrown.

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The new temple being built was lit up on our way down the hill. Tomorrow I have more panda duty but no activities to skip out on so looks like I’ll do the full 4 sessions at the correct times tomorrow.

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14 May-Busy day-Panda duty, kids, english teaching, new panda base

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After all the rain we had our first blue sky. The smog was gone and we could clearly see the mountain. I don’t want to think too hard about what happened to the smog but it’s great to see blue sky.

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The pandas were out and playful this morning. They were up the trees.

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Rolling around on the ground together.

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They did a lot of wrestling this morning. It was like a 3 round match. Lots of tumbling, jumping and biting.

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I’ve got the little pair this week – Erlang the  male and YaYa the female. YaYa is a lot bigger and has a bit of black around her face. Erlang is smaller and has a black dot near his eye.

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After lunch, Norma and I went to the local school. She wanted to do some english teaching so I went along as the official photographer Winking smile She taught the grade 4 class a nursery rhyme.

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She also taught them some actions to go along with the words.

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After a few rounds, one by one they got up and did it all by themselves.

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Intense concentration.

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This little girl was so scared. Norma went over for support and helped her through it all.

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Afterwards they were very interested in my camera so we took them outside for a few photos.

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Serious photo for the teachers.

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Fun photo for us. Some of these kids got some serious air on their jumping.

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Seems kids everywhere like having their pictures taken.

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Just had to try and limit the numbers so I could fit them in my shot with the prime lense.

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The school is temporary while they rebuild a new one. Check out the ping pong net they have.

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They were very well behaved. They asked us to come back tomorrow and teach the 6th graders. They gave Norma a book they’re working from as homework. She seemed right in her element today with a grin from ear to ear. She’ll do great tomorrow.

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The centre asked that we do some english lessons with the keepers so tonight was our first.

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The ladies brought a long a bunch of props to help reinforce the english words for the keepers.

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We got a decent turnout for the first night.

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Rebecca did a great job drawing some of the other items we were teaching – like the all important “POO”

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and wheelbarrow.

So tomorrow will be busy aswell…more panda duty, school visit and english lesson number 2.

 

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13 May-rainy day off

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Today was really cold. Got up early and all the pandas were out which meant I could get a few pictures of ones that I don’t usually see. It’d rained overnight so most of them were a bit wet too so they looked like wet teddy bears.

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The playful pair were out climbing trees, in their tyre and generally looking cute. One of them was trying to get pretty high in one of the trees and kept breaking branches that couldn’t hold them.

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Even though they look really awkward they are really good climbers.

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I just managed to get a shot of the brown panda up on his rock pile. Pity I wasn’t a bit earlier but this is the best I got as he ran over. He was really active today, running around the enclosure with quite a bit of pace. Definitely wouldn’t want them chasing me in the wild.

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Rose did some work with her pandas today so got a few snaps of her in the enclosure working.

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Aside from it being really cold – everyone was in long pants and jumpers today it was also raining which meant it was a good day to do not a lot. So sat around and did some reading, sleeping and of course eating at Mr. Dengs. Everyone is back tomorrow and we’re getting a new volunteer so we’ll be back to 9 of us. We start our week of panda duty tomorrow so won’t have as much free time as last week.

 

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12 May-Day off-walked up a mountain

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We get the weekends off so had a bit of a sleep in this morning, then went and said hello to the pandas before we set off on our walk up the mountain in the background. I thought it’d be a nice walk through the trees but it turned out to be death by 1000 concrete stairs.

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We’re heading for these flags at the top of the mountain. A couple of the other girls went the other day and took a bit of a wrong turn and went to a different peak so we were going to learn from their mistake.

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As we climbed the stairs we could catch a bit of a view every now and then and could see the back of the golden statue we’d walked to a few days before.

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As you near the top you hit this first pit stop. The first thing the hits you is the lung full of incense as you try to catch your breath. The others stoped here and bought some of the red tags to add well wishes to friends and family to add to the trees.

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Went you reach the top of the mountain there’s a little temple and a bunch of stalls. There’s also a heap of incense. Not want you want to breathe in when you’re trying to catch your breath.

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So we headed up the next peak to get away from the people and find somewhere to sit for a bit.

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A bit of a walk up the next peak we found a good view and a comfy rock to sit down on and admire the view.

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The others wandered up and joined us to sit in the quiet for a bit and try to see through the smog across the city.

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I’m really missing seeing the actual sky here. My eyes feel like they have a layer of concrete on them and my skin constantly feels dirty. After the rain the other day it was a lot clearer but it’s started to smog up again. Not as bad as when we first arrived and could hardly see the mountain though. We wandered back down the 1000ish steps and I think my knees are going to pay for it tomorrow. Had a bit of a nanna nap in the after noon before we ventured into town to get John a haircut.

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The other ladies had been the day before so we just had to find the same hairdresser. She was very meticulous and would have spent a good 1/2 hour cutting his hair and did a really good job. Cost 10 yuan – about $1.50 Australian. Not sure what we’ll get up to tomorrow, might just veg out a bit before we start our week of panda duty.

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11 May-Pandas in trees and last day on Ibis

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Today was our last day on the Ibis. My keeper let us take a photo inside the cages which was easier said than done. It’s actually really dark inside under the tree canopy and the Ibis don’t like to stay still. John and I smashed in both sessions this morning taking 40 mins for the first and 20 for the 2nd.

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After lunch the panda keepers were doing some sort of training with apples so we went out to take some photos.

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Erlang the panda was up the tree trying to sleep and we were all desperately trying to get him to wake up but he was having none of it, every now and then sitting up before laying back down asleep.

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Norma tried to entice her panda down with the apple on the stick, still wasn’t interested.

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So we all just took a heap more pics with the panda.

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These two pandas however were much more interested in doing some exercise to get the apple. They were quite cute and funny.

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As you can see they have a massive set of teeth.

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The panda shop lady came today and the ladies spent up big on cute panda toys. One of the girls finished up today and 3 of the others have gone to Xi’an for the weekend so there’s only 5 of us here so will be much quieter for the next few days. Trying to get some washing done with less demand for the shower and hoping to go for a walk up the mountain and generally relax a bit over the weekend.

John and I get panda duty so get to spend 5 days a lot more up close with a panda each leaning how to prepare their meals and clean their cages etc.

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10 May-Ibis keeping

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This morning the pandas were up and playing in their enclosures and generally looking cute up trees and doing Kung Fu poses.

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These guys love to climb trees, and pull on the branches.

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I knew pandas climbed a bit but never realised how high and how proficient they are at climbing.

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These guys love playing together and fighting in the trees, knocking each other around.

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This guy is a lot older and less playful than the little ones. Looks a bit more wise for his age but does like to come out in the mornings and say hello.

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The pandas are housed in an enclosure at the foot of some very cool mountains which can see in the background.

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This morning we were on Ibis duty. My keeper spoke a couple of words of English – OK and One. So made the day interesting to work out what I was supposed to do. First I watched her scoop up a bunch of fish and put them in a bucket. So that’s what i do but she grabs them and tosses them back. Guess that was wrong. Watch again really closely and she’s manages to weaved the scoop around and pick up the dead fish..got it. Then to weight the live ones into buckets, put them in the ponds for the ibis and do some weeding.

After lunch we’re heading up the mountain to go to this statue.

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It’s a pretty good walk with a LOT of stairs, so I think my calves and knees are going to know about it tomorrow. From the top there’s a decent view, but smoggy so you can’t see very far.

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The statue is pretty large when you get right up close.

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On the weekend we’re going to venture to the top flags that you might be able to make out in this picture.

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Afternoon Ibis duty was similar but first I had to fish out the old fish with what looks like a vegetable strainer on a stick. They’re actually tricky to catch. Then new fish, this time I’m in an enclosure with 2 ponds with two buckets so put fish in each which I quickly discover by the shocked look on my keepers face was wrong. So now to fish them out of one again and move to the next enclosure.

Tomorrow is another day with the Ibis. Will try and get some pictures as these ones are grey with a red face – quite a bit different to the ones that infiltrate Brisbane.

 

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9 May-Playful pandas, takins and fantasic food

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There were a bunch of logs meant to become a swing for the black bears. Unfortunately a few of them had been eaten to bits by what looks like witchetty grubs. Not wanting to put it to waste we had a bit of a fire last night.

Lots of people ask me why we pay money to shovel shit, pick up rubbish and weed gardens. Well we sleep on site with the pandas only a few steps from our door. This means we can get up early when the pandas are really active and get cute pictures like these:

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Before I arrived I’d read lots of positive comments on Mr Deng’s cooking. He has a restaurant attached to the centre and cooks all our meals. He’s always very cheerful with a big, wide smile. The reviews on the meals aren’t wrong. There’s heaps of yummy food even if we don’t actually know what each dish is called.

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We each pick a dish from the menu of 88 options and get to share them lunch and dinner. Here’s what we had for lunch today:

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The Takin’s don’t take much looking after. We were all done for the day at 9:30. So we spent some time today with the birds trying to get some pictures of them through the cage.

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This owl has the coolest eyes – not sure what type of owl it is as his sign on his cage says pheasant…

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There’s 4 massive vultures at the centre that never stay still so hard to get a good picture of.

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This odd looking specimen in the vulture enclosure is “insert specific type here” Eagle. He’s got a beautiful yellow beak and piercing eyes.

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There’s 2 male and 2 female peacocks. These guys love displaying their beautiful feathers but move so fast they are so hard to take a picture of. I think the females are getting to know me. I pick them some grass and they follow me around the fence wanting more. We didn’t have much else to do so we went through our pictures and had a bit of a nanna nap. We were going to go up to another temple after dinner but due to the construction we couldn’t get through. Tomorrow we’re on Ibis duty. The other day we were told we were too tall and scary to look after them but they seem to have changed their minds.

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8 May-Takins

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Early this morning the pandas were out and were quite playful. They were up trees, play fighting and generally looking cute.

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They make this interesting sound that reminds me of a cross between a lamb and a goat. So reckon if I stumbled past one in the wild I would think it’s a mountain goat by sound rather than a panda.

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Today we were on Takin enclosure duty. The females look like a large goat.

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The males look a bit more like a cross between a goat and a cow as they are a lot bigger.

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First we picked up all the left over branches they’ve stripped back to nothing, which they bundle up, dry and use for kindling in fires. Then we sweep up all the much, shovel it into the barrows and done.

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On our way back from the Takins the brown panda was outside munching away on bamboo. He’s quite massive and looks like a faded teddy bear with his brown fur rather then the black and white.

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Then we headed over to say hello to the Snow Leopard. She’s got the most beautiful blue eyes. Very hard to get a good picture of her through the chain link fence.

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After lunch Tiger took us up to a local Taoist temple a small walk up the mountain behind the centre. Here I came across this old fortune teller with the coolest eye glasses. I don’t usually take pictures of people, let alone strangers but couldn’t help myself with this guy and I think it came out pretty well.

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Seems that they like to graffiti their bamboo the same way people graffiti trees at home. Don’t know what it says but we’re assuming it’s the equivalent of Bob was here or Jane loves Sam or something.

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7 May-Arrived at the Panda Centre

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This morning we left the volunteer house and headed to the Shaanxi Wildlife and Rescue Centre, our home for the next two weeks. After moving our belongings into our twin share room which is quite large Tiger took us on a tour of the centre. Tiger was one of the panda keepers and has joined the volunteer team to help look after all the volunteers. There are a bunch of different animals here: Giant Pandas, Red Pandas, Tapir, Ibis, Peacocks, Vultures, Eagle, Owl, Golden Monkeys, Moon Bears, a Spotted leopard just to name a few.

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Had our first lunch at Mr. Deng’s today – the reviews of it being really yummy food were not wrong! After lunch we spotted one of the pandas up the tree. This afternoon we spent a couple of hour weeding around the outside of the panda enclosures. Tough work – when we spot a panda outside we call a “Panda break” so we can all scramble to take pictures like the ones below and when the panda gets bored with it’s food and wanders off to find some cool concrete back to weeding we go.

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Had a really yummy dinner at Mr Deng’s tonight. Tried out my kiddie chopsticks which work ok..but i think I’m going back to the travel fork. Tomorrow we get assigned our keepers and get an idea which animals we work with each day for the next two weeks.

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6 May-Orientation, Xi’an City Wall and Fountain Show

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This morning we had our orientation at 10am, which meant it wasn’t worth trying to go anywhere so we did important stuff like washing. Got an overview of what will be happening in the next 2 weeks and v1 of our timetable. After a yummy lunch we headed off into town to attack the city wall. we all jumped on the 205, which is 2 yuan each and went into the centre of the city. We headed for one of the walls. Walking through the street is like walking through times square but you have trees, steel posts, motorbikes and every third person with an umbrella all on the footpath. Eventually we hit the East wall. We walked around the entire opening to the east wall looking for a way up. After about 1/2 hour we decide we have to run the gauntlet of traffic to the centre to the tiny opening in the gate. After we make it across grab our tickets and head up the wall.

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It’s a stark contrast when you get up the top of the wall. It’s quiet, not many people, a nice breeze – all quite pleasant really. It is a pretty cool wall as you wander around you can see how the city has outgrown the wall, old meeting new and consuming it.

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There’s bikes for hire along the wall which looked pretty fun, pity I didn’t persist with the whole trying to learn thing.

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We wandered over the South gate and headed down just in time for a guard-drum display.

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Wandered back to the centre of town and eventually found our bus, jumped on and it started heading north, then east. Seeing how we wanted to be getting to the South West we had a bit of a “oh crap” moment and jumped off the bus and found the next cab to take us back to the accommodation. Turns out we were on the correct bus but I didn’t fancy ending up in whoop whoop trying to find a cab and being late for dinner.

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After dinner we headed out on the K5 to the Big Goose Pagoda to watch the fountain show. It was packed with people, all trying to get a good view of the 1/2 hour long fountain show light show. No chance of getting good pictures with the tripod so we had to hand hold them above people’s heads.

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After it was all over took a few photos of the area all lit up before looking for a cab. There were 100’s of cabs…all full. The couple we managed to hail didn’t want to take us back the apartment. We decided to try and find the bus back. The area the bus was in was all under construction and we couldn’t find the stop even though we’d seen a bunch of k5’s pass us. After an hour of wandering I finally managed to hail cab. Best 15 yuan I’ve ever spent.

Tomorrow morning we pack up and head over to the panda reserve.

5 May-Terracotta Warriors

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Peter arranged a minibus to take the 6 of us out to the Terracotta Warriors wait for us 3 hours and bring us back to today. So the 6 of us headed off this morning at 8 am. It took about 1hr 20 to get out there and because we’d arrived nice and early most of the vendors were just setting up so we didn’t get hassled too much. It’s quite a trek from the car park to the actual pits so it took us about 15 mins to find our way there.

Pit 1 is the most impressive with the most light and number of warriors that have been uncovered. It’s cool to see how different each face, height and build of each warrior is.

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Some of them are quite damaged with missing heads, arms or pieced back together.

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You can’t get very close to the real ones so it was handy we had my zoom lens. It’s also quite dark so is a bit tricky to get a good photo with the correct light.

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Inside the museum which is a separate building next to the pits you can get a lot closer to a few of the warriors but they’re behind glass. It was pretty hard to get anywhere near them with all the people pushing and trying to get photos

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Luckily John had my zoom lens and his height on his side so we could stand back and still get a decent photo.

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The light inside the museum was bordering on pure darkness so a lot of people were just taking photos of the photos of the displays. The 5D came into its own here and were able to get decent photos in almost no light

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They had a display of the warrior armour – all made of small pieces of stone. The detail in each piece was pretty amazing.

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Outside is really smoggy, you can hardly see the giant hills in the background. Came across some vendors selling kites. Looks like here you don’t just fly one kite..you fly a whole line full of kites. I imagine if you get a few of these going at once it’d looks pretty amazing in the sky.

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Two new volunteers arrived today so there’s now 8 of us at the apartment, with 7 of us heading to the panda project on Monday. I’m hoping to head out into the street markets and check out the fountain show after dark tonight and test out the 5D at night.

 

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4 May- Arrived in Xi’an

This afternoon we made our way to the airport bound for Xian. Great thing at Hong Kong airport is they have free wifi, so we could check our mail etc. We got there pretty early and soon discovered our plane had been delayed 1/2 hour. Not to worry, we kept ourselves entertained. Once we made it onto the plane and they closed the doors, chaos started. People were jumping out of their seats, rushing up and down the plane, trying a seat, moving to another, climbing over someone to see if they had a better view all while we’re supposed be be leaving. A bit odd but we got away. No sooner were we in the air and people started getting out of their seats and opening various overhead lockers for no apparent reason…all while the seatbelt sign was still on. Very different experience to flying in most other places.

We landed in Xi’an about 1 hour late and ended up in the slow immigration queue and managed to be the last people through but mean our bags were already on the carousel. Waiting in the arrivals lounge was Peter to drive us to the volunteer apartment. An hour later we arrive at the apartment in Xi’an, with 4 other volunteers – 3 of which are heading to the pandas with us. There’s a few more people coming tomorrow and at least one already there so there’s going to be quite a few of us there. Everyone had been waiting for us to arrive so we could have dinner which was really tasty.

Had a bit of a wander around the local street, unpacked for the next few days and we’re ready for bed. It was dark by the time we’d eaten so didn’t get a chance to take any photos. We’re all going out to the terracotta warriors tomorrow, hopefully get some good pictures.

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3/4 May-Overnight in Hong Kong

Thursday we set off on our adventure to China. First we have an overnight stopover in Hong Kong. We boarded our A330 ready for our 9 hour flight. After flying on brand new a380’s recently this older plane seemed so noisy and made all those “interesting” sounds you love when you’re not a big fan of flying like me. We started to worry when the entertainment system was on a continual “loading bar” for over 15 mins and so was everyone else’s around us. One of the passengers near us pointed it out to the attendant so he decided to try a reboot. 3 reboots later and the whole of economy still has no movies to watch. The cabin and is getting restless and the attendants must be getting worried about an onslaught of very bored and annoyed passengers. So in the last ditch attempt they reboot the whole plane’s entertainment system, taking out business class aswell. Luckily this kicks the system into action and 1 1/2 hours into our flight we have entertainment..YAY!

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We arrive at Hong Kong airport, get through immigration, grab our bags and look for an ATM. I tried to be too clever and tried to get 980 so I could have some smaller notes, but the ATM wasn’t having any of it so I had to settle for 800, which left us with fairly large notes. Wandered out the taxi rank and lined up for the Red Cab – different colours mean they go to different parts of the island. Thanks to Jenny I had the hotel name and address printed out in Chinese characters so we didn’t have to face any language issues with the cab driver. We make it safely at our hotel with the cab driver looking not too impressed at the 500 note we hand over for the 330 cab fare and digs around for some change.

We’re both really tired and it’s started to rain so decided to sleep rather than venture out at night with the plan being to go for a bit of a wander the next morning before we leave for the airport.

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Friday we get up and go for a wander down to the harbour to get a bit of a view of the city. It’s not that hot but really humid, even for those of us from Brisbane. There’s some really cool looking mountains in the backdrop of the massive city buildings covered in clouds. We don’t have a lot of time here today so don’t really have time to explore further. If we’d had a few more hours I would have definitely checked out the view from The Peak, but that’ll have to wait for another trip.

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Today we fly out to Xi’an. We’re getting picked up at the airport and staying in the volunteer accommodation for the next 3 nights. Tomorrow we have a “free day” so I’m planning on going to see the Terracotta Warriors via the local public transport system and see how lost we get. Not sure how much internet access we’ll get over the coming weeks so the updates may well come in bursts.

 

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