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Monday, May 26, 2008

Flying over Yunnan

Paragliding from a mountain in Anning

Saturday it finally happened: we went paragliding! The original plan was to do it last week on Shos's birthday, but due to bad weather conditions it didn't happen. Since last Tuesday, however, the weather in Kunming is great again! So we (Shos, Stephanie, Marc and me) planned to go on Saturday. We met at 7.30 in the morning (which is hard if you went out until 5.00...) with the other flyers and the instructor. An hour and a half later we arrived on top of a 2500 meter high mountain next to the town of Anning. The sun was burning down on us and there wasn't a single tree or other shady spot in sight...

We decided that Marc should go first and so it happened. But unfortunately things did not go exactly as planned... the idea was to land back on the mountain, but the instructor was having difficulties finding a good thermal (hot air that you need to go up) so instead of landing at the top they landed in the valley. Not a big deal, but now we had to wait for almost three hours for the Jeep to go down, pick them up and drive back up again... not fun when the sun is trying to melt you and there's no hiding from it!

After two more flights (Dennis and Stephanie) it was Shoshannah's turn. Buckled up and excited she was ready to "fly" for the first time in her life. And she got lucky, right after take off the "wing" (as that paragliding thing is called) caught a big thermal and they went up and up and up... after a couple of minutes they reached almost 3200 meters and as we heard from her afterwards it was really amazing to experience the difference in altitude and layers of warm and cold air. Approx. 30 minutes she was back on the mountain and it was my turn.

For me it too would be the first time to do anything like this. Unfortunately I have never done bungyjumping, parasailing, kitesurfing or any of those other exciting things... But now it was going to happen. After a failed take-off, the wing caught a bad wind and dragged us back on our asses instead of lifting us up, we succeeded in becoming airborne!!!

During my flight the instructor (Mike) had the same problem as during Marc's flight, he couldn't find a thermal to bring us back up again. The cool part was that he decided to fly away from the mountain and look for some good air on the highland. And we found a good air stream! Nothing big, but strong enough to take us back to 2600 meters so we could land on the mountain. Because of all this searching my flight lasted 40 minutes which was quite nice!

Overall a great day, except for the major face burn Shos and I have now... haha! We look like a couple of tomatoes! The flight including transportation costs only 380 kuai per person (about €35,-) which is almost for free compared to what you pay in Western countries. Where Mike works in Canada people pay 150,- Canadian dollars for a 20 minute flight and each additional 5 minutes is another 20 dollars! So we got a great day for a great price!

Now back to normal life with more preparations for the roadtrip, mailing parcels home, prepping classes and putting lotion on our faces ;-)

Tis hier fantastisch!
Ruud Laoshi

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shoshannah's Birthday

Japanese hotsprings in Anning!!!

Yesterday was Shoshannah's (and my dad's) birthday. The original plan was to go paragliding, but unfortunately the weather in Kunming has been somewhat bad lately. So no paragliding, but we did go to the hotsprings in Anning. And as usual it was great!! Doing absolutely nothing but soaking in hot water, having little fish eat your dead skin, eating birthday cake, getting a scrub and a massage and ending the day back in Kunming with pizza.

We also booked our flight back to Europe. On August 5th we'll fly from New York to Dublin with Air Lingus. From there we probably fly to Dusseldorf, but we haven't booked this last part of the trip yet. Maybe we decide that we want to spend a couple of days in Dublin or fly to Paris instead... time will tell!

Hopefully there will be a good day soon to go paragliding!!!

Groetjes uit Kunming!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chinese Dinners and Bloody Marys

Living in China involves a lot of eating and drinking... whether you like it or not!
*** I don't like it, I love it ***

The past three days we "had" to go out for big dinners every night... Let's start on Friday. Miriam is leaving Kunming after the weekend and decided to throw a goodbye-dinner. So we all gathered and went to the very best restaurant in town: Hong Dou Yuan. With very best I mean food-wise because the interior is pretty bare. No decorations except for some old movie posters on the walls. But the food... absolutely delicious! My two favorite dishes: "xiang cu niu rou ding" & "song shu yu" a.k.a spicy beefcubes & sweat-and-sour fish. The beef: 22rmb, the fish: 35rmb... I am so going to miss this amazing and incredibly cheap food...

On Saturday we were invited by one of Shoshannah's former students: Daniel. Together with two of our friends, two of his students and some relatives he took us to another (a bit fancier) restaurant on Wenlin Jie. A lot of food was ordered as well as a bottle of baijiu (the (in)famous Chinese liquor). Last time I met Daniel was at the PhD banquet last year and he found a good drinking buddy in me, so that had to be tested again...
About twenty toasts later we finished all the food and two bottles of baijiu! It was great experiencing the real Chinese style of dining again. And we found out that not all Chinese like baijiu... just check the movie and pay attention to the face of the girl in the middle ;-)

The eating and drinking on Sunday was kind of our own "fault"... We decided that it had been too long that we had a little party at our place, so we invited a bunch of people to go out for food and have drinks (Bloody Mary's) at our place afterwards. This time we went to the restaurant Shos and I really like. No idea what it is called officially, but we call it "the window place", because the vegetables and meat are displayed behind glass and you order by pointing to the food and telling them how you want it prepared (no menu available). Their best dish is an eggplant dish called "yu xiang qieze" but this one has a crust around it making it even beter than the normal one! It is so good that we had to order three of them to satisfy everyone... Shos and I go to this restaurant so often that the owners know us, come and say hello (they don't speak any English) and even give us a discount every time we go there :-) It isn't much, but small gestures like those make you feel extremely welcome at a place!

At home we made Bloody Mary's, talked, played some drinking games and simply had a good time. We also found out that Bloody Mary's aren't really the kind of cocktail you want to drink all night long... So after a while we switched to Sprite-Vodka and Gin-Tonic ;-)

In between I also went cycling with John (a really good friend of Sophie). We did the northern route, about 60km through some beautiful countryside. Although the weather wasn't great, we enjoyed it a lot and it was good practice for John who will be cycling from Turkey to Berlin in a couple of weeks...

Now on with class preparation, installing Linux on my pc, organizing pictures, reinstalling Wolfgang's computer, checking for jobs, fine-tuning our trip to Holland, downloading programs for Shos to learn some Dutch, getting lunch and so on...


Monday, May 05, 2008

Volcano Country

Tengchong in Yunnan Province

To escape the "same-same but different" feeling we were getting in Kunming we decided to go to Tengchong for a long weekend. Tengchong is known for all the volcanoes and geothermal activity. On Thursday morning we boarded the bus for an eleven hour drive to the west of Yunnan province. Thanks to a tip from a friend we knew where to stay (the International Youth Hostel of Tengchong). A brand-new place with great dorms (25rmb/person) and conveniently located at the outskirts of town. You don't really want to be in the town because it has nothing to offer...

On Friday we decided not to do a lot, but just explore the town (at that time we did not know yet that the town has little to offer...). Walking around, eating some noodles, drinking beer, reading a book, getting a massage, the stuff you do when on vacation :-) For the next day we prepared to take a cycling trip to the volcano area about 26km from the hostel. WE rented a couple of really decent mountainbikes and took off at 9.30. The road was hilly and including a breakfast stop it took us nearly 2.5 hours to get there. Paid the entrance fee (a ridiculous 40rmb each) and were allowed to go see the "Big Empty Hill" & "Black Empty Hill". And I am sorry to say it once again, but what a disappointment... It is one of those Chinese attractions: lots of flowery words that evoke great expectations but once you actually get there... See for yourself what kind of "amazing" view you have once you climbed the 596 steps to the top of "Big Empty Hill": indeed a big empty hill... (the pic on the right is the top of the volcano!!!)

But since we have visited quite a few Chinese sites we weren't having high expectations and just had a laugh about the way things are in this country :-)
Another 12km from the actual volcanoes there was something called "columnar joints" which supposedly is unique for this area. And this actually was pretty cool-looking. Due to the heat of the magma the rocks got shaped as columns and stuck together. It almost looked fake! (you can see these column things in the background of the right picture)

Luckily we did not have to cycle the same way back but could take a trip via the "Beihai Wetlands". Which is another famous attraction for this region and is also very Chinesy... a lot of blabla, but nothing very special (so we decided not to pay another 40rmb but to skip it). On the way back we stopped at the busstation and bought our sleeper tickets back to Kunming for the next evening. At around 21.00 and 80km later we got back to the hostel and were glad we made it!!!
On Sunday we walked around town, sneaked into the Waterfall Park, admired the local azaleas, got another massage and left to the busstation.
This morning we arrived in Kunming, where it is pouring at the moment, and can start the normal life again.

Bis schnell,
Der Rudi und die Shoshannah