26 September, 2007

No.19: Melbourne

20th Jan - 20th Feb 2006
On the night of 28th October 2005, I was tossing and turning, battling hard to sleep when I had a sudden brainstorm. The more I thought about it, the crazier it seemed and the impossibilities came flooding in at the same time. However, I remember having a very strong conviction then. I slept brushing it off as a mere thought that would be forgotten the next morning when I wake up.
But I soon found that the idea was far from being forgotten. I wrestled with it, but somehow couldn't make it go away. Two days later, I shared this idea with my mentor, who very wisely advised me not to give up without taking positive steps first. And if it's not meant to be, then my attempts will not come through. Fair enough for me.

This crazy idea was to go to Australia. Crazy....because Australia had never been in my travel list, perhaps owing to its long and arduous process to obtain visa. The thought of going there had just not occurred until that fateful night. Anyways, I decided to take necessary steps in order to ease my mind. I thought that if I tried and the visa didn't come through...that's it. If it does...then its God's will!

So I started taking initiatives. I went through processes like acquiring necessary documents, sending the documents to Shanghai, giving phone interview twice with the Australian Ambassador in Shanghai and not to forget the constant help and valuable advice from B.Vanlalvawna, the then Vice-Consulate General of India in Shanghai. To my great joy, I was told that I was approved my visa to travel to Australia...yay! Now I was fully set to take a break from the freezing cold in Xi'an to spend my winter holidays for a month in Australia where it's sunny and warm. Woohoooo!

I was very excited but at the same time had various concerns as I was to travel alone. Given a choice, I'd always prefer to have a travel companion. My experience when coming to China on my own was already a bit stressful. But things went quite smoothly this time, probably because I was able to communicate in English and could read the signs :), unlike the first time I came out to China where I felt quite at loss as I couldn't understand any of the announcements made and my inability to read Chinese characters. I felt further blessed as I was able to get a very good deal on my round-trip flight ticket.

After spending 10 wonderful and memorable days in Shanghai, I finally left for Australia from Shanghai on the 19th January 2006 at 8:40 pm (CST). The flight took 10 long hours and we landed in Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne the next morning at 7:15am (CST).My first impression of the airport terminal was....uuummmm...it's not that different from Indira Gandhi International Airport!

My flight was delayed and E, who came to pick me up waited more than an hour for me. As she drove me from the airport towards the city, the first thing I noticed as always whenever I travel was...the blue 'pollution-free' sky and white clouds. Can't exactly figure out why...but I was hit with this feeling of familiarity when I watched the landscape as we passed by. Weird...I found it somewhat very similar to Shillong in India. Yet, it's thousands of miles apart!

I seem to take in everything with the curiosity of a child and a series of questions shot at E, who graciously and patiently replied to my unending queries. Many thanks to you E :) Another surprise for me was the residential area (suburb). I expected to see Melbourne full of high rise buildings and skyscrapers...more like New York City I guess :P. This proves to be quite a contrast from my previous mental picture of Melbourne. Most people live in houses and I reckon this to be the reason why I was so much reminded of Shillong *-*

I had just landed and had a month to find out all about the people and culture. As we headed for B's house where I was to stay for a few days, I thought to myself, 'finally... it's now time to enjoy and learn all I can about Australia'.

22 September, 2007

No.18: Nocturnal Encounter

Three days back, I went out and left one of my windows wide open (with the movable net that prevent insects from entering). In my absence, a baby bat entered my apartment. When I came back in the evening, I put on the light and was most surprised to find a bat flying around in my study room. I continued to keep the window open hoping that the bat would eventually find its way out. After a while, I stopped hearing its wings beating and had no idea where it was. I searched for it but couldn’t find it.

Since I didn’t see it again the following day and the next, I had totally forgotten about it. Today, as I was cleaning my apartment, I was very surprised to find it hanging in my bathroom window net! I reckoned it must be totally exhausted and dehydrated. It was still breathing and as an animal lover; it was my full intention to nurture it back to health. But the problem is that I have no idea whatsoever about bats! I have had dogs, cats and a monkey as pets before, but bats!It was most unusual and challenging.

I quickly googled on bats diet and how to feed it. I found that majority of the bats eat insects and fruits and that we can feed a very young bat with cow or goat milk. First, I went in search of small insects...the equivalent of a mosquito in size around my apartment. I doubted though if I'd find one during the daytime but I searched for it anyway....and as expected....no such luck!

I attempted the second alternative....milk. Since I have no paintbrush, I used a swab of cotton to feed the baby bat. At first, it licked the milk off the cotton and I was most relieved. It then started to suckle and I could see its weary eyes brightening gradually. I repeated the feeding after every hour as suggested in the website and I was amazed at how fast it regained its strength. It flew around once more and I have a feeling it was frightened. Once I caught hold of it again, I was convinced that it felt much better and can find its way back (hopefully)home. I freed it from my window (but not before I took these pictures *_*) and watched it disappear into the darkness of the night.

14 September, 2007

No.17: Guizhou - Duyun

14th-24th July 2007
After touring the different places of interest in Anshun, we finally headed for Duyun where my friend was posted to enroll new students during the summer holidays. After being informed that it is a fairly small city compared to other cities with the population of uumm...4.6 million people :) (mind you...it's considered as a 'small' city), I looked forward to go to Duyun just to spend several days relaxing and exposing myself to its culture and environment.

Prior to my going, my friend had arranged for a hotel by the side of a river that has a good view. It was surprisingly cheap (22RMB = about Rs.130 per night) and has fairly good facility complete with a television set. The food however is quite expensive in Duyun and wasn't to my liking. I ended up liking the 'cold noodle' that has reasonable price, tastes good and served my purpose conveniently with the weather being hotter than expected.

The people in Duyun are down-to-earth and easy-going. There are several bars and discothèque near my hotel and I really enjoyed the nightlife that goes on round the clock. At around 7pm, many food stalls would be set up along the riverside and hundreds of stalls that sells clothes, books, cosmetics and goods of all kinds could be found in the city along the pavements. Goods sold there were cheap too. I spent ten days in Duyun and I basically spent the days in the hotel, as it was quite hot during the daytime. Then my friend and I would take a walk in the evening, have our supper then would go on a shopping spree. Aaaaah! That sure was life...splendid way of having a true holiday :)

I guess majority of the locals can swim. Other than the river, there is a huge swimming pool and other recreation island-like built in the middle of the river. To get to this place, we had to walk across a ropeway. Besides swimming pool, there were a few basketball grounds, several pool tables and restaurants there. I got to like Duyun more the longer I stayed.

It was also in Duyun that I was introduced to a new kind of sport (Or at least new to me). Every morning and evening, the local people would swim in the river. I could see them enjoying and cooling themselves from my hotel window. It's a pity that I can't swim. Some middle-aged locals would perform, what I call it a 'bamboo pole riding/acrobat' :} (I don't even know the name of this sport. Check out my pictures).

A long bamboo pole is kept afloat on the water, and a man/woman would stand on the pole holding a smaller bamboo to maintain the balance. They would then row themselves along the river using the small bamboo. I was very impressed with their ability to maintain the difficult feat of balance and coordination. For some, it's not easy either. They would go...plomp...into the water. They would then climb back again...and plomp...into the water over and over again. However, some of them were very skilled. The fact that most of these performers were middle-aged makes it more fascinating. Try as I may, I just can’t imagine myself trying out this difficult feat...let alone in taking simple exercise *_*

04 September, 2007

No.16: Guizhou - Zhilin Cave

Zhilin Cave
13th July 2007
Day two in Anshun was spent about four hours trekking (unintentionally) and touring the Zhilin Cave. We took a local mini-bus which took us about an hour to reach the main gate. I was particularly thrilled with the bus ride which took us through beautiful landscape and villages. The passengers range from tourists to a woman from one of the many minority groups in China. This woman is attired in a traditional dress with a very interesting head band.

It was only after sometime we got down from the bus that I found that my camera case with the spare battery in it was missing! I could do without the case, but not without the spare battery. The one in my camera was already half used and I was counting on the spare battery. Sheeeesh! On an act of impulse, I wanted to immediately pursue the bus. But then the gate-keepers assured me saying that the bus would return soon. Even if the bus did come back, my major fear was that the passengers from the other end would find and keep the case.

I had no choice but to wait. Well...I never liked waiting. In that case, I could definitely say my patience was tried to the extreme limit! Finally, the bus came back and the gatekeepers flagged it down and quickly explained the situation to the driver. I rushed in...and to my greatest relief...my camera case was still lying on the floor, which I must have dropped in my frenzy when taking pictures of the villages on our way. What a close call! Phew!

It was a fairly hot day and the tour started with the not so pleasant incident. To make things worse, after two hours trekking up and down mountains and narrow path, we got suspicious as to why we were the only people going in that direction. After enquiring with the very few people coming from the opposite direction we found out that we had entered from the back gate! We weren’t prepared for such a long walk. We were further told that we were still very far away from our destination! Grrrrrrrrr...My legs were aching and I was sweating profusely by then. But there was no stopping...even if we turned back the way we came...no...no...two hours to retrace our steps...no way! What a dilemma we were in!

The plus point of our exhausting trekking was that we got to see beautiful sceneries at various intervals. After about two more hours of further trekking, we finally reached Zhijin Cave. That too accidentally...!!

Lemme explain...There was this huge cave on the way with steps going down to the bottom. I was too tired to even attempt and go down. I sat down at the entrance waiting for my friend who was still energetic enough to investigate it. After a while, she called out to me telling me how beautiful it was and asked me to join her. I thought, ’I’m never coming back here, so why don’t I just ignore my tiredness for today and be adventurous’. My joining her turned out to be very favorable for both of us. As we wandered further into the cave, both fascinated by the walkway kept floating on top of the river, we ended up in this enormous dark cave illuminated with beautiful colored lights.

There were boats that would take visitors around the different caves through narrow passageways. We boarded one and felt as if floating in a magical place. The caves are spacious and room after room, often reaching from floor to the ceiling, was stalactites and stalagmites. The karst precipitation of calcium deposits, formed into spectacular spirals and shapes, are definitely a rare and fantastic sight.

As we went from cave to cave I found that all the different caves hold unique beauty. One of the tourists, probably fascinated by the cave began singing in his rather loud baritone voice which echoed throughout the caves. At the end of his song, he received warm applause from the rest of the tourists from several other boats.

As we rowed out of the cave on the other end, we were suddenly hit by the bright sunlight and heat, a stark contrast to the cool and dark but beautiful sight just a minute ago. We then headed back to Anshun tired and yet contented at having seen one of the most spectacular caves I've ever come across.