April 07, 2007

Back to Beijing - Russian Visa in Hand

The Biggest Little City EverBEIJING, CHINA - The haze cleared to reveal what I'm certain is the worlds most amazing skyline (especially at night) around the same time that the Russians issued me a visa. For a few brief, shining hours in Shanghai, all was right in the world. After more than two months of waiting: I'd gotten what I was looking for. Within a few hours I was on another overnight train bound for Beijing.

I'll remember Shanghai has the city with the most spectacular skyline on the planet. It's astounding how quickly the city is growing. The entire skyline - the one that I neglected to take a picture of at night - has been built in the last 15 years. A super modern city has sprung up on the opposite side of the river of old Shanghai - a crumbling 1920's version of the future. It's like two worlds separated by 100m of water. I can't even imagine what this place will look like in 5 years, let alone 50. The development is happening at lightning speed.

I'm now back to the exact position I was in late January. What I've done since then is essentially a giant clock-wise loop of the Far East. My sights are firmly set now on continuing this train journey into Mongolia and Russia toward Europe.

First thing Monday morning I'll be lining up at the Mongolian Embassy. Once I have this last visa, the jigsaw will be complete. The entire Asian continent will have opened up to me. Half the world by rail. The Gobi dessert, Siberia and everything else that lies in my path.

April 02, 2007

A Slow Boat To China

Hazy DaysSHANGHAI, CHINA - The Ferry from Osaka took more than 50 hours but went without incident. Our accommodation was comfortable and clean and I was lucky enough to have a handful of other English speaking passengers. The crew put us all in the same dormitory style cabin which made the trip pass faster than my previous crossing from China to Korea. With very little English language entertainment on board, the few foreigners were a lifesaver.

It dawned on me as I stared out at the rolling waves from my cabin aboard the ferry bound for China that I was looking out at the Pacific Ocean. Either the Pacific Ocean is huge, or I haven't made much progress at all on this round-the-world voyage. After all it was October of 2005 when Brian and I first encountered the Pacific. I've been flirting with this Ocean for more than a year and a half!

In the spirit of moving on and seeing something other than the Pacific Ocean, I've started playing my usual games with the Russian Embassy. I'm banking on the rumour that the Shanghai branch is more manageable than the Beijing one.

I'll post more about Shanghai itself in a day or two. For now the haze here is obscuring my view of nearly everything including the skyline (pictured), despite me being close enough that if the buildings fell they could land on me. It's another one of the worlds biggest cities...

*I won't be posting my usual links to either the BBC or Wikipedia as both of those sites are blocked by the censors here in China. I will however continue to report the hard hitting truth from theroadislife...


February 07, 2007

Detour to South Korea

Yellow SeaBEIJING, CHINA - There are a few difficulties that I can't seem to get past:

1. I need a brand new passport in order to meet the Russian requirement that I have TWO BLANK FACING pages free.

2. I need my Birth Certificate before I can get a new passport.

3. My family won't be in a position to send the Birth Certificate until after Feb 15th. (One week from now.)

All of this means that I can't even begin to organize the appropriate visas until my passport is in order (at least 4 weeks). I'm stuck.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. I've gone and bought myself space on a bamboo mat for the 28 hour ferry crossing to South Korea. I leave tomorrow morning.

It's a better place to sort out my visa issues than Beijing, primarily because my brother lives and works there. He's promised me a place to sleep and an opportunity to work a little and a group of friends that doesn't change every three days. It sure beats staying in a Beijing hostel for the eternity that it'll take to get myself sorted.

I wanted to draw a line on the pictured map but the photo editing software on this computer is exclusively in Chinese. My route will take me from the Chinese coast to Seoul where I'll board a high speed train to Busan (in the South East of South Korea) You'll have to use your imagination.

One last thing. This computer terminal is infested with cockroaches. I'm not kidding, they run out onto the keyboard every minute or so. At 3 Yuan($0.35)/hour I can't complain though.

February 04, 2007

Great Wall, Greater Beuraucratic Nightmare

The Great WallBEIJING, CHINA - Though I may look triumphant in this photo of me at the top of the Great Wall of China, I've been anything but since arriving in Beijing.

I'm trying to gather the visas needed for the rest of my trip across Asia via the Trans-Siberian railway to Moscow. If I'm to make it to Europe without flying, this was to be the easiest, and in my mind, the most romantic way to get there.

In the last 3 days I've suffered what seems to me to be an uninterrupted string of bureaucratic defeats. The latest of which was the discovery that I need to go through the laborious process of getting a new Canadian passport issued before I can even begin the painful, and lengthy ordeal of getting the visas.

The three pages I had left in my passport should have been enough but Russia requires that I have TWO BLANK FACING PAGES despite the fact that the visa only takes one page. My spare pages are scattered throughout. I'm screwed.

The other revelation was that I got here just in time for a new rule to take effect that forbids the Russian embassy in Beijing from issuing tourist visas to non-residents of China. The best I can do is a 10-day transit visa.

There are other difficulties and hoops, but most of them should be navigable. All it comes down to is time and money. I'll be lucky to get out of Beijing within a month.

It's a big city and there's lots to see, but I'm not at all excited about being stuck here in the dead of winter for a month or more. I want nothing more than to keep moving. It's almost long enough to get an apartment and a job. booo hiss.