Sunday, June 8, 2008

Nevis, you've just been Punk'd!

As the blog can doubtlessly remind you, Lott and I have each bungy-jumped from the 'Nevis High Jump' in Queenstown, New Zealand in the last couple of months. It was far from the first bungy jump I'd done, but I have to admit that coming to the edge in that little contraption suspended a rather precarious 134m above a canyon floor (a most uncomfortable and uninviting canyon floor) was a bit unnerving... But I jumped, lived to tell about it, and even watched videos of myself doing it, so where do we go from here? Well, the helpful people at Nevis happily point out that there are only two bungy towers currently in operation that let you drop further: one in South Africa is about 215m tall, and the tallest one in the world is the 233m drop at Macau Tower. Low and behold, after traversing Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam I found myself in the South of China... And after about 18 hours on board relatively comfortable Chinese buses, I'd arrvied in Macau (interesting things about that 18 hours: I did not see a single other white person during that time. I met exactly two people who spoke any English, who were both very helpful - unfortunately neither one was working at any of the three bus stations I had to negotiate or at the two street-side restaurants where I learned how to order noodle soup through jestures only. When you are the only white person the customs guys see all day at the China/Vietnam border, they search your bags very thoroughly... I think they were disappointed that my books were all travel guides - not a single anti-communist, Free-Tibet propaganda pamphlet to be found...).

I didn't actually have a China Lonely Planet at the time, so for all I knew the only things to do in Macau were gambling and bungy jumping... Being unemployed has been discouraging the gambling tendencies in me, so bungy was the only other alternative. NZ charged about $170USD for 134m, here you get away with a little less than $100 for a whopping 233m - how could I say no to that price to height ratio! And let me tell you, 134 meters may have been unnervingly high, but 233 meters is a hell of a lot higher. The jump off was quick enough, but then you fall, and keep on falling, and then fall some more... for a really long time. It was quite exhlirating, really, but it sure is one hell of a long way to go down. Once you quit bouncing up and down, they lower you down to the very bottom, at which point you have to go all the way back up to the top of the tower to collect your belongings. The Chinese (I think) tourists in the elevator on the way up recognized me as having just jumped and chatted very excitedly - I'm pretty sure I managed to impress the little old ladies by not dying...

That's the big tower... that you can pay to jump off of. Head first!

Christie, a student from Toronto traveling in China for a few weeks, had jumped the Nevis before as well, but appearted a bit concerned about dropping 233 meters here. Jumped off without a hitch though... well, screaming 'Holy Fuuuu-uuuck!' anyway...

hello upside-down world!

I talked the bungy operators into letting me jump with my camera btw. This way I can share what the tower looks like as you're bouncing up and down at the bottom.

Since Macau, I've now gone back to California for a week long vacation from my vacation, then hopped back onto an airplane (word of advice: do not take American Airlines for your next cross-Pacific flight!) to see Shanghai, where I met Tommy, Henry, and Amilia of Mongol Rally 2006 fame, as well as Lynn, of Microsoft fame. Shanghai is a big, modern city, filled with sky scrapers reaching for the skies (and with one awfully ugly TV tower). The city itself seems fun, vibrant, and filled with all kinds of people from every corner of the world. I liked it enough to be willing to add it to the list of cities I've seen on the trip so far where I'd be willing to live (it's a short list actually - Melbourne is the only other definite entry. I'm still debating Auckland.), but the hazy mist of pollution hanging over the city most of the time is making me reconsider.

The Shanghai Museum, flanked my spiraling towers in the background

There's that design marvel - The Pearl Tower of the Orient. I hear the locals are actually quite proud of it - for some reason...

dusk gathers over the Pudong district on the far side of the river

it's not just shiny glass and aluminum sky scrapers in Shanghai. If you look real hard, you can also stumble across the Old Town neighborhood, which looks a little more like what I expect China to be like!

From Shanghai, it's been an overnight train to Beijing, where I'll spend four days before hopping on an even longer train and riding into Siberia, starting with Irkutsk right on the shores of majestic Lake Baikal. The air in Beijing, I've discovered, makes Shanghai's look absolutely pristine... They're planning to shut down all the factories around town in time for the Olympics so as to make the pollution seem slightly less horrible than it really is - I'm not convinced it'll make all that much of a difference.

The forecast said clear and sunny for Beijing today... Granted, you can't trust the forecast - it actually rained in the morning a bit, so some of it is actual clouds, but a lot of it just the Beijing haze...

Down below, in that myst, is Beijing's famous landmark: The Forbidden City

The Chinese - they're so helpful! I say Safety Third... Then again, they probably had Theo in mind when they made this sign...

Breaking news/late update: well, I actually wrote this last night, but am only getting around to posting tonight. In the intervening 24 hours, I've hiked 10km along the Great Wall:

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