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Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Archives for November 2014

ChengDu East Music Park

Travel the World

Travel the World

So you want to travel the world, but you don’t know how? You came to the right place. My blog focuses much on my life and my adventures as I wander around the world, but I want to give back to those out there that need a push to change their lifestyles, but don’t know how.

It’s quite simple actually. Set a goal on a piece of paper and abide by it. You might hate your job, maybe you’re tired of going out each weekend and splurging your money on alcohol, fancy meals and impressing people you don’t care about. Maybe you’re just bored being around the same people. Everything starts with writing down a plan and executing it. I know it sounds stupid, but if you write steps and work towards it, you will eventually change your lifestyle. People are creatures of habit. It takes a while to break habits, so it’s going to take a while to change your lifestyle.

For me, I am spontaneous, but I always have multiple plans for when the worst happens to me. So how did I change my lifestyle from a career-oriented Geotechnical Engineer to a vagabond who chooses to travel the world? I wrote down a list of steps I wanted to complete before jumping into the lifestyle change.

I never enjoyed materialistic gadgets as much as my peers and I did not want materials holding me back from my travels. So to avoid any of the stresses that came along with worrying about my material possessions I sold everything I owned, but the necessities I needed for survival.

What does this mean? It means I sold my car, furniture, and almost everything other than camping gear, a smart phone, laptop and GoPro. Although these aren’t all necessities, when living on the road to travel the world, one must entertain themselves after long days of exploring, backpacking and adventuring. Sometimes a nice relaxing movie comes in handy, maybe writing a blog entry to ease the mind or editing video footage from the GoPro to show friends and family of your travels. The list goes on, but if you want to travel, it’s best to cut ties from your material possessions.

For me I use Goodwill to “rent” clothes. Clothes add weight to your pack. You should only pack the essentials when backpacking and keep your pack to about 30 pounds. I have condensed a list below of the essential items to pack for backpacking while you travel the world and live on the road.

Travel the World by Backpacking


-35 Liter GoLite JAM Backpack
-Clothing: (2) Underwear, (3) Pairs of Smart Wool Socks, (1) Waterproof Ski Pants, (1) Tight Thermals, (1) Base Layer, (1) T-Shirt and (1) Long Sleeve Under Armour Layer, (1) Waterproof Gloves
-GoPro
-Mini Laptop
-Mini Pot
-Flint and Steel
-100′ Paracord
-Dry Bag
-Water Cover for 35 Liter Backpack
-Tarp
-Bivy Sack
-Synthetic Lightweight 35 Degree Sleeping Bag
-2 Liter Water Jug
-Knife
-Plastic Fork and Knife
-Peanut Butter/ Sardines

This video on my YouTube channel goes over what I packed for my recent trip to ChengDu, China. The only other item I want to add to my setup is a jungle hammock:

Travel the World by Bicycle Tour

Bicycle Touring Gear List for Travelers

Guide to Living on the Road out of a Backpack

All of this should fit in your pack. You should carry the water with you since that is the most important necessity you’ll need on the road other than food and you want easy access to it to prevent dehydration. Especially when you are in different countries since you won’t always be around accessible water sources like in the USA.

So now that you have sold all of your possessions, bought the essentials and got your backpack in order what do you do next? Well that’s part of the adventure. For me, I did a bicycle tour from DE to CO. I always wanted to travel across the country by bicycle in college so I bought the TransAmerica Trail maps, got panniers and a rear rack installed on my bicycle and set out for a two-month trip that changed my life.

You can do anything you want though! You sold all of your possessions, and have a stash of cash handy now in case your plans don’t go as expected. In my mind, I don’t like to have expectations so I just go with the flow. If you have a picture painted in your mind and it doesn’t turn out the way you expected than any trip you take will always be a failure because nothing ever goes as planned. It’s best to learn on the go from my experience. Research a bit beforehand, but don’t be afraid to do something because of a language barrier or being unfamiliar with the area. Don’t plan every little detail of your trip from a guide and use resources like Lonely Planet’s travel guides as guidelines for your adventure. Never base your whole trip off of them. They’ll take you to all the tourist attractions where food is more expensive, people try to rip you off and you won’t experience the culture nearly as much as if you just took the path less traveled.

So how can you cut down on transportation costs? Taxi’s, metro, and buses begin to add up even if they are cheap and you’re splitting the costs with other travelers. The best way to get around is hitchhiking if you have a really tight budget. Draw pictures, buy picture books specific to the area you’re traveling in or find a native speaker to write your destination on paper to hand to driver’s. Be creative and you’ll not only meet great people, but travel the world at the same time on the cheap. Use sites like Hitch Wiki to see how easy it is to hitchhike in a given country. Use the resources on this site to figure out how to spell your travel destinations in the native language of that particular country. Hitch Wiki also has two mobile applications that you can download for your smart phone, which you can grab on the Google Playstore.

Another great site to check out and read before you set out on your adventures is StP – Squat the Planet. They have great information on hitchhiking, freight train hopping, backpacking, etc. If you haven’t checked them out sign up at Squat the Planet. You will see me posting there a lot under the alias JungleGreenCleeds. I love StP. It’s a great environment for any kind of traveler. Whether you busk, panhandle, leather tramp, bicycle tour, sailboat around the world, canoe, hitchhike, train hop, vagabond, they don’t care and accept you no matter what. It’s a great place to learn about traveling, the hardships of living on the road and the inspirational stories of the lives of fellow travelers. The places they’ve traveled, and lived and the stories that came along with it. StP gave me the final push to change my lifestyle after much reading back in 2013.

For me, before I set out on my bicycle tour, I saved up much money over the three years of working as both an accountant and engineer. So for you, I would suggest do the same. Whatever your career or job, just save your money. If you know you want to travel, but don’t have the funds, then start saving your money little by little. Don’t spend your money lavishly. Live a frivolous lifestyle and be a minimalist. In order to travel the world you must make sacrifices. Don’t spend all your money at the bar on the weekend. Don’t buy a new big screen television, game system, or other materials for your bachelor pad. Try to put the money you’d normally spend each month on these items into a savings account. When you reach your goal for your budget try to save a little more in case of an emergency. It’s always a great idea to prepare for the worst.

Start looking for cheap flights to places you want to travel and book a ticket at least two to three months in advance. Look for deals going on with international airlines and if you travel abroad look for deals with Air Asia or other airlines. Normally, if you stick with the same airline while traveling abroad you get better deals on tickets.

Once you saved up enough money to travel and booked a ticket to your dream country what should you do? I would try to avoid the tourist attractions. This is where countries sucker in the tourists and raise the prices of food and gifts to get more money than you will want to spend. Some attractions are worth seeing, but research a bit in advance for a few places you definitely want to visit. See if there are entrance fees or if it is free to walk around inside these attractions. If they are free then check them out and learn about the culture and history. Just buy food after visiting the tourist attractions or bring food with you. You will save much money by buying foods from the grocery store, but sometimes this isn’t always plausible and you can still get cheap food from vendors on the streets.

Now that you’re backpacking and traveling how can you find work to extend your travels? Well, this is always a tough predicament that I met on many of my travels. If you are traveling in the USA and you are a citizen it is relatively easy to find any kind of work if you have a college degree. If you live minimally you don’t need to make much money to save money. Eat a lot of foods from the grocery store; limit going out to the bar; post an ad on Craigslist to rent someone’s couch month to month for cheap; work overtime when you can; work seasonal jobs.

For me I lived in Colorado at the end of my bicycle tour and worked as a ski technician. The pay sucked, but I got a lot of overtime, lived in cheap housing with three other guys and skied over 60 days that winter for free. If you travel at times when the economy needs workers then you will always find work. Alaska is always hiring people to work in their canneries. Any state with mountains is always hiring around October or November for the upcoming ski and snowboard season. Drop Zones are always looking for parachute packers and will teach you how to pack if you are willing to live on-site.

All of these opportunities are yours if you’re willing to do any type of work to fund your travels. I worked at a drop zone last summer and got to skydive while I saved up a lot of money for my recent trip to ChengDu, China. The list of possibilities is endless. Seasonal jobs are always available to travelers and so are bar and restaurant jobs.

If you want to use your degree and travel abroad you can always teach English to non-native speakers. I know in ChengDu it is relatively easy to get a teaching job. I walked down to Meten and Hampson Learning Centers and they pretty much begged me to work for them. Full time work for teaching is about 20 hours a week. Normally they have year-long contracts and you work every week. It gives you time to travel around and explore the city you live in, but it does not give you much room to travel outside of the area you are living. This is why I have not accepted any English teaching positions. I budgeted my money to travel ChengDu and Thailand and I don’t want a teaching job to interfere with my travels since that is why I am here. You might want this though. A lot of teaching jobs pay better overseas and you get to experience a new culture and explore a new country.

Check out Dave’s ESL Cafe to learn more about teaching English in foreign countries like Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, China, etc. If you are interested in finding work in ChengDu, China, you can check out Go ChengDoo for job postings. Most of them are looking for a bachelor’s degree and prior experience teaching English to ESL students, but you can always supplement this with online certifications such as, TESOL, TEFL, ESL, ELL, EFL, etc. The courses are fairly cheap and show you how to teach ESL students who don’t know your language. I’d recommend them and wish I took one before I went abroad as it would have helped me get a part time job.

People have asked me is it better to get a tourist visa and switch over to a work visa once you’re in the country or get a work visa before leaving the states? It depends on your goals. For me I got a tourist visa to travel to China. I wanted to teach English in the back of my mind, but my main driving force for being here is to travel the world. Getting a work visa is harder unless you already have an agency interested in you working for them. So because I did not have an agency interested in me I applied for a tourist visa. I figured once I was here I could get the agency to cover the costs of changing me over to a work visa. The problem is most of the agency’s will only pay to transfer your visa from tourist to work if you work full-time and for at least a year contract, which is not what I wanted. Keep this in mind. However, you can find part-time work if you are willing to pay to change your visa from tourist to work. It’s all a matter of what you are willing to do.

I would rather work my ass off for five months packing parachutes at a drop zone, which pays for my living expenses and then travel the rest of the year, then work the year and be confined to one city in one country. The only expense I must pay are my student loans and food bill each month. You can also work abroad and teach English and save enough money over the year to backpack for a few months. It all depends on what you want as a person. What your goals are and what you are willing to do to travel the world? I cannot figure this out for you. You must figure it out for yourself, but that is part of the adventure, so don’t be afraid of what lies ahead, embrace it! I hope this post helped you all out with your future endeavors and you too will travel the world one day like I am doing now.

Lan Kwai Fong

Lan Kwai Fong

Lan Kwai Fong

For the first time since arriving in China I rode on a bicycle to Lan Kwai Fong. I followed behind Chris, on his scooter, and weaved in and out of traffic. Motorbikes, scooters and bicycles come from all directions so I kept my head on a 360 degree swivel to avoid crashing into anyone. My adrenaline pumped as I pedaled faster to keep up with Chris. Despite all the traffic we arrived in Lan Kwai Fong after a half hour of travel.

We walked around a bit trying to find Sarah. Stores played girly American music from their surround sound speakers. The buildings shined with their LEDs illuminating the night sky with rainbow colors. The urbanized location birthed many restaurants and cafes along with night clubs and bars.

Lan Kwai Fong

Lan Kwai Fong

We met up with Sarah outside of “The Club” and she invited us to “Ya Kun Coffee & Toast.” We ate with the owners of the restaurant for free. They made this scrumptious toast with coconut oil and butter spread between two pieces of toasted bread. I ate from their specialty menu and ordered the curry chicken (Normally 38 RMB). Hands down this meal changed my view on the food in China. Not only did it fill my stomach, but the chicken, rice and broth spices watered my mouth with each bite. I devoured every last morsel of rice and drank every last drop of the curry broth.

This little cafe made me feel comfortable and cozy and the food tasted spectacular, all for a cheap price. We sat around and chatted for about an hour until meeting up with Billa to go to the Thanksgiving Party.

Lan Kwai Fong

Lan Kwai Fong

By this time the night sky loomed over us and the street lights shined our path. Sarah and I followed Chris and Billa as they scooted along to the party. We stopped at the local market to pick up some beer and asked a few people for directions to the apartment. After a few kilometers we made it to our destination and parked our bicycles and scooters in the parking garage of the building. The doorman escorted us into the building and we took the elevator to their floor. Unsure of what door to knock on, we took a chance with the only door decorated in gold party streamers.

After a few knocks, Joey and Devon answered the door and the fiesta began once we put all the beer into the fridge and freezer. Since we just ate not too long ago I didn’t have the luxury of enjoying much of the Thanksgiving foods. However, I did indulge in many beers and a few glasses of spicy wine. People from all over the world mingled in this tiny apartment. Americans, Germans, Swiss, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and other cultures celebrated Thanksgiving. An artificial Christmas tree covered in bright lights and ornaments decorated the room a month before Christmas. I felt at home because my mother always puts the tree up before Thanksgiving.

Abandoned ChengDu

Abandoned ChengDu

I joined Jelte, Chris and Sarah today for a round of go-karts. The price we read online greatly differed from the price he quoted upon arrival. They charged by the lap. Sarah haggled down to 8 RMB per lap, which almost halved the price of 15 RMB per lap. I decided to watch as I didn’t want to spend that kind of money for go-karts. I’m saving the $1,457 USD I have left for Thailand since $1,200 USD of my budget is going towards my flight home, so I don’t want to go over my budget of $4,000 USD.

Abandoned ChengDu

Abandoned ChengDu – Inside of an abandoned burnt down building. Graffiti on the front said, “DO NOT ENTER” in Chinese.

I already spent $860 USD not including the $483 USD on my visa and plane ticket. Also keep in mind I still have much cash in my wallet that I have yet to spend and I did buy a laptop for about $200 USD, which put me under a bit. I needed a new laptop for writing and video editing so it was worth it. My old laptop is almost 8 years old and on it’s last life.

Anyway, they ended up doing 16 laps, which flew by quickly and since we already ventured out this way we decided to explore the area. We walked back down the path we came for the go-karts and noticed an abandoned building. In Chinese it said, “Do Not Enter,” but no one around really cares what you do as long as it’s not a violent crime.

Abandoned ChengDu Bar

Chinese graffiti on the walls of the abandoned ChengDu bar we explored.

We ended up walking through the building, which looked like it burnt down from all the charcoal covered walls and ceilings covered in black dust. In and out of the only room in a few seconds we decided to explore out back. As I turned the corner I nearly stepped in a pile of human shit. People just shit wherever in this country. It’s like a never ending camping trip. I’m always cautious when entering new areas now since I don’t want to step in feces. I braced myself, held my nose and continued walking into the back empty lot.

Abandoned ChengDu Bar

The filthy pool outside of the abandoned ChengDu bar. Somehow fish live in here?

People played badminton next to the abandoned ChengDu bar and an old Chinese man fished in what used to be a pool. Now just a contaminated algae tank with tires and other trash floating around. How fish got there I have no idea? The contamination made me question what lived in the dark green pond? Fish with three heads and multiple fins most likely. Anyway, my eyes locked onto the ChengDu abandoned bar. The building flaked from decay. The old, faded, red roof looked singed from the outside. As I walked inside Chinese graffiti defaced the one wall. I don’t know what it said, but I noticed graffiti in China consists of just the Chinese characters. They don’t really add 3 dimensional effects and it’s pretty legible. It defeats the purpose of graffiti in my opinion.

Abandoned ChengDu Bar

Jelte standing between two burnt timber columns.

I tiptoed through the entrance and entered a circular area with multiple timber columns supporting the rooftop. The center of the building looked like a doughnut. From the second floor I looked through the middle of the concrete down to the 1st level. I wonder if the kitchen sat there for all the customers to see? I walked in a circle looking at all the burnt columns and ceiling and noticed an intricate design through the center leading towards the rooftop. The concrete spread from the center like a flower, with openings shedding light from the rooftop, between each petal of concrete. I walked into the adjacent rooms to find shit overflowing from the broken toilets.

We walked out of the abandoned ChengDu bar and headed around the side lot. We found old man-made concrete mountains with entrances inside. I poked my head in to find a rectangular pool of murky water and abandoned paddle boats in the shape of duckies and other animals.

Abandoned ChengDu Bar

Lookup! The ceiling looks so trippy!

My guess is at one point this place attracted a lot of customers. Between the bar, outdoor pool and paddle boats, the variety shows interest and a strong business model. However, they probably never recovered from the fire that burnt her down due to lack of insurance.

It’s a shame all of this sits vacant to rot and decay and yes, I found a shack next to one of the buildings that looks like someone is living out of it. We continued on down the road until spotting a hotel designed like a crew ship. With nothing to do we ventured inside and took the elevator to the top floor to look at the view over the man-made lake. Looking out into the distance Chris spotted out the abandoned rooftop we trekked up to the one night out in town.

Abandoned ChengDu Boat Hotel

A boat hotel in ChengDu. The Shu Shu’s fish in the man-made lake.

I want to go back there one night and climb a crane.

We stayed on the hotel rooftop for a few minutes and then continued onward following the path around the rest of the park. Jelte stopped to play one of the carnival games. He shot balloons with a toy rifle and Sarah stopped the Ding Dong guy to get some candy. I walked around, my head on a swivel, taking in the culture around me. Everyone in China plays Mahjong, or the Landlord and drinks tea. This is an apparent theme in any part of China. It is so culturally different here it’s not even comparable to the USA, but at the same time, the carnivals and rides are the same in both countries.

The main difference that sticks out is when buildings become vacant in China they just sit and rot away. There is not security hired to keep you out. You might be walking down a path in a park and see an abandoned basement to the side of the path. Nothing is closed off and it’s dangerous. However, the abandoned buildings still exist all throughout town and unlike America, security is not paid to keep people out from vandalism, squatting or exploring. They just don’t care.

Abandoned ChengDu Playground

Abandoned ChengDu Playground

Mahjong

Majang

I spent the whole day confined to a very small room learning the rules and strategy behind a Chinese game called Majang. I lost about 60 RMB in the process of learning since technically it’s gambling. Each game has a winner and a runner up. It’s kind of like rummy, but the difference being you must match your pieces in a row, a group of three and end with a pair. Each player picks 13 pieces, picks up and discards a piece each hand. There are three suits you can choose from bamboo, circles or the regular Chinese characters for numbers from 1 to 9. Each suit goes from 1 to 9 and the objective is to be the first person to get all of there pieces in groups of three and a pair or all pairs to win the game. So once you figure out, which suit you have the least of, you want to discard it. So if I decide I’m going to stick with Circles and Bamboo pieces, then I must discard any Chinese Character number piece and use strategy from the pieces discarded to figure out how to group and pair my pieces to win first. It’s pretty simple, but complicated to get well at and win.

Wuhou Shrine

Wuhou Shrine

So I tagged along again with Chris and Sarah and visited Wuhou Shrine. I learned about Liu Bei, who was a Chinese warlord in the Han Dynasty. He founded the state of Shu Han in the three kingdoms becoming their first ruler. He was a bad ass in all aspects of life and a fairly stout and muscular man, no homo intended.

Liu Bei

Liu Bei statue inside the Wuhou Shrine

Zhang Fei Statue

A Zhang Fei statue inside the Wuhou Shrine.

Guan Yu Statue

An old Guan Yu statue in the Wuhou Shrine.

We checked out the shrine briefly, which dedicated much prestige to Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei during that time period. All friends, they made an oath to the peach garden that despite being from different families they always felt like blood brothers until the end. After sacrifices the three united in the garden as a brotherhood. The Chinese dedicated much of the shrine to these three renowned warriors and briefly summarized the lives of their descendants.

Wuhou Shrine

Burning candles at the Wuhou Shrine in Xian, China.

The entrance fee for Wuhou Shrine is 60 RMB, but if you have a student ID on you with an expiration date then you get in for half price. My ID did not have an expiration date so I needed to pay the full amount. They overpriced all the food inside so I held out to eat afterwards. I’d recommend visiting Wuhou Shrine. The temple covers much history on Liu Bei and the other warriors of the three kingdoms. We only briefly checked out the area and missed much of the guided tour since we booked tickets for Interstellar in IMAX at the Global Center.

Wuhou Shrine

He who gives money receives good luck!

The inside, like all of the other shrines and monastery’s, looked absolutely beautiful. Old trees, bushes, flowers and shrubs covered the inside of the shrine like wildfire. Bright reds, and yellows contrasted the greens as the autumn leaves began to fall before us. I enjoyed the intricate statues of dragons, horses and other mythical creatures spaced between the concrete ledges overlooking the shrine walls.

Wuhou Shrine

Walking through Wuhou Shrine looking at the leaves of the trees change.

Statue

An intricate statue of a dragon creature at the Wuhou Shrine.

Wuhou Shrine

A stone with Chinese lettering engraved all over it.

The hardest part of the whole day involved getting a taxi outside of Wuhou Shrine. It took us at least 20 minutes to pull down a cab. We ended up taking a cab from Wuhou Shrine to the Global Center to make it in time for the movie at 7:20 PM. The taxi ride took about a half hour and cost 33 RMB, which we split between 4 people for a cheap price.

Global Center

The Global Center at night after watching the movie Interstellar.

Global Center

Inside of the global center. This TV screen is 1000 square meters.

We watched the movie on a big screen similar to the movie theaters in America. The English audio made it feel like I sat and ate popcorn in America. The only difference being the Chinese subtitles. The movie itself took a while to grasp the plot and in my opinion the director drug the movie on too long. It should have ended much sooner, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet. You’ll understand what I’m talking about when you see it.

Global Center

Global Center – The World’s Biggest Building!

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