Traveling to Southern China

Cara, Niki, Tim and I have already spent over three days time on trains from here to there and everywhere. It’s a mode of transportation and a keen insight into true Chinese lifestyles. Lots of spitting on the floor goes on. Our first night train brought us to Pingyau, a stop along the way to Xian. Pingyau is a quaint city completely surrounded by an intact 6 km wall – one of the last remaining in China. Strolling through the narrow streets offered a rare glimpse into how towns were planned during imperial times. Cara and I got lost of course and spent two hours in the crossing streets and alleys. We don’t really have a sense of direction! Xian was next on the map. Twelve of us boarded the 19-hour train from Pingyau to Xian station. We flew through Xian stopping only long enough only to view the famous Terracotta Warriors.

In 1974, local farmers unearthed these amazing pottery statues that were buried some 2,200 years ago. An estimated 8,000 life size warriors and war horses have since been found in three underground pits near Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum. They served as protection and guardians to the entrance of the Emperor’s burial site – quite impressive I might add. We took a tour with a very unhappy Chinese guide who provide no actual information at all. We figured her kitty cat had died that morning to cause her gloomy mood. It wasn’t the fact that she had to cart around eight overly excited Westerners was it? 

Some local cuisine

I love rice. I think I would starve here if I didn’t have my fill of mi fou on a daily basis. I simply can’t stomach the various dishes such as pig’s liver, horse brain, chicken heart, and chewy muscle, bone and other body fragments that happen to grace bowl after bowl of soup or stir fry. Cara and I are very adventurous with our eating habits and will stop by a busy street vendor or local food stall. We even attempt to eat what the neighboring tables are eating (in a bad decision, I wound up with some chicken feet on my plate yesterday). However, time and time again, the same options are vegetables and white rice….for good reason too. There is a legend in China about the origin of rice, claiming that the grain is a gift from animals. Centuries ago, China was over swept by floods that destroyed all the crops and caused massive starvation. One day the villagers saw a dog running towards them with a tail full of long yellow seeds. When the villagers planted the seeds, rice grew and hunger disappeared….just it does to me! I have plans on buying my own rice steamer when I return to Chicago.

Adjusting to Chinese culture

There is always a way around language barriers. Despite my tiny talent for the Spanish language, I can’t quite get my tongue around Mandarin. Even when a patient patron tries a quick tutor session during one of our night train journeys, I usually wind up staring in blank confusion. I have the basics covered. Hello, goodbye, how much, thank you, yes, no and a few numbers can be rattled off with only a moment’s hesitation! Cara and I even have a handy phrasebook which she pulls out every so often for nightly Chinese lesson. Her skills at writing down our train destinations and needs are improving as well. We haven’t once wound up on the other side of the country thanks to her speedy drawing skills.

We got lost yesterday….again. Apparently the long winded ramble of words shouted over the loudspeaker meant “if you want to get off for the train station, do it now because we are not stopping for another 20 kilometers and you will wind up in the middle of nowhere for the rest of the afternoon” (we figure it was something along those lines). Instead of the bustling train station, we wound up on the dodgy side of town on a first class tour of lumber yards and dead skinned animal eateries. Cara kept refusing to get off when the ticket collector looked at us with a worried, questionable expression. Finally, as the two lone passengers, we pulled into the Bus 99 storage sheds. Then we were immediately surrounded by several concerned #99 Bus employees, wondering why the heck we rode all the way to the storage base. Luckily, with our non-English tourist map and excellent imitations at “cho-cho” sounds, we were able to communicate that we wanted the train station, a good 25 minutes back into town. This clarification caused a lot of enthusiastic giggling and back slapping as they realized our intention. We were then scooted onto another #99 headed the proper way into town . As we departed, the helpful #99 employees stood at attention, cheerfully waving at us and wishing us luck on our journey. Just another day as a traveler.

The toilets are another story

I had a traumatic toilet experience the other day. Eight hours into our ten-hour bus journey, I gave up waiting for the hostels clean western toilets and braved the “middle of nowhere public trenches” – the type that you have to hyperventilate before entering or carry some potent smelling salts with you. They cost a hefty 10 cents to use by the way. Luckily dear Cara was having the same issue so we lined up, rolled up our jeans and wished one another luck. Wow – – Never have I seen anything like these bathrooms- shocking really. No doors, just a mere two foot high partition between the stalls, presumably so one can carry on a nice conversation with the person next to you. They hid nothing and left nothing to the imagination. Below, there was simply a stone canal linking all of the stalls together, mind boggling really – no idea how they were cleaned although that could explain the deteriorated hose lying outside of the door. Anyway…..I fell in. Yup, slipped right into some unmentionable stuff all over the floor. No more details but my jeans went straight into the wash and these shoes are being thrown away as soon as possible. No amount of hand sanitizer could help the situation. These things happen to everyone I hope.

We celebrated Niki’s 25th birthday while our stalled bus sat on the side of the road. Cara and I had been carrying balloons for the past week for the special occasion. If we weren’t already the bus icons of the day, after we blew up several balloons and started throwing them around the bus, we certainly made ourselves popular. Everyone joined in and the old men batting the balloons back and forth was a sight to be seen.