Chinese Leftovers

I am writing this on another train journey; this time a 20 hour trip from Shanghai to Shenzhen. It can seem quite romantic travelling on an overnight train speeding through the countryside. That is if you ignore the smell of fags, farting and spare rib noodles, with the occasional cough and spit to top things off. But that’s enough about Katy.  It has been a really easy and cheap(ish) way to get around China though, and the beds are comfortable enough if you are less than 5’9”.

Terracotta Warriors
Terracotta Warriors

So we spent some time in Xian and stayed in one of the world’s best hostels no less, the Seven Sages. It was ok, but we’ve stayed in better already in our trip. Xian is probably the most accessible city to walk around. It is surrounded by city walls of about a 10km perimeter, so you can never get too lost. We didn’t do too much in Xian other than to go and see the Terracotta Warriors. Big life-size pottery soldiers…what can you say? It was good to hear a bit of the history behind them as had no idea that they were so old. I did come out of there feeling a bit like Carl Pilkinton from an Idiot Abroad. Maybe it’s because when you go and see things like that, the thousands of tourists and commercial side of things takes something away from it. Or it could be that we’re very hard to please.

After four days we decided to move on and took another train to Shanghai. We were running out of time on our China visa, so we decided that this would be our last stop before heading to Hong Kong. It’s definitely a very different place to anywhere else we have been in China. Very westernised, with Prada, Louis Vuitton and McDonald’s on every corner. It is probably somewhere that we didn’t explore enough, as we both got a cold and decided to chill out at the hostel for a couple of days.

Something remarkable did happen while we were in Shanghai however, two things actually. Firstly Arsenal and Bolton both won the respective matches, which is a surprise this season. Secondly, Katy had her first day with no alcohol in the trip. We’re probably going to return to the UK in a year’s time alcoholics. But hopefully we should have a good tan to go with it, so I’m not too worried.

View from the Mao Tower
View from the Mao Tower

What little we did see, we decided to go the whole hog and become proper tourists; the type that I usually detest in London. We went on a Big Bus Tour (yes it was actually the Big Bus Tour). It went round the city dropping us off a various points. One of which was the Bund, which is basically a poor man’s Southbank. It’s a big walkway overlooking some of the finance district skyscrapers. Nice place to walk down in the sun before jumping back on the bus to head over to one of the Skyscrapers we were just looking at. We went to the observation deck of the Jan Mao Tower on the 88th floor. We got some cool pictures of the city lighting up just after sunset.

To get back into town our tour included what they called the tourist tunnel. It was basically an underground cable car with a light show going on within the tunnel. It was quite funny, but very tacky at the same time.

Someone we had met at a train station had recommended a restaurant in Shanghai, and we ate there twice. The food was really good both times, and very reasonable for the amount we bought. We could have fed 3-4 people each time comfortably, but we managed on our own. Maybe we will be coming back to the UK overweight alcoholics, with a good tan.

So now we are off to Hong Kong for 13days. That is if we work out how to get over the border from Shenzhen. We have heard rumours that you can just walk over the border and get on the Metro, but this hasn’t been confirmed. It’s now 7:00 in the morning, and our train should arrive in Shenzhen any minute. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.

Until the next time…

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Sichuan Province

After a successful China Air flight we arrived in Chengdu, central China in the Sichuan Province. Our first night was spent in the hostel bar where we teamed up with a couple from Canada and a Polish guy for the pub quiz. Unbelievably we won and it was free beers all round (nothing to do with the Canadian’s iPhone).

We had a couple of lazy days recovering from Beijing which was easy to do as the hostel was so nice and friendly. We went into Chengdu city centre one day but it was so busy we didn’t stay long. Another morning was spent at the local food markets which were fascinating if not a little bit worrying when I thought about all the local food I’d eaten and the likelihood it was from this very market.

We booked our trip to the Pandas for Wednesday which was great. The Pandas were very cute but we didn’t get to hug one as it was £100 each so we decided against it. I am trying to think of more to write about the Pandas but to be honest there isn’t much to say other than they are very cute but once you’ve seen one….you know what I mean.

We’d met a couple the night before from Melbourne who were on the same trip and in the evening we decided to eat local and find some dumplings. It seems dumplings are eaten for lunch rather than dinner so we ended up in a local street restaurant, lonely planet in hand. As soon as we stepped in, everyone stopped eating, laughed and stared at us which isn’t unusual. Most restaurants have picture menus which makes things easy but this menu wasn’t very clear so when chef was called over to take our order we tried using the lonely planet translation page to order but it didn’t seem to be working so we had to resort to using farm yard animal noises to order our dinner….very funny! Anyway we didn’t get what we thought we’d ordered but what we did get was very nice and we had a giggle with the chef at the end, trying to tell him that his food was delicious.

The next day, the four of us got up early for a 10 hour bus ride to Jiuzhaigou; still in the Sichuan Province where there is a stunning National Park with beautiful mountains and lakes (3500 metres above sea level).

We decided to book 2 nights last minute as it looked amazing. We were quite nervous about the bus but it was ok if you didn’t concentrate too hard on the quality of driving and overtaking on corners.  Also, the Chinese are prone to motion sickness so sick bags were handed out before we left and sick buckets positioned down the aisle…nice. The bus ride back to Chengdu was probably the worst, I just remember staring out the window and then suddenly going into a tunnel which had no lights, water gushing down from the roof and our driver decides to overtake. I heard myself say ‘you’ve got to be effing kidding’ and then held my breath until it was over.  Thank god for the iPod and kindle on these journeys!

Anyway we made it to the mountains in one piece and considerably colder, checked into the hostel and had an early night. We were up at 6am to start the day’s trek. The trail totals 32km in length and there was a bus to take you to different spots along the way so we decided to take the bus up to the very top and walk down. Everything we saw was just stunning from the snow-capped mountains, clear blue lakes and Tibetan villages and I think we took over 300 pictures that day. We also featured in a lot of the Chinese tourist’s photos and they were fascinated with us. A group of four girls grabbed Sam for a picture which was very funny, one even gabbed his bum. We have had that a lot though, not bum grabbing but pictures being taken of us. Some try and be sneaky and position themselves in front of us, some just ask and sit next to us. I am thinking of charging next time!

In total I think we walked about 17km that day which for me is pretty impressive. Back to the hostel for some food and a couple of beers and another early night as we were leaving the next day. A 20 hour round trip for one day but well worth it and glad we have got to see some of rural China.

I am writing this on a train from Chengdu to Xian and will post it when we arrive. We have hard sleeper tickets so are in a carriage full on bunk beds. Sam and I managed to get the middle bunks which means you can see out the window and nobody sits on your bed. The journey should take about 16 hours and we arrive in Chengdu around 5am tomorrow. Even now I am being stared at every time someone walks past. I just smile.

We plan to stay in Xian for 3 nights although we were just chatting to a Chinese couple from Xian and she said 3 days wasn’t enough to see Xian but it’s forecast rain for the whole week so we’ll see.

Until the next time…..

The National Anthem

Yesterday was national day in China. It’s a day to celebrate the formation of the People’s Republic of China back in 1949, and the people were definitely out in force.

Beijing was packed full of people making their way to Tiananmen Square for the festivities that evening. We had to leave Beijing before the final celebrations, but the day was stressful enough. Most roads were closed making it almost impossible to make your way to the square, and once we eventually did get there, there was nothing to see, and we swiftly left. We made our way to Starbucks for a Frappuccino to cool us down from the baking heat.

Our time in Beijing was enjoyable, but I think we were both ready to leave. Spending a week there was very tiring. That could have been to do with the amount of Tsingtao that we drank during the week, or the amount of dumplings that we ate each day. The dumplings have actually been our best find so far, and we’ve tried every variety that we could find.

Katy's Tiling Episode
Katy’s Tiling Episode

Beijing wasn’t without incident. On returning from one of my daily trips to get breakfast, I was greeted by a concerned Katy saying “I’ve had a nightmare”. On walking into our bathroom, I discovered that half of the wall tiles were smashed on the floor, and the toilet blocked. Being practical (yes, she can be sometimes), Katy thought she would get on with some washing while I was out. On attaching our cordless washing line to the wall, she brought half the wall down with it. Luckily no fees were incurred, even though we snapped the room card in half as well.

In our last days in Beijing we took a visit to the Great Wall and a day at the Summer Palace. The Great Wall was amazing, but quite hard work. We didn’t have the best day weather wise, but still had some great views. Katy almost died on the first stretch of our walk, before we were even on the wall, and it was definitely a test of our fitness.

I also had the experience of eating a scorpion from a hutong street seller. Katy wasn’t brave enough to try one, but it was quite a funny experience.

We’ve now arrived in Chengdu for 6 days, and we’re looking forward to chilling out for a bit. First impressions of the city are not at all what I imagined. I was picturing a small picturesque town with a village feel, with pandas roaming freely. Instead we were greeted with another sprawling industrial city with a love of neon. Our hostel here is great though, and we’re looking forward to part two of our adventure in China.

Until the next time…