Day 1

I’ve made it.

I took care of some last minute business at Dunhuang and then left for the airport. Yesterday, Piotr and I found a great little western cafe right where we rented bikes from. They had actual milk (which was a real treat), and hamburgers and french fries, though those were a little weird. They also had a nice service where you could trade foreign language books. So this morning I went there and traded my somewhat bad, but still kind of gripping day-trading murder mystery book, and A Connecticut Yankee in Camelot (or something like that, I forget) by Mark Twain, for two new novels. I also ate two pancakes and French toast. Oh, and I ate them with a fork! It’s been two months since I’ve used a fork and it was kind of weird.

In order to not miss my flight I decided to arrive at the airport plenty early. My flight was at 5PM, so I got there at 1PM (I figured I could just sit at my gate and read). I hopped in a cab and had him drive out to the airport after breakfast. Unfortunately, the airport was… closed. My plane to Xi’an was a 747, mind you, but the airport was still only open for a few hours each day.

So I got out of the cab and walked over to a nearby gas station. There I ran into the friendly attendant and asked if there was somewhere I could sit while I waited for the airport to open. He very kindly showed me the room that he waits in between customers at the gas station. It was a nice little room with AC, a TV, a bed, a chair, a desk, and a few other items. There we chatted a bit and watched TV and read some. It was very nice, and after two and a half hours the airport opened and I walked over.

It was a very nice airport, with about as many security personnel working as in a section of Logan International, I think, despite there only being maybe 50 passengers. Many of those passengers were foreign, it seemed. I sat in front of three pretty girls from England, and when I boarded I ran across two middle-aged women from… wait for it… Visalia! Small world (for me anyway. the town I grew up in, Porterville, is only 20 minutes or so from Visalia).

The airplane ride itself was very nice. I luckily had a window seat. The view was amazing. I looked out the window most of the time, and saw the endless dunes of the Taklam…. desert (I forget how to spell it, and it turns out it’s not, in fact, the Gobi desert that Piotr and I explored). The food on the plane was far and away the best airplane food I’ve ever had. I had a chicken dinner which came with rice and carrots and other vegetables, along with cake and a bread roll. The chicken was incredibly delicious, though. I was impressed.

Anyway, the plane landed without incident and I proceeded to take a taxi to a hotel. I didn’t know where to stay so I just chose the first one listed in the Budget category of my travel guide, Lonely Planet. The guide has been pretty good so far with regard to sights and maps and things, but I think this may have been a mistake. I got there and the place was just hopping with foreigners (including the three British gals who sat behind me on the plane). Few of them seemed to speak any Chinese, and the prices were correspondingly high. I negotiated for a room in Chinese and managed to cut it down from 188Y to 138Y, but that’s still a little on the pricey side. The little “business” center charged 5Y/hour for the internet, so I just went for a walk and asked around and found the internet cafe I’m in now. It’s 2Y/hr and the sodas here are actually quite reasonably priced!

Tomorrow I think I’ll walk aimlessly around Xi’an some more. I don’t really feel like taking a tour right now, but at some point I suppose I should see the Terracotta warriors which is Xi’ans most famous attraction. TTFN. (I’m not sure what that’s from, but it stands for “ta-ta for now.” Maybe Winnie the Pooh?)

Quick note about the title of this post: The province Xi’an is in is often written Shaanxi, to distinguish it from its neighbor, Shanxi. In reality the first syllable would be written “shan” in Pinyin (the phonetic system I use) in both cases, just with Xi’an’s province said with a lower tone, and the neighboring one with a high tone. Unfortunately, I can’t easily type in tones, so I will help alleviate confusion by following convention and using the decidely un-pinyin Shaanxi.

Day 2

Well for all the foreigners around Ludao Hotel wasn’t that bad (heh, how haughty of me: all those foreigners). The room I stayed in was comfortable and had a huge bed. The AC was nice, but unfortunately was like many hotels here where the hotel workers hold the master remote. If you want to turn it on or off or adjust the temperature you have to go out and get them. There was a bathroom down the hall, and a public shower down there, too. The shower had individual stalls (two, so I had to wait a bit) but the hot water was hot and powerful and nice.

Anyway, I was all ready this morning about 10AM and decided to go out looking for a cheaper hotel. I found a nearby one, and went in inquiring about prices. There was a room listed for 188Y. I asked if they offered discounts, and they gave me 158. Knowing I could get my same room back at Ludao Hotel for 138Y, I turned and walked out. A guy came running out and offered me 130Y. I asked if I could see the room and he took me up. The room was about twice as big as mine in Ludao, and had a private bathroom with 24-hour hot water in the shower. There’s an AC in there, and it even has its own remote.

So, liking the room a lot I agreed and am staying there tonight. I’ll probably stay longer but I only wanted to commit to one day for now. Ludao was a good hotel I’m sure, but once it got listed first in Lonely Planet and attracted a veritable firestorm of foreign tourists the prices shot up. Kinda sad to see how the fame went straight to the little guy’s head. Oh well.

Walking around Xi’an is nice. All the locals are surprised at how much Chinese I know and are quick to compliment me on my pronunciation. “哪里哪里我说得不好” I politely respond. (”Nali, Nali, Wo shuo de bu hao” [Nah, I speak poorly]). It must be all the foreign tourists around that don’t speak any Chinese; the one-eyed guy ruling in the land of the blind, or whatever. So far it’s reduced prices pretty well, so that’s always nice.

Today, though, while walking around I got accosted by a couple masseuses. They literally grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go, trying to drag me back to their little massage place. Flustered with them, I sternly said “去妳的吧”. That was translated in one of my books as roughly akin to “bugger off” which doesn’t help me too much, not being British. In any case they both seemed quite offended and quickly released me. Perhaps it’s a little more forceful than I had intended, but at least it worked.

All in all, though, I’m liking Xi’an so far. Today I’ll go to the train station and see what kind of tickets I can get for my next stop. I still haven’t decided what that city will be, but at the moment I’m leaning towards Chengdu, in Sichuan (reknowned for its spicy food). Mmm…

Day 5

Oh, China, you’re so silly.

I’ve been Xi’an for several days now but my wanderlust has left me. I haven’t gone to the nearby towns to see the sights (gasp, not even the famous Terracotta soldiers!), and I haven’t gone on any scenic tours of Xi’an. Until today I hadn’t even bought any train tickets anywhere, and the ticket I bought today was just for my return to Beijing, my final stop before the US. What I have done is just hang out at my hotel reading books (I found a decent bookstore and got little biographies of Albert Einstein and Napoleon, a linguistics book on English, and a book on Algorithms, all in English, and a book of Aesop’s fables in Chinese that I’m working through), hang out at the local internet cafe, and meander around Xi’an on foot.

I’ll quickly post about two things I saw yesterday that I found rather amusing, and leave it at that. In the coming days I think I’ll use my downtime to collect my thoughts on things I’ve learned from my travels: differences and similarities between China and the US that I’ve found. So expect little write-ups about food, work, safety, etc, to be posted in the next couple days.

Anyway, hilarious:

Mon, Aug 14, 2006 | For updates follow me on twitter