Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pingyao to Xi'an

The overnight train from Pingyao to Xi'an kind of sucked. The beds were really narrow and the train featured a choice selection of snorers and babies anxious about train travel. Transport and a nights "rest" for ¥83 is hard to beat though. At 6:30am sleep was pretty much not happening so we watched the hills/low mountains fly by for a while. They were quite nice looking. The landscape also had an odd quality of existing in flat slices that would abruptly end, with a cliff going up or down a few meters to the next flat slice. The effect was quite curious, almost as if large amounts of water had carved the landscape fairly violently at some point. It certainly looked like if another large amount of water hit it the entire area would be completely re-arranged.

At 7:36 the train stopped. Supposedly we were 15 or so minutes from Xi'an. Other trains kept passing us and nothing seemed to be happening with our train. At one point a repairman wandered by with a selection of wire-cutters and a small hammer. Other than cursing and smacking the train to encourage it to go he seemed unlikely to be useful.

At 8:30 the train made some steam venting noises, twitched forward about a foot, and stopped again

At 8:40 the train quietly got up and resumed moving.

After a while longer we got to the Xi'an train station, which was an absolute zoo. It was PACKED with people, about half of whom seemed to subsist primarily by ambushing backpackers. We fit the description and got far more attention than we really wanted. This was tremendously annoying when exhausted, dragging large packs, and not sure where to find a cab. Any number of helpful unlicensed drivers were happy to take us where we wanted and seemed offended when told where to go. After twenty or so minutes of this nonsense we finally figured out where the cab pool was and set of shouldering our way through to it. The domestic tourists seemed confused by the notion of a lineup; we basically had to form up shoulder to shoulder to prevent people from trying to stroll in front of us. Eventually we got a cab, only to find he didn't want to take us. A stare-down ensued and eventually he buckled and grumblingly headed off with us. He dropped us off in front of some rather ugly buildings that appeared to be a poor attempt at European look/feel. Unfortunately local construction is unfailingly weak on ALL details and this doesn't really fit a European motif well so the effect was rather dismal. More on sloppy construction in some future post most likely.

Standing outside what we hoped was our apartment building an hour or so late we tried to call Chris from the Active offices to let us in. Unfortunately the Blackberry decided it didn't do local calls (eventually we figured out how to reconfigure it). Luckily Chris (traveling companion) had another phone and we were able to get through with this. Chris from the Active office showed up shortly thereafter and we got in.

The apartment proved to be big but poorly cleaned. It is also rather sloppily built; nothing has neat edges, switches side-by-side don't line up, pipes are more or less rammed through walls, and so on.

Chris from Active provided a SIM card for the Blackberry that enabled local calls at the cost of disabling international calls and all forms of data. Oh well. We headed out shopping to get food, blankets, and so on. The supermarket was rather shocking. Everything was different with much less overlap than we'd hoped. The meat section seemed almost exclusively made up of bits we don't really cook with and the fish section literally looks like someone took a dragnet through a big, fancy, fish-tank. Eventually we got most of what we needed and headed back. Shopping in a totally foreign environment while exhausted is surprisingly stressful and tiring. We were probably miserable company as a result but if we were Chris from Active didn't show it, tireless ferrying us around.

Unfortunately we did not manage to get to a local police station to register (theoretically required with 24hrs, usually handled by your hotel). We were a little worried about this but Chris from Active eventually managed to reach a local cop shop, who said not to worry, just wander by on Monday. More on that in a future post.

Between shopping chaos and no sleep on the train we were pretty wasted but we managed to remember to get Chris to write down a few key places in both English and Chinese characters in a notebook to allow us to get into cabs and point at the Chinese name of where we want to go, and arranged for a driver to take us to the Terracotta Warriors and the Han Yangling museum the next day, before we crashed for some very needed rest in a real bed.

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