BootsnAll Travel Network

Leaving on a Jet Train

On Wednesday I was dropped off at the main Beijing train station by Chen. I found the waiting area for the train and, well, waited. When it was time for the train to board, everyone in the room decided to conduct an experiment. The idea was to see just how many people could be squeezed through a single turnstile simultaneously. At times it seemed that some fundamental laws of the universe were being broken and different objects were actually coexisting in the same space. No matter what class I travel, it seems that all the Chinese people are scared of missing the train and all want to be first in line. The train staff seem to take some pleasure in only opening one entry point making the situation worse. It’s sort of like going to WalMart, which for some reason has thirty check out lanes but they never open more than two.

The train, as mentioned in the last article, was a new service just recently started between Shanghai and Beijing. As the train is a day train, there are no sleepers. The trip takes about eight hours. There was a speed indicator on the train giving constant speed updates. The train did very rarely reach speeds of 250 km/hr but mostly hovered around 160 km/hr. I spent the day reading, eating, and sleeping. I arrived in Beijing at about 9:00 pm. I then caught the subway per the instructions given to me. Once I exited the subway, I started wandering down the street and showing different people the address of the hostel. I stopped every now and then to make sure people were still pointing in the same direction. When I got close, a lady walked me to the entrance. This was a good thing as the hostel (Templeside House) was off the main street in a hutong. A hutong is a traditional Beijing neighborhood that is quickly dissappearing under a bulldozer blade. They consist of small winding streets full of single story courtyard homes with grey tile roofs. In a very distant way, it reminds me of a Chinese version of the New Orleans French Quarter. Upon arrival at the hostel, they told me it was full. I hadn’t made a reservation. As it was now about 10:00 pm, I didn’t look foward to the idea of wandering Beijing looking for a place to sleep. I told them I would sleep on the floor in my sleeping bag if need be. Luckily they called their other hostel (Templeside House #2) which had room. I followed one of the workers for about ten minutes to the other hostel. I checked in and also booked a Great Wall Tour that had one more space.

The next morning I woke up bright and early and met the three other people I was going with to the wall. We all crammed into the small taxi. The next two hours or so were spent driving on the shoulder, dirt, and wrong side of the road as the taxi driver made his way to Jinshanling. At Jinshanling we bought tickets to begin the Great Wall Hike to Simatai (10 very steep km). For the next four hours we climbed up and down stairs and through ruined watchtowers. As the wall goes along the hill tops, the views were stunning and the climbs steep. I finally had some good weather in China. We were accompanied about half the way by a vendor who attached himself to us and proceeded to act as a semi-tour guide. He had hopes that we would buy something from him in the end. None of us wanted anything but we did give him a tip for his guiding(?) services. The hike was finished off by taking a zipline down over a lake. We then took a boat back to the parking lot. In the evening, I was able to get a good look at the hostel. The hostel was made from one of the traditional courtyard houses. Rooms were arranged around the central courtyard.

The next day’s activity was to tackle the Forbidden City. I first had to buy a train ticket to Xi’an though. The hostel didn’t have any luck so I went to the train station myself. I went to a window with a large sign that said English spoken here. After waiting in line for twenty minutes, I was finally at the window and of course the woman spoke no English. Luckily I had my backup letter in Mandarin. I left and caught the subway to Tiananmen Square. I came out of the subway near the famous and huge picture of Chairman Mao. The picture has reportedly been vandalized in the past but the government has lots of convienent copies on hand. I entered the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate. The city once forbidden to the common man is now overrun by him. The city is full of small palaces for living quarters and big throne rooms and temples. It was used by the Ming and Qing emperors. The last emperor (a child) resided here until the 1920’s when he was driven out during the turmoil between the Communists and Nationalists in China. I was surprised how small the palaces actually were. They each had about six rooms around a central courtyard. The predominant color was red (everywhere red). The city was designed around prime numbers with areas with five bridges or eleven sculptures. The most impressive buildings were not available for viewing as they are being spruced up for the Olympics. The buildings today are full of exhibits displaying traditional Chinese art, sculpture, and military hardware.

My last full day was spent at Summer Palace. The imperial court would come here to escape the heat of Beijing. The palace is mostly a vast garden which sits on a pennisula in a lake. The middle of the pennisula has a backbone of small hills. There are numerous courtyards and temples with interesting translated names (Temple of Extensive Moisture, Courtyard of Lingering Interest). The backside of the pennisula has a small lake called Back Lake in which many people were fishing. I am sure Dowager Empress Cixi would turn over in her grave. She had a large marble boat built on the lake. The money was supposed to be used to build a real navy. I spent the evening exploring the hutong near my hostel. I first went out without my camera but soon returned to get it as I was missing too many good pictures. There were many old people sitting outside of their homes and women selling vegetables. I went around asking if I could photograph them. The older people seemed to get a great laugh out of seeing their picture. I also found a place to get a hair cut. My initial entry caused a bit of a stir but I think they realized that my hair would cut just the same as theirs and soon set about working on my coiffure. After this was done, my hair was washed so hard that it whistled.

Xi’an was once the capital of China. The central part of the city still retains its wall and some of its Ming architecture. Today its biggest attraction is probably the Terracotta Warriors which were discovered in the 1970’s by a farmers digging a well. They are part of the huge burial complex for Emperor Qin (the emperor of China). The train for Xi’an left on time the next day but arrived two hours late in Xi’an. I was picked up by the hostel. After waiting for others to arrive and various false starts at getting a van, we arrived at the hostel. The hostel was in a beautiful building that smelled of cedar. The outside was original Ming architecture. It was still early in the day and I didn’t plan to see the warriors until the next day. I wandered around Xi’an and saw the first Walmart that I have seen since I left the US. It was still under construction. I was hungry and started looking for places to eat. I passed one restaurant in which all the staff were outside facing the restaurant and bowing repeatedly to the restaurant and saying ni hao (as with many things in China ??????????). Since they looked busy, I moved on. I ended up buying some dumplings and a fried something on a stick from some food stalls. The something turned out to be chicken. I also bought a train ticket to Chengdu from a convenient stand by a bank.

Tuesday was my Terracotta warrior day. I took a taxi to the train station and from there a bus. The supposedly 1 hour trip took 2.5 hours as the roads had been washed out by heavy rains the night before. The warriors were very impressive. They stand in three pits. Pit number one has the largest number. They are all supposed to be life sized and all are originals. No two statues are the same with each having unique facial expressions. There are also horses. Many of the statues are headless or crushed from vandalism and ground collapse.

I am currently in Leshan where I hope to get my visa extended. I took an overnight train to Chengdu. This morning I arrived in Chengdu and walked to the bus station hoping to get a ticket to Leshan. I started showing people the symbols for Leshan. Finally one man asked me to follow him, he put me on and then took me off of two different buses for some reason I still don’t understand. The bus drivers appeared to first agree to take me and then said no. I finally followed him to a real ticket counter where I bought a ticket to Leshan. I guess he didn’t get his commision. I still gave him 10 yuan for showing me the right area which I wouldn’t have found on my own. He seemed happy and left. I had an hour wait for my bus. With about 30 minutes to go, a man started hollering something. With all the other noise going on, I ignored it. He eventually came to me and looked at my ticket and motioned me to follow. I was put on a bus and magically here I sit in Leshan. Upon arrival in Leshan, I was accosted by pedicab drivers. I at first ignored them and then surrendered as I was exhausted and had really no idea where in Leshan I was. The first driver wanted 10 yuan which I knew was too much. I could get a taxi for that. I finally settled on six yuan. I started to feel bad at the low price as he had to peddle for nearly twenty minutes to get me to my hotel. Once I checked into the hotel, I found that I had no running water. After speaking with the owner who speaks no English, I believe that the water should be on soon. I hope that by the time I get back the water is running as I haven’t had a shower in two days. This evening I will go to the police station to once again try to extend my visa.

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One Response to “Leaving on a Jet Train”

  1. Joe Coury Says:

    Hello Barry! I’m all caught up now! Hey – the extra time you’re spending writing these stories is very nice for us readers. I get requests from time to time for your blog address. I hope you’re hearing from those people. Keep the stories coming!

  2. Posted from United States United States

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