Thomas and I visited one of the remnants of the Great Wall of China yesterday which was pretty spectacular. The Chinese are indeed a superior people in terms of their architecture and development! Some of their achievements are beyond belief. The wall is so magnificent and grander than life. Thomas says that it was for him a similar experience to observing the achievements of the Egyptians when building the Pyramids. China has so far exceeded my expectations in every way, perhaps because I had no idea what to expect, so everything is very impressive. Beijing is really amazing, for a city with such a big population everything seems to be in perfect order and working accordingly. The streets are clean, the people are not on top of each other, the public transport is impeccable, the taxis have AC and are always available, the food is incredible (and very nicely priced). We have not done much exploring yet but the little we've seen has been super.
On our arrival we were exhausted after 36 hours on the train (which was a story in itself as we met an extraordinary couple who have been travelling the world and writing books for the past 45 years...they were an incredible source of information on different topics of interest) so we went to our hotel and slept for a few hours letting our minds process the huge amount of information we were exposed to in such a short time, not to mention Beijing itself with it's grandness! We then decided we needed food, so the guide book recommended to go to a lake where lovers stroll in the evenings. When we got there....wah wah wee wah! It was nothing like my mind had conjured up. There were at least 15 restaurants in a row, 20 bars with live musicians in each one, 6 discos, markets stalls, people swimming, senior citizens playing cards, pretty ladies selling roses, thousands of people- Chinese and foreign, people playing a foot game with a badminton-like ball, middle age couple dancing rock and roll to techno music, boats in the lake and of course, the lake itself in the centre of all this. There was another lake with a similar set up further north but we decided one lake was enough. So we first found a bar and once again allowed our minds to process the new batch of information, whilst listening to Chinese love ballads sung by a duo with a guitar. We then kept wandering until we found a suitable restaurant with such an abundant array of food that it took us a thousand years to decide on what to eat. We finally chose: special healthy vegetable from the North(which were leaves with vinegar on them, fresh and crunchy), Chrysanthemum and Bean Curd Salad with peanut decorations, Aubergine fried with Green chillies and a variety of meats and fish in a soup. We were sooooo full afterwards!!! Last night we tried 4 different dishes at a different restaurant more local and have set ourselves the task of trying a different dish every time we eat out.
Thomas is set to depart on Wednesday which will be a sad parting, it has been so wonderful spending time with him and getting to know him better. I feel very lucky to have him as a mentor figure in my life! We have had many a good laugh, great conversations and have also managed to sit in complete silence doing our own zoning!
We decided to go and see the Beijing Opera the other evening and it ended up being an acrobatics show. It was really entertaining and there were many amazing things to see like dudes juggling hats whilst climbing on top of each other, really flexible humans building pyramids on each other and the best was dudes on bikes riding in a big metal ball. Initially it was one dude and i was really amazed, then a second dude joined him in there and my jaw was on my chest, then a third dude joined him in there, my jaw fell to my lap, and then....yup...a fourth dude joined him my jaw fell to the floor, i'm tempted to say there was a fifth dude but my memory fails me...it was mind boggling!
I lost my camera (again) so no longer have access to my photos that I took from Moscow to Beijing. I think I left it on the train. I was quite upset about it yesterday until I decided it's just as easy to take mental snapshots and savour the moments. So I'm not going to buy another camera for the time being and just become really good at taking in the moment and really being present no matter what!
I left Beijing at 6.50 on Wednesday morning and was happy to be on the move again after having stayed at Joe's for a week of resting, sleeping and reading I was well in the mood for new adventures. The journey to Xi'an was divided into two, and the first 5 hours of the journey to Zhengzou were for me without at seat. I was lucky to be able to sit for the first two hours but the last three saw me standing in the restaurant carriage(even though I tried to sneak into the first class seating and got shooed away like a dog with rabies by the carriage attendant) with numerous other seat-less Chinese. They were really friendly folk and I ended up befriending young man (Timmy) on his way to seal a busines deal and a lovely lady who communicated with me through her mobile phone translator. Upon arriving in Zhengzou the lady escorted me to the sitting hall for the next train, gave me a Zhengzou specialty sweet made of sugar and Tamarind and we shared smiles and the joy of sharing time and space despite language barriers.
The train to Xi'an was really really fancy, it looked like a rocket, white and sparkling and it was really lush inside. I spent the journey roughly planning out the rest of my trip and realising that the 19 days remaining on my journey are going to be jam packed with movement....well well! I think to travel in China one needs time and whilst waiting for my Vietnamese visa in Beijing time tick ticked away. It was HOT walking out of the the train station a humid and oppresive heat that immediately got the sweat glands working over time. I was with a lovely British couple and we attempted with all our luggage and sweat to flag down a Taxi rather than stand in the Taxi line...unfortunately and quite comically we failed on that mission and ended up splitting ways. They took a more expensive alternative of transport and after more taxi failure I eventually opted for the public bus which was well wonderful! It cost 1 yuan!!!!! And took me where I needed to be so I was very proud of my efforts! A system of instant rewards was in play so once I had checked in to the hostel and breathed I went and had a Chinese foot massage!
WOW! It was so glorious...I ready somewhere that in order to balance out the energies, when having a foot massage, women massage men and men massage women so when my man came into to take me to a higher level I was not surprised what did however surprise me is how my body reacted simply because it was a man touching me! He was strong and he was firm with his touch and I simply resolved to let him manipulate my body as he pleased. It was 90 minutes of bliss and I'm going to go back today!!! After the massage i realised that I was famished...so I found a restaurant sat and ordered a soup and a plate of beans cooked with chilly! What came was shocking, it was GIGANTIC! The soup bowl was the size of a bath (OK just a HUGE salad bowl) and the beans were enough to feed 5. Then they brought some rice and some pickles and a few cups of tea! I ate myself silly and resolved to eat with folk from now on, eating solo isn't easy in China!
Back at the dorm I sat and pondered pondering items lost in a world of being well fed and watered, not to mention manipulated and relaxed...then three young very friendly Chinese women surrounded me and started inquiring into my journey, they later revealed that they were lesbians and wondered what I thought of Lesbians. The more masculine woman then went on to tell me that one of the other girls was her wife and asked me if I thought she was beautiful, I responded accordingly as she was cute and they were very chuffed with that, soon they left and I retired to my dorm where I met my roomies organised to go and see the terracotta warriors and slept like a BABY!!!!
The adventure to see the terracotta warriors started at 9:30, Talita (a very cool Dutch lady) and I set off to take the bus to the station, then the local bus to the warriors. Check! Got to the station found the 306 and joined the enourmous queue. Then Mikki and David joined us as they recognised Talita from the dorm and the four of us became a Terracotta Team. We arrived, and headed for the entrance taking our time stopping along the way to shelter from the rain and simply enjoying the journey ahead. We tried some terrible deep fried tofu, I had some coconut water, we considered the possibility of needing to have bought tickets earlier on decided there had to tickets at the entrance and kept going! Of course when we got to the entrance we were informed by a kind young man that we had to buy them from the ticket office which was where we came from with the bus but that he just happened to have some tickets on him and that he could sell them too us for 100 rather than 90 because he would save us from having to walk all the way back! Ha ha!
So we walked back and then the rain really started bucketing down, cats, dogs and a few baby elephants. The stairs turned into waterfalls, the streets into flowing streams and we were saturated. We eventually made it to the ticket office bought our tickets and started back again, but baby elephants turned to full grown African kings, the cats to tigers and the Dogs to wolves so we sought shelter and proceeded to crack the coconut and indulge in the tasty white nut of life! We sheltered for about half an hour and then decided to take the journey come what may, all the way to the warriors and we succeeded successfully! The warriors were definitely worth the visit! Amazing what man is capable of! Each soldier wore a different face with so many different intricate details and so many soldiers for ones man desire to be successful in the afterlife! After having seen all three chambers and worn out the desire to explore any more we sat and waited for David who we thought was still in there...he never came out and my imagination created a number of scenarios that included him being placed in a warrior and kept prisoner...etc...so we left our quatro down to three, our energy down to a minimal and our bellies craving more MSG (food). Food became the next mission so the journey to a restaurant was glorious!
I am currently in Chengdu, Sichuan State, staying at Nova Traveler's Lodge which is a super clean and cheap backpacker joint. I've been here for two nights and am going to stay for 1 more night. I left Xi'an on Friday the 13th and took a (spooky) sleeper train. The people in my 6 sleeper compartment were really lovely, there was a family and two students. The family comprised of 5 people, grandma, grandpa, mother, father and little daughter of six who was so cute and adorable and also a little bit spoilt. She received oodles amounts of affection from her 5 guardians and was the centre of their world. She was very cute none the less and I enjoyed their company very much. The two ladies were student of economics and when I asked whether they enjoyed their studies they clearly communicated that they did not enjoy it at all but felt they had no choice in the matter of what they studied.
The train journey was extremely comfortable and the 16 hours went by so quickly. Upon arrival in Chengdu I was met by a lovely tall Chinese man with blue contact lenses and a generous smile. He quickly informed me that he was gay and was working as a volunteer at my hostel during his university break. He is studying marketing and when I asked if he was enjoying his course, he clearly communicated that he did not enjoy it at all but felt he had no choice in the matter of what he studied...hmmm...could there be a trend of kids studying something they don't want to?
I must mention here that I had not been to the toilet for a number two in 4 days and was beginning to get anxious because as those of you who know me know, I can be a little anal retentive when it comes to my great joy in cleansing out my system on a daily basis! 4 days is the longest I've gone without any bowel movements in a VERY long time and my body offered no indication of wanting to change that situation. SO I decided to consume some glorious fruit and fibre because the toilets at the hostel are impeccably clean and there are sitting toilets rather than squatters...HURRAY! I went for a walk towards the centre of town, where I saw a number of sights that were astonishing. Firstly there was the mobile phone district, where there were literally over 200 shops selling mobile phones or various shapes and sizes, colours and brands. I've never seen so many phones in my life and they were all next door to each other and so many of the shops had so many people and each one checking out one or more phones! CRAZY! I then found the central square which had dancing fountains. There was very loud Chinese classical music playing and the fountain which was about 100 metres long had a dazzling show which seemed to be synchronized to the music. There were thousands of Chinese tourists taking their photo in front of the water display. I started needing to pee there and was not game to try the public toilet so opted to keep on walking towards the park i was heading for. The need to pee got more and more desperate and eventually I was dancing along controlling myself from grabbing my bits in public and literally keeping the pee in. I saw a nice looking hairdressers so stopped in for a pee and a haircut. The haircut was amazing (as was the pee) I have designs in the side of my head the the Mohawk has never looked better!
The peoples park was splendid, there really are some beautiful parks here in china. The lake had goldfish and rowing boats, the trees were well kept and looked very exotic to my eyes. there were many people old and young enjoying the facilities available, people singing, some dancing, some sleeping, some stretching. After teh park on my leisurely stroll back to the hostel my belly started gurgling and the desire to use the toilet once again surfaced only this time I needed one I could it on....the journey to the hostel was HILARIOUS!!!! I made it and finally was able to cleanse out my insides! I then replenished my nutrients with a typical sichuan style hot pot which the hostel provided to it's residents gratis! Sichuan food is REALLY spicy and there is a type of peppercorn that numbs ones tongue...it's so exotic, its a sensual experience for the tongue like no other I've ever had!
Yesterday I went to a Panda Breeding Research Base and spent a few hours watching pandas do their thing. They are such big lazy creatures and so incredibly delightful to watch as they did their thing. The first panda we saw was asleep and i think we could have stood and watched it sleep for a good half an hour had our guide not promised us there would be more pandas coming up. We saw five two-year-olds playing and wrestling with each other. They were so playful and they had us the observers wrapped around the false thumb! We saw a 5 year old eating his bamboo, a couple of new, new borns squirming in the incubation tank, one a couple of months old that was the size of my hand yet already had the black and white colouring (SOOOOO adorable) and the red panda which resembled a raccoon. I'd never heard of a red panda before and was happy to learn about the existence of a new pretty creature.
I've spent the rest of my time trying to organise the next leg of my journey which was not looking as I had hoped it would until just a few hours ago. I want to go on the road towards Tibet from here but yesterday the buses were not going because there were some land-slides due to the heavy rainfall. I booked a train ticket down south instead after having accepted that I would not get the chance to see west Sichuan. But this morning was informed that the roads had been fixed and the buses were accessible again so I had to go to the train station cancel my train ticket (receive a partial refund) come back to the hostel and book the bus...which is leaving tomorrow morning at 8am! SO i have one more evening here at Nova with the clean toilets and comfortable beds before I head into the wilderness and the mountains! Very excited! On that note I will return to my book, I'm reading about Ghengis Khan and his world take over!