Published: January 1st 2008January 1st 2008
Happy New Year to everyone!
While my New Years' may not have been the best I have had, I had other things to worry about and they are the two things that travellers definitely don't want to be worrying about: money and visas.
Yesterday, after my day trip with the taxi driver I hired him for another day to see a few more of Dunhuang's amazing sights, however after getting back to my hotel I realised that I was a little short of cash, I had enough for the day trip tomorrow and the entrance fees but not enough for food or the next day's accomodation, bugger. I headed out to the bank.
I have been using a Visa debit card (you use it like a credit card but you only use your own money instead of actual credit), the reason for this is that the fees involved are cheaper than using my actual atm card and as it is a Visa it is accepted at more places than my atm card. I had transferred more money on it last Friday, but herein lies the problem, what I forgot was that it takes three business days for the money
to be transferred to your card and since I transferred it on Friday I was expecting it either Tuesday or Wednesday but alas being over here in China (and in a rather isolated part at this time of the year), I completely forgot about the public holidays that would be ensuing in Australia. This meant that my money probably wouldn't be transferred until Thursday or Friday. So, my Visa debit card was low on cash which was completely my fault but now I had to rectify the situation, I needed to find an atm that did accept my normal atm card. I scoured Dunhuang for an hour last night and came up with nothing, sh*t now I was in trobule. Further to this I had planned on getting my Chinese visa extended in Dunhuang as I had been told that you can get relatively hassle-free same-day extensions here. I had always planned to do it here and as a fail-safe perhaps Urumqi, but not having any money to pay for the extension was going to be a problem as my Chinese visa expires on the 4th of January. What to do, what to do.
Searching high and low for
an atm that took my normal atm card I worked up quite an appettite and managed to scrounge 20yuan for dinner, that was all I could really spare, and I headed to the night market. Here I selected one of the many noodle houses that occupy the market and selected Beef noodles and because it was New Years', a bottle of beer, the total price was 9yuan. Perfect. As I went to sit down the owner asked me something about beef (that was all I could understand) and he pointed at a few men sitting down slurping down some noodles, assuming (that is always a mistake in China) that he was making sure I wanted beef noodles I said yes. My beer arrived, my noodles arrived (which had about three pieces of beef sitting on the top) and a plate of cold beef arrived. I motioned to the owner that I put the beef in the noodles and he gave me a hearty grin and nodded his head.
At this point in time I had made two mistakes, one of them was assuming what the owner meant and saying 'yes' blindly, and the other was not asking the total
price before I began to eat. I proceeded to enjoy my beef noodles and my icy cold beer (left outside to cool down) and engage in a pseudo-conversation with the owner and the chef, and much to my amusement everytime I didn't understand they said the whole sentence again but much slower for me and a lot louder, but still completely in Chinese, 'oh right, now I get it, the slowness and loudness really helped me understand your Chinese...not.' At the end of my meal I had enjoyed myself adn was feeling a little better about my money and visa prospects, and then I asked the price. My 9yuan meal suddenly increased by about 400% to 39yuan! I was shattered and the owner could tell and he quickly began to justify the situation, explaining that he pointed at the table and I had said yes. He was right, it was my own fault and with that I reluctantly paid and slinked off with my tail between my legs, ashamed that I had been so stupid. As I walked away all my worries aobut my money and my visa came flooding back and suddenly not in a very party mood, I
headed back to my hotel and spent the rest of New Years' listening to The Power of One on my iPod. Sad, I know.
I woke up on January 1st and decided that the only way to get out of my money-bind was to cancel the tour, and I headed downstairs and explained as best I could to the taxi driver that I didn't have enough money for the tour, the hotel and my visa extension. He seemed to take it pretty well and he headed off, while I headed back to my room to see if there was any hot water today, and there wasn't. Well, that's not entirely true, there was warm water but standing underneath it was a sure-fire way to freeze. So, once again I boiled my trusty little kettle and washed myself from the bathroom sink. Rugging up I headed out in the direction of the PSB to get my visa extension and on the way I passed a Bank of China branch that wasn't open last night and that had an atm inside it, my heart skipped a beat. Was it possible that this, this atm would accept my normal atm card? I
approached cautiously, trying to hold back my excitement for fear of being bitterly disappointed once again, but as I edged closer I distinctly saw the words that I was looking for: 'Cirrus'. I inserted my atm card and the machine whirred to life and after entering my pin I was given two option: 1) Balance Inquiry and 2)Withdrawal. I was overjoyed! I withdrew some money and suddenly my 2008 was off to a great start, which was only to come crashing down around my feet as I approached to PSB and was told that the visa office wasn't open today but would be tomorrow. This wasn't bad news per se but it does add pressure to getting ym extension, what if I can't get it done in one day, I'm leaving tomorrow. I told myself that it would all work out and started to formulate a plan b as I walked back to my hotel.
Almost back at my hotel I saw my taxi driver and rushed over to him with the news that I had some money and if he was available was there any possibility of doing some sort of tour, luckily he said yes and we
began to negotiate a price for the various sights. Ultimately I decided on the Yumen Guan (Jade Gate Pass), the Western Thousand Buddha Caves and a part of Han-Dynasty Great Wall.
First off was the Jade Gate Pass, which as I said in my previous blog, was the marker of the northern route of the Silk Road that went up to Turpan, Urumqi and then down to Kashgar. It took us a good thirty minutes before we arrived at the entrance to the Jade Gate Pass site, and then another 30 minutes before we arrived at the actual 'pass'. Ultimately, if you aren't interested in Silk Road history or you have nothing better to do, there really is not much point coming out here as it is just a big...well, square ruin. I was glad that I had came as my trip centres around following (some of) the northern route of the Silk Road and seeing it I felt that I had achieved something in actually making it this far, it was like a beacon of hope telling me that if I could actually make it this far I could keep going.
After walking around the pass we
drove to the nearby section of Han-Dynasty Great Wall, which was impressive as it has been completely left, no restoration work whatsoever, and considering the fact that it was apparently constructed in 101BC it was amazing that some of it was still standing! It has been quite interesting seeing the Great Wall change as I have moved west, from the amazing experience of seeing the Great Wall as everyone knows it, albeit from our minibus as we drove past it, to exploring an unrestored and serence part of the famous Great Wall; then walking a restored section of western wall and then seeing a (very old) unrestored part of the western wall. The changes in surroundigns, construction and design have all been very interesting and given me a much greater respect for the wole project and the people involved.
During the hour long drive back to the main road from the Jade Gate Pass my taxi driver managed to pick up another passenger for the ride back to town, unfortunately for him he had to wait for me while we stopped at the Western Thousand Budhha Caves. These caves reputedly don't have the same artistic quality as the Mogao
Caves but are seldom visited by tourists and as a consequence you are able to appreciate the artwork more. Like the Mogao Caves the styles in the Western Thousand Buddha Caves differ according to the dynasty they were commissioned in, which I neglected to mention in my previos post but will rectify now. The artwork in the Mogao Caves changed as time passed, from the early Wei caves which show the Indian origins of Buddhism, as the caves are arranged and painted in a typically Indian style. This includes the design of the cave with a gabled roof and a central pillar in the middle of the cave, along with the distinctly Indian style of the painting. Moving to the Zhou and Sui Dynasties which, while only short, served as transition periods to the Tang Dynasty caves, which saw the change in sex of the Bodhisattva of compassion, from male to female and also a more Chinese style cave design. These caves are considered the high-point of the art at Mogao.
Despite the lack of crowds being conducive to appreciating the artwork no-one told my guide this as he proceeded to rush me through the first six caves, all
Wei caves and when I protested and asked if I could see some Tang caves he spieled on in Chinese and the only word I understood was 'no.' He began to walk to back to the entrance and since I had already paid I had no choice but to follow. I wasn't happy.
My driver dropped me off at my hotel and considering I had not had lunch and it was now 3pm, I headed towards the night markets adn as I made my way there I was stunned at the amount of people out on the streets: families, groups of moody teenagers, groups of men and women, it seemed like the whole of Dunhuang had come into town for New Years Day. This puzzled me as there had been nobody on the streets the night before, perhaps they all celebrated at home and then spent New Years' day shopping in town. I squeezed myself through the masses of people in the markets and began to wander around when my attention turned to a guy making what looked like hamburgers. He looked at me and in very good English told me that his hamburgers were better than any in
New York and his family had been making them since 1925 and the origins of which go back to Marco Polo and the Silk Road. That did it, I had to have one, or maybe two. The ingredients consisted of what I think was a piece of pork which he then thoroughly chopped with his cleaver until it took on the consistency of mince meat, he then added a few cloves of garlic, some chilli, a little oil from where I think the pork pieces had been cooked and finally a generous serving of coriander. The mixture was then spread onto a warmed mini flat-bread and served. It was delicious, definitely what the doctor ordered and in the end I did have two, even though my eyes were bigger than my belly and after the second I was quite full.
And here I am, that has been my New Year's Eve and my New Years' Day, and what was shaping up as a bit of a catastrophic start to the day ended up a lot better than first predicted. Despite not having my visa extended, I am taking this as a good sign for 2008, I am talking it
up, it is going to be a big year and a good year at that. I hope everyone had a good New Year's Eve and I wish everyone all the best for the year ahead.
Also, during my trip today I filled up my first 2Gb memory card so I swapped to my second one and for some reason I cannot access the photos that are on the second card, hopefully I will rectify this problem in the coming days but at this point in time there are no photos of the Han-Dynasty Great Wall, my apologies for the inconvenience.
Thanks for reading, for the comments and I hope you continue to enjoy it.
There are more photos below