Published: July 14th 2007July 14th 2007
Woke at 5.30 am, heart filled with joy, dancing around the hotel room, bluebirds serenading me as I packed. Why the life filled with love and laughter? I hear you all ask. Well, today I am leaving YueYang's Sinopec compound, and will be freed. William was so embarassed about the job not working out, that he decided to treat us to a mini-tour of his university town, only abaout two hours away. I would have preferred to leap on the first bus outta here, but am also very stingy, and wanted to take advantage of a free holiday.
William and JoJo and her father turned up. Her dad is a lot more thoughtful than they, and helped us carry some of our load down to the bus that would take us to the city centre. Again, they all laughed at how much stuff they had, but when I patiently explained for the 17th time that we had enough stuff for three weeks, including books to teach from, a look of realisation finally dawned on JoJo's face. "Oh, books are very heavy!" Yes. Yes, they are. And it's hot down here, so lets dump the stuff somewhere. Tempted to check
How excited do they look?!?
Artemis in at the train station as well, but wasn't allowed. She has been such an angel, coping with the flight excellently, and the waiting, and the buses. Never whinged once. The other two are amazed at how well-behaved she is, and asked how we did it. Umm, we trained her. When she bites stuff, we tell her off. They have an 800 kuai poodle-mutt thing, which is very naughty, but they just giggle when it chews shoes, or jumps at people. They know nothing about animals, this is the couple who bought another 3 week old dog with kennel cough. We told them it was sick and needed medicine. They went to a dodgy vet, who advised feeding it bread only, and said there was just something stuck in its throat. It died three days later, having developed pneumonia.
Anyway, we headed to YueYang Tower, very famous in China. It was really pretty, but after three hours of traipsing around it, I was getting bored and hungry. William bought us two fans with our English and Chinese names engraved in them, the date, and his name, as a memento. Not sure I'm wanting one, but thanks anyway. They
also made us pose in stupid hats in the Emperor and Empress chair. Then we headed to JoJo's uncle's house for an excellent lunch. First time my belly has been full so far. He is a great cook, and does the washing-up! His wife is also lovely, and they have a cute ten year old boy who was practising his English on us.
All morning, William had been trying to convince JoJo to come to ChangSha with us. She kept wriggling out of answering, or using the dog as an excuse. It had barked all day long yesterday, and neighbours had complained to the building manager, which she was in trouble about. William can be very persistent, and she finally agreed to come for one night. William tried to get bus tickets, failed, so we went in a mini-van for 50 kuai each. Another two girls tried to join us at the last minute, but JoJo whined and cried about how she wanted to sit next to her boyfriend, and the two backed out, not wanting a 2 hour journey listening to that! As soon as the door slid closed, she turned and grinned us. So, acting like a
brat does have its advantages sometimes.
Another traipse through a city, trying to find somewhere to stay. We sat on the side of the street while William tried to get plane tickets. Finally, we found a hotel, and collapsed. There was actually a bath, so I informed William it would be at least an hour before I was ready for dinner, and filled it up. Steaming hot water, which was an unfortunate orange colour. Completely disregarding my own safety, I lay in the Fanta-coloured water for ages, relishing the feeling of my skin wrinkling, trying not to think about Hilton hotels, especially the one in Hua Hin in Thailand which has a bath menu. You call them, and they run milk baths, or rose-petal filled ones, or special aromatherapy ones for you in your room. I had forgotten my body scrub, luckily the scratchy 2 foot square towels were more than adequate at sluicing off any dead skin cells. I shed a tear at how much I had taken my lovely apartment in Xian for granted. I am sorry for complaining about how you get so dusty, and about the fact you have to run the sink tap in
On a clear day...
you can see the island in the middle of the lake
order for the shower not to scald or freeze you. I'm sorry for complaining about the green sofas that the backs are broken on. Please forgive me, little apartment. I shall treat you better.
We headed out, well, eventually, as we had to wait for William to try for plane tickets again. Eventually he succeeded, but not before telling us that he couldn't send us on an earlier flight, as there were no discount seats. I must teach him how to lie. Just say there were no earlier seats at all, no harm done, and then the funny little white girl will stop glaring at you like you are a 16-legged creature that has just floated to the top of her vegetarian egg-drop soup. 11.30 pm, in two days time, and I'll be on my way home...
Another famous restaurant. Another night with an empty stomach. Joe has eaten all his hidden rations of beef jerky, and I have been surviving on breakfast bars. The food looks really good in most of the places we are taken, but they are so obsessed with ordering special, famous food, that they forget that stuff has to taste nice too. They
also aren't eating very much, as plates of wobbly black stuff, and sticky white stuff with beans and flies are placed in front of us. And left pretty much intact. We then went for a walk by the river, our ears bleeding from the six or seven groups of impromptu Beijing opera performances in the park. Very famous bridge. And home, where we stayed up until 2.30am playing Harry Potter on the Playstation we had brought with us. Got called at 11.30, then 12.30 by girls wondering if anyone needed a massage with a happy ending. One even knocked on the door about 1am. Plus, you can rent sex toys at a booth on each floor of the hotel. Nice.
Shouted good-bye to JoJo through the door as she left at 8am. William never gives warning of when we are leaving to go somewhere, just calls and says he is waiting now. So, he waits a lot longer, as I have no desire to rush for the sake of politeness, and also want to spend as little time with him as possible. We had said last night that maybe we could wander around by ourselves today, but no! We
had to go to the museum with him. He asked what we wanted for lunch. As one, we chorused: "Pizza Hut". Even Artemis. I closed my ears and eyes to the sight of William managed to slurp a slice of pizza, but at least my belly was full. And he just keeps paying. The museum was nice, except they have some old woman in there, whose corpse was preserved to such an extent that even now, when you cut her, she bleeds. That room didn't feel nice, I don't think she was expecting to be on show 2,000 years later. I waited in the stairwell.
A long taxi ride to the university district, which is lovely. Saw Mao's old college, which used to have the right to have first choice of all teachers. Now, no. But it is lovely and peaceful. More awful food at a tourist trap restaurant that overlooks a Beijing opera stage, then we went to the cinema and watched Transformers. By far the highlight so far. And chocolate popcorn - YUMMY! The biggest gasp of the whole movie was when that bloke from Prison Break (Sucre?) came on screen. Everyone here loves Prison Break, Michael
Scofield is a more famous name than Brad Pitt, and they were all so happy at the fact he has successfully escaped the police now, and is involved with big robots from another planet. Joe and I laughed by ourselves at the jokes, while the rest of the theatre laughed in random places which we couldn't quite understand why.
We also found a pub. A real pub, with a wood bar, proper drinks, Beamish, Tiger and a few others on tap, good music and good TV. Good waiters who poured beer properly, checked every pint for taste, colour and smell. Western prices, but worth it. Especially as we weren't paying. 200 kuai for 4 beers here is disgusting (usually 3 kuai a litre), but it was a little sanctuary. Good job we don't live here, as the wages wouldn't stretch very far. The people are very friendly though, despite the lack of foreigners, there's a lot less hassle than we get in the centre of Xian. It was good opening William's eyes to how we are treated sometimes though, he always assumed we were exaggerating when we said that despite speaking in Chinese to people, sometimes they just shake
their head and say, in Chinese, 'no English, no English'. They see a white face, and stop listening. This happened when he was there, he was amazed that we could have a conversation with a shop keeper, then get, as a reply to 'how much', the guy grunting at us and holding up fingers. Which gets tricky when you're talking in pennies and pounds (mao, jiao and kuai).
Hassle checking in for the flight, the nasty men who deal with bulky luggage has stopped working as soon as they saw the laowai. They said Artemis' box was too big, and tried to flog us a bird cage for her, for 40 kuai. No. William got very stressed trying to work it all out, bt eventually we found out that we could check in at the check-in desk after all. Said good-bye to William, hopefully for a long, long time, and took a roller-coaster home. Xian is surrounded on three sides by the QingLing mountains, which make for delicious flights in and out. Arrived in one piece, Artemis had not turned into an ice-pop (so they weren't lying when they said they had an oxygen room - I was a
bit concerned), and was home by 3am. I love my apartment, it has never been so nice to get home. It's strange seeing Xian as home, but it felt so comfortable, it was so nice knowing I could get up in the morning, eat what I wanted to and know where to get it. I think Artemis is also happy not to be on the road for a while. I could never be a backpacker, travelling the world in 60 days. I like clean clothes too much!
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