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Published: November 16th 2010
On Thursday evening, Clare, Audrey, Maria, Scott and I boarded a train to Xi'an. We packed Subway sandwiches, a pimelo, mandarin oranges, and choco pies for the ride. Other than that, we tried to pack as lightly as possible, as we were only planning to be in Xi'an for one night.
We traveled hard sleeper. These cars have bunk beds stacked three high, with partitions between every other stack. So there are six beds in each compartment, but they are still open to the hall/aisle that runs through the whole train. Each compartment has a small table and fold out chairs across from it. We had purchased three middle berths and two upper berths, so one person would have to sleep on the other side of a partition, which wasn't such a big deal. Clare volunteered.
Most of our car mates were Australian, but the two people under us were an old Chinese couple. We soon made friends with them because Maria kept dropping things down accidentally from her top bunk, including her camera and a water bottle. Luckily she didn't hit anyone in the head.
There was no room in the beds to sit up. We could
only really manage a sort of inclined state. And we weren't allowed to wear our shoes in the beds either. The conductor came by and tapped our feet if we did so.
We did not wait for the train to depart before we started in on our sub sandwiches and chocolate pies. When it did start rolling, we took pictures and lay in our bunks chatting.
At nine o'clock we made our way through ten other cars to the dining car. We brought our jiao and playing cards. As soon as we arrived and crammed into a single booth, the waiters and conductors chilling in the dining car came and stood around us. Scott ordered beer and air-sealed doufu and chicken feet. Interesting choices.
Before we could start playing poker, the conductors arrested our pack of Mao Zedong playing cards and proceeded to read the captions on them. Apparently they were pretty funny. They stuck around to watch us play poker. The five of us have been saving small change for the past month or so to play poker with. Audrey did the best that night. We each have about twenty or thirty kuai worth of jiao.
That is four or five dollars. But they make a pretty good stack.
After poker we went to bed and did not wake up until next morning at seven when the lights came on and loud music began playing. Our train got into Xi’an at 9:50. As soon as we got off, we went to McDonald’s for breakfast. Then we took the bus and walked to our hostel: Han Tang Hostel. As soon as we saw it, we decided we would like to stay an extra night. The five of us shared a room with three bunk beds. We didn’t have a roommate, which was probably a good thing. They would have been overwhelmed.
We left the hostel and walked about two feet when we were distracted by a man flipping fried noodles. We sat down and ate, then moved on. It was really cold! Forty or so degrees. Chengdu is much warmer.
We walked toward the city wall and were distracted again by a Dunkin Donuts/ Baskin Robbins. We almost walked past… but we couldn’t do it. I ordered a cinnamon roll. So good!
We went up the city wall and rented bikes. Audrey and
I shared a tandem. It was a little shaky for about two seconds, and then we got the hang of it. I steered. We biked and sang and chatted, and about half way around found a blue, tarp wall blocking our way. So we turned around and went back.
After the city wall we went to Stationary Street. Maria needed to buy supplies for her Chinese painting and calligraphy class next semester. She also wanted to buy real jade bracelets for her family. So we spent some time there.
Back at the hostel, we decided to try the sauna on the roof. For a while we could not figure out how to turn it on. Scott and Maria kept playing with it, and eventually convinced it to warm up. It would have been relaxing, but Scott and Maria insisted on debating politics: Sarah Palin and abortion policy. East coasters.
We ate dinner downstairs, in the midst of a jiaozi making party. I ate a banana sundae. Good stuff. Everyone else got sandwiches and fries.
Later on Clare, Audrey, and I went to the night market. The nightlife in Xi’an is so lively! Everyone is out and
about, shopping, eating, etc. We went straight down the alley selling knock-offs. Unfortunately it was pretty late and most everything was shutting down. But Clare and Audrey did get their fake Longchamps.
We grabbed some fried quail eggs on sticks before we went back to the hostel and went to sleep.
The next day Scott and Maria woke up early to go see the terracotta warriors. We slept until ten then went downstairs for breakfast. We started watching the new Karate Kid, which is set in Beijing, while talking to some of the other people at the hostel.
We walked to a bookstore so that Clare and Audrey could find some English books. They only had classics and Twilight.
When Maria and Scott came back, Scott and I played a round of pool, then the girls went back to Baskin Robbins/ Dunkin Donuts while Scott napped. This time chocolate filled and a coffee. Then, on the way out, a scoop of butter pecan in a waffle cone. I ate so much last weekend!
We went back to the hostel to grab Scott, then asked the desk clerk for directions to a hotpot restaurant. It was
really nice. We had to go upstairs to eat. That is when you know a restaurant is nice in China. The waitresses hovered around us. We ordered individual hotpots. My broth was not spicy. And we ordered our sauces, tea, foods, etc.
While we were waiting for our food, one of the waitresses brought us bibs. And then they proceeded to tie the bibs around our necks for us. And then she offered me a hair tie. We thought maybe it was because we were foreign, but when we left the restaurant we noticed that other diners had them too.
We went to the night market again so that Maria could find the Longchamps that she wanted. This was a process. None were exactly the right color.
We spent the evening chilling in the hostel.
The next day we had to board the train back to Chengdu. Because the train left at one pm, we had the brilliant idea to buy seats rather than beds, for a fifteen-hour train ride. We were on hard seats, but at least we weren’t standing like some people.
On the train people stared at us, as usual, but they
also talked amongst themselves about us. I could understand that they were talking about us, and kind of what they were saying, but not exactly. At one point, the twenty-something-year-old sitting across from me said that we could only say “thank you,” “your welcome,” “I’m sorry,” and other such simple phrases. That annoyed me. So I asked him whether he had ever studied English. He said he had, but he didn’t understand it.
Maria and I had a dialogue to memorize for homework, but it was impossible. We would try to practice it and everyone around us would laugh at us and listen in. They kept saying things about foreigners and bad pronunciation. I tried to memorize it just by writing and reading it silently, but people peered around the back of my seat to read over my shoulder. So we decided to forgo the five points. It wasn’t worth it.
After a lot of nothing, we became delirious and started acting like fools. Audrey and Maria recited selections from their books with accents, and everyone in our train car stopped talking to listen to them. A group of middle-aged ladies started a kind of talent show, encouraging
people to sing and tell jokes. They asked us to sing an American song, so we sang Jingle Bells. They wanted more, so we sang a terrible rendition of “Hey Jude.” They asked if we could sing any Chinese songs, so I sang Two Tigers. They all clapped.
A man selling toys kept walking up and down the train. We told him that if he sang a song we would buy a bouncy ball from him. It took a lot of encouragement, but eventually he did. He had a really good voice.
He told us that the bouncy ball cost “si kuai,” which in Sichuan dialect means either four or ten kuai. He meant ten. Audrey said “Tai gui le!” and everyone in the car laughed. But he would only go down to nine.
After a while we calmed down. I helped Scott compose a presentation about Xi’an for his Chinese class the next morning. I went to the bathroom and had an awkward conversation with a pair of men slurping noodles as they were speaking to me in thick accents. We all had instant noodle bowls for dinner.
I tried to sleep for a while,
but it was impossible to find a comfortable position. The guy who sat across from me seemed nice at first, but he was kind of a creeper. He tried to grab Audrey’s butt when she stood up, and rested his head on my legs for a while. He kept trying to get my attention. His friend didn’t say anything, which was also strange.
With four hours left, when the train ride seemed endless and every part of my body was in pain from sitting for so long, I passed the rest of the time by reading.
That train ride was ridiculous. After that, I think I can handle the plane ride back to America.
We got back to Chengdu at 5:30 am. KFC for a pick-me-up, then back to the dorm. I emailed Maria and my teacher about the circumstances. There was no way we would be able to go to class at 8:30 that morning. I promised the teacher that we would present our experiences in Xi’an to the class the next day, then collapsed into bed and slept.
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