Xining, langzhou and Urumqi China Blues

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August 1st 2010
Published: November 21st 2010
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1: Water wheel 22 secs
1/8/10: We had to wake up early to sort out tickets to Urumqi. We both had a shitty sleep and still couldn’t believe we had to pay that much for a room, especially since it had no AC. It was 7:30 by the time we made it to the ticketing area. We weren’t even sure it was going to be open. When we walked into the building our jaws dropped to the ground. There must have been 20 ticketing booths with lines more the 40m long. Jacinta had suddenly realized that she should have gotten out of bed earlier. We lined up in the number one isle and waited and waited, we finally got to the ticket booth and they told us we were in the wrong land, f#$& f#$^. We weren’t going to line up again so we pushed in hoping that no one would say anything; we figured that if they can do it why can’t we. We got our tickets for the tomorrow and returned to our hotel to pack and find another. We walked 500m around the corner and managed to find a really cheap hotel. The only problem was that it did not have a fan and the temperature must have been 30deg at night, we tossed and turned all night, we fanned each other with a plastic fan trying to cool but nothing worked.
2/8/10: We had a shitting night sleep, it was so hot in our room and we had no fan. We had breakfast around 8:30am; we had a fresh bowl of noodles and egg. Our train left at 12:00 midday so it was perfect to checkout and walk straight to the train station. We went through the normal security procedure, taking off our packs and putting them through the x-ray machine; I don’t know why but I hate that part so much, might have something to do with taking off our heavy bags with little room to move, bruising the fresh fruit we brought especially for the train trip then only to arrive on the other side to a crowd of people that don’t know how to wait and be patient. This results in us scurrying for our bags before they fall off the end of the conveyor belt or they are lost in a sea of impatient people.

Walking through the waiting room people had already started to head for the platform. We heard an awful commotion going on and immediately thought it was another fight. As we hurried past we witness a mother clutching her 10year old son with another man trying to pry the child from her arms. Both side of the family were in hysterics. The older man looked determined to take the child as both mother and son scream in each others arms. My best guess was that it was some sort of custody battle; it was very upsetting to see.

As we walked to the platform our train came into view. The whole way through China we have had new clean trains, not this time. It was the one time we needed a nice train as it was a 24 hour journey on a hard seat. We wanted a hard sleeper but nothing was available until a week later. We walk into a full packed and stuffy train. We both had wait 10min until the aisle was clear enough to walk down with our huge packs on. Jacinta was not happy nor either was I. There is no way we would last in a smoke filled stuffy cabin. We had done it in India but had no patients and energy to sit on a hard seat for 24 hours. Jacinta had noticed that there was an awful lot of money changing hands with one of the attendance. A massive crowd had developed and a lot of yelling was going on. Jacinta suggested that we try to upgrade to a hard sleeper but I had no way of communicating what i wanted in the crowed; i would be eaten alive and spat out at the other end. My best bet was to intercept another attendant and try to get my point across as quickly as i could. I interrupted an attendant, he was a small fat Chinese man that looked like he was in his third trimester. I spat out a few words from the phrasebook hoping he knew what the dumb westerner was on about. I lowered my hand and rubbed my thumb and forefinger together. He made a gesture with his finger on his forehead indicating that he knew what I was on about, then another that meant wait a little. I was confident that this would work but not sure how long it would take. 5min was all it took before he came back and signaled me to follow. We did the deal in between the two carriages, i paid him 100yuan and followed him to the attendant selling the remain seats and sleepers. He pushed his way through the crowed and said something in Chinese to the other man, within a minute he handed me two hard sleeper tickets that cost me 230yuan, i paid the ticket holder and we within a flash we were walking to our new bed some eight carriages up. I was amazed at how well it worked, Jacinta had the biggest smile on her face, it was worth every cent. We had a small room with both middle bunks. We had room to move and room for our packs. The rest of the day was spent catching up on blogs and watching a movie until our laptop batteries rang out, Then we endured 5 hours of listening to music then after that got boring we talked about children and baby names. Jacinta and I were getting home sick, the constant travel made us miss home more than ever. We both had travellers fatigue and could not wait to get our camper van in Europe. We must have spent two hours talking about the preparations of getting pregnant and having children. This just made Jacinta want to go home even more. It's the worse we have felt in a long time, we were feeling pretty bad three weeks ago but meting Nat, Dan and Martin took our minds of it for awhile. Once we were on our own it didn't take long before the onset of fatigue came on as strong as we left it. The combination of losing a purse full of money and bank cards, the almost impossible task of finding accommodation and transport to the next destination just heighten the emotional roller coaster.
3/8/10: Get me off this train! We had broken sleep through the night due to people getting on and off. Two young teenage girls got on the train and spoke at the top of their lungs, if that wasn't enough they then played music from their phones, this all happened at two o’clock in the morning. I was sleepy enough to not bother with getting up and telling to shut the F$#%$ up, Jacinta instead had to say be quiet twice before that attendant finally did their job and actually used authority for once, it would help if they used it on the smokers in the carriage. We spent the rest of the day trying to chew up the hours as fast as we could.
Our original estimation of arrival to Urumqi was 12:00 midday this would have made it a 24hr train ride, the train keep on stopping and stopping and stopping. I watch the other trains go by and was pissed off we had to give way to them. We were obviously on the slow train. I could almost see them laughing at us while they eat caviar, sipped tea having a massage at the same time; bastards! 12:00midday came and went, I looked out the cloudy window hopping to see Urumqi approaching, all I saw was the one of the driest deserts in the world, my mouth went dry just looking at it. There was not even one blade of grass growing, it was just dirt and dust as far as the eye could see. By 4:00pm I looked out the window and witnessed a huge mountain system with snow capped peaks, I waited for something else to come into view but it didn't, it was still just dirt and dust. By 5:00pm we were approaching our record for time being spent on a train. Last time we were on a train this long we were on our way to Varanasi in India, the train line was bombed by terrorist, it ended up being a 29hr train ride, we were so glad to get off. 6:00pm and the first sign of greenery since early this morning. Tuffs of grass turned into paddocks, poplar trees line the train track and villages started to appear. I was excited, I waited for the train to slow and peered askew of the window desperate to look for a city. The poplar trees thinned out, the green lush paddocks turned into tuffs of grass and then finally dust. We past threw a little desert oasis that came and when in minutes. Jacinta was trying her best to sleep, she kept rolling over to remind me of how late we were as if I could click my fingers and tell the train driver to hurry up. It was getting ridiculous now, there was still no sign of anything and it was 8:00pm, 32hrs on this stinking train. I was sure I started to develop a bed sore on my left arse cheek, I lost circulation after a little nap and endured a very painful recovery from a numb arse. I started to wonder if anyone had lost an arse cheek dew to pins and needles; maybe I was going to be the first. With no food left we were both starting to get hungry. I peered out the window again, we were passing a massive wind farm, literally hundreds of wind turbines were spinning in the stiff breeze, I then notice we were heading into the wind and our train was moving rather slow. Why oh why couldn't we have a tail wind. Wait a minute, if there are wind farms then there must be a city close. I kept peering out the only clean part of the window located at the very top of the window. I had to lay flat on the bed just to look out as we were both on the middle bunks. A road appeared then highways, then buildings and high rise buildings. Everyone started to stir in the anticipation of arrival. Finally the train pulled up and everyone got off, we were the last ones to get off just because our bags were so big and bulky. We jumped out of the train, wrestled our way outside and jumped in the first taxi that would take a westerner. Before long we were in the comforts of our hostel named White Birches, we were tired of being tired. We went to dinner and sat alfresco style in a restaurant only 20m walk from our hostel. We had a beer each and dined on garlic broccoli, lamb barbecue kebabs and a salad that ended being seasoned with sugar; really weird.
4/8.10: The next day was spent not doing anything, the next two days in fact. We basically hit the internet, downloading what ever movie and music we could for the upcoming 24hrs trip to Kashkar. We spent two hours of one day walking 3km to train ticketing office to buy tickets. We had our phrasebook ready and note pad. We waited patiently in line for 10min until it was our turn. We took control of the conversation straight away so as to give an idea of where we wanted to go, how we wanted to go and when. She came back with a flurry of gibberish that we did not understand. We strugged our shoulders and look at each other. Sometimes through body language we know what they say but this time as many times we were confused. She looked at her computer and took a slow in a slow deep breath. She look at us and said “mao” this means, I don't have. We then pointed to a different date, once again she came back with a pile of gibberish. She said it two or three times, I turned around and yelled does anyone speak English, everyone just looked at me as if to say “whats that man gibbering on about” We had to politely step away from the counter, The conversation went from being in our control to defeated within seconds. We spyed a young girl with her father and thought that this was our best bet for someone who might speak English, she did speak a little but not enough to help. We walked back to our hostel once again feeling the weight of the world coming down again.
5/8/10: We spent the day doing nothing. Caught up on internet.

6/8/10: Walked to the museum 3km away. On the way we passed a massive warehouse full of handmade jade bracelets, stone statues and semi precious stones. I was amazed by the petrified trees they had on display. Every sort of stone and crystal was on display. After this we kept walking to the museum.
The museum was free to get in and we spent 2hours walking around. We paid for an English speaking headset so we could understand what most of the history was about. It was interesting to see the different cultures. I got sick of looking at all the different pottery but loved the mummy’s that were on display, some were over three thousand years old. It was hard to last the 2 hours, I’m sure they must put some sort of sleeping gas in the air-conditioning, I spent most of the time yawning as I do in all museums, I wasn't alone, Jacinta was also yawing. It was like we could both crawl into quiet corner and go to sleep for 5hours. It was already too late for the museum guards; at a guess I would say more than 50% were slumped on their chars asleep. We intended to go to the main bazaar but by the time we tried to find a bus we were already felling lazy. Back to the hostel for some internet and beer.


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