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Amy and Co. In China 6 – Mosquitoes, Missing Trains and Mass Flooding

This next extract was written after I came back from Xi’An. There was no need in taking my iPad where I had written all of this, so they all got bundled up into this one draft. Consider it my Christmas treat to you all.

Sunday 17th July

Okay, so I lied. After some complications turns out it’s been a week, but that’s ok! Just let life pass you by…

On the day of the storm, it started out well. We managed to get a lie in, it wasn’t too hot, and we went to a place called Hai Di Lao at the local Wan Shou Lu shopping mall (I’ve just realised I’ve been writing it in the American fashion this entire time-darn it), which serves hot pot and where service is incredibly nice, and not even in a pretentious way. It’s like they’re all angels serving God or something (well it is Christmas soon). They gave free hand massages (???) and sometimes also free nail polishes, because they just can’t think of anything else food related. We wore funny little aprons and stuffed ourselves by stealing all the melons (they were very good you see, and then we just couldn’t help ourselves you see…)

That turned out not to be the best plan. The train to Xi’An was a rickety, twelve-hour long, tummy-upset-inducing sleeper train. The station was packed and everyone was barging against everyone. No one even checked our tickets if I recall. And don’t get me started on the horns, blaring out every two minutes. Checked with my school group who went to China during the October half term (I pity them)-and yes, it is a common occurrence, so it seems.

Is it a surprise that no one got a wink of sleep?

Monday 18th July

We all arrived in Xi’An thoroughly debilitated and death-like. I didn’t feel particularly well and looked on with complacent admiration and horror at the Terracotta Warriors and the beautiful palace of some Emperor’s favourite concubine that then got murdered by said Emperor. All for good reasons of course.

At night, we visited the bustling East Quarter of Xi’An inside the city walls. It’s incredibly busy, and the rain didn’t help. There were all sorts of little shops-smelly tofu, a lovely delicacy that does unfortunately smell like rubbish, beef and lamb skewers with cumin, a sort of sugar being wrapped around a pole, traditional delicacies, and much more. We had dinner at this little scrawny shop which apparently has been featured on the Taste of China for its little meat buns. They were actually very nice. My LOH entered a food coma, and I don’t know how to get people out of food comas so I just watched her. It was quite enjoyable.

Tuesday 19th July

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A friendly sleeping ginger cat at the stone works museum.

Woke up to the beautiful view of rain, again. Honestly we were very lucky-Xi’An at the time we went was averaging in the 40’s, but stayed cool enough for us to even start feeling cold. We stayed at the Citadines Hotel, just a little down the road across from the East Quarter and bell tower, which was fancy and had HBO (the only thing that mattered really). We went to the Sha’an Xi Museum, which was packed to the brim and with thousands of people still waiting outside, hungry for tickets in the pouring rain with their ponchos and plastic shoes which had sold out days ago. Everyone was packed together like a tin of sardines, but more alive and annoying.

Then, another museum, after dinner at a delicious fast food Chinese chain that gave positively humongous helpings of roast pork belly and rice, although the preserved pork and egg porridge was nowhere near as good as the one we had in Nan Luo Gu Xiang, nor did it have the same amount of actual pork and egg. The rain got worse, then weirdly subdued, letting the sun finally have its way. The museum was mainly showing large stoneworks carefully created and imprinted by experts who had had decades of expertise, and also some statues and a couple of beautiful paintings my LOH took many fascinated pictures of, although in my opinion the ginger sleeping fluffy cat was obviously the main attraction here. This was also the point where a man from Hong Kong asked Sophia if he could ‘take photo with Indian girl’ in just slightly stilted American-English.

You know that wall I told you about? Well, if you have the time and energy you can ride it. After paying to just get up onto the wall, which doesn’t exactly have the most incredible view I’ve seen (what were you expecting, rainbows and unicorns?), you then got a blissful two hours of avoiding annoying people and yes, other annoying cyclers, on a rickety and very noisy bike that seems to swerve left and right of its own mind. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even hire the tandems, but good luck getting over those ramps (and not ramming into everyone if you’re not at least a pretty decent cyclist.)

My father promptly decided to get drunk on white wine with some old friends of his, and we ate at a dumpling restaurant which served them in all kinds; black squid ink, seafood, shaped like ducks, shaped like monkeys (thankfully not actual monkey too), even miniature little versions which the informative yet dully mechanical waitress placed into a large broth, stirred them around in and then randomly doled out into separate bowls to be counted in. The number of dumplings you get means something lucky, for example: I got three, which means I will become a leader. Unsurprising really.

Wednesday 20th July

Our train for Ping Yao left veritably early, so grudgingly we arose from our soft downy beds and got on the train. Thank God it was a bullet train, so I had a lovely time listening to music and reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin; a brilliant, bittersweet heartthrob of a book. Did I mention I also watched Deadpool the other night? Also brilliant (although perhaps in a less romantic way.)

Ping Yao is a very cute little place, especially where we were, residing in a local kang hotel from old siheyuans. Kangs are flat beds which can be heated from underneath, but are quite hard and not exactly ergonomic. However, the siheyuan was beautiful and there was decent TV in operation. Only problem: the rain. Yes, England’s foul mood and traditional weather had decided to sweep the country in floods and storms, drowning all the car parks and subway stations with water, destroying rural roads and bridges, causing landslides and trains and planes to be cancelled. We tried not to let it get to us, and visited instead the many little ancient houses dotted across the town preserved from ancient times, including the house where I walked through a magical? door that gave me luck and underneath a very low wall which was supposed to represent swords. There was a house where it showed off all its lovely torture devices and also a small alcove where I spun a fortune wheel for some idiotic reason, only to get the worst one imaginable (in a nutshell; your life will be hard and suck). And we certainly won’t forget any time soon the house where it depicted hell in loving ways and with gory detail; people being cut in half with saws, climbing a mountain of swords, having their eyes, ears and nose gouged out, being boiled in a pot, being swung against a wall, etc etc…

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A preserved inscription.

At night, we watched this incredible performance of the history of this little town through the dramatic arts and their interactive theatre. It was a beautiful, heart-wrenching performance, even though I didn’t get half of it and my LOH got even less, depicting the tales intertwined with the commander who lost his life, along with 231 other souls, in saving a young boy, the only heir left of a prosperous family who all died in a very Saving Private Ryan-esque story. There was a lot about flour, and petals, and general death. Memorable scenes included the ceremony for choosing a wife (how small her feet were, how thin her waist was and so on),  the commander’s ghost trying to return home and the soldier’s souls realising that the pains and sorrows of life are released by death. I also bought a hand stitched bunny from the small shops set up there and got splashed on by the performers. You can actually walk through the set, watch events unfold as though you really had entered their world, visit shops selling wine, silk, meat, little carts showing off their wares-it really was incredible.

Thursday 21st July

Flooding is actually pretty common in China, as daft as it sounds. Fifteen minutes in an Indian monsoon and the streets are all at deadlock and the water’s already at knee height. It’s all great fun.

It just so happened that the rain had been going on for, hmm, a couple of days. After a couple more funny little houses we discovered that our train had been cancelled. There wasn’t much after that, but you could assume it was from the flooding. I don’t think my LOH got the full grasp of what I had told her and continued to prance around like a frolicking pony.

Trying to pass the time, we departed for a beautiful Chinese palace-turned-set for a recent movie which was about an hour out after having lunch at this lovely place just opposite our inn, with a mix of little restaurants serving delicious foods, from sweet corn and pork Shao Mai, which is traditionally made with shrimp, to pork belly and rice with soup, which was incredibly filling. The palace seemed to follow a regular gist of large trip zones, little rooms either side, courtyards, etc etc. with one little garden sandwiched right in the middle of everything, with a little pond with a waterfall, and a rather bemused turtle.

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Entrance to the palace-turn-movie set. Not the best of days here but cleared up later on.

Upon arriving at the incredibly crowded train station, we had to change our tickets and also book a hotel to stay in for the night. We decided upon a (Chinese) five star hotel called the Chateau Star River (very imaginative indeed), in a rural block of designer skylines with pinnacles and towers. The hotel itself was very fancy, copying similar colour schemes and contemporary art ideas to that of those in more Western cultures, with chandeliers hanging from the reception room, red-ribboned bannisters and glass statues of nude women and men. The room had a beautiful balcony, a bath TV and about twenty different possible charging spots dotted about in random places in the room, from beneath the TV to in the small Z-shaped space between the two table legs. We had dinner with some friends who had very kindly driven us at a hotpot restaurant which was also very fancy, very much in the style of Hai Di Lao.

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An old mill grinder. The machine half cut on the left side would have been the same, but pulled by donkeys instead of slaves.

Friday 22nd July

We woke up early the next day and glumly arose from the even more lavish beds, which seemed to just engulf you in its softness. The station was jam packed this time, and even getting through the doors took a bit of pushing and general meanness common in Chinese people. As my mum says, to coin a Chinese phrase, ‘it’s like everyone is running for buns’ (I said it was Chinese.)

I spent the duration of the train ride finishing off Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and eating a deliciously hot beef noodle pot. There’s not exactly a first class rate of service on this train, you see, and everything was very expensive anyways.

By the time we finally reached Beijing once more, it was past midday and we now had to trundle off to yet another hot pot place with a Mongolian theme per request of some friends. Traditional Mongolian dancers came in and performed, twirling in their long silk dresses as a man with an erhu played away. I also probably broke a law on drinking and will be issued a probationary, but that was their fault. And it was only a sip from a massive Viking-esque horn. We also received beautiful hand-woven blue silk scarves.

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The beautiful fountain, with the small temple in the background. This was central to the palace. There was also a small turtle in the water bobbing its head around.

Saturday 23rd July

A steamy day, which required us to retreat indoors. Nobody could be bothered to wake up early and the road was oddly empty today, so we went to Pizza Hut, which I must say has a lot more interesting stuff than our boring English counterpart (it seems to me I have no trouble dissing ‘my UK’ these days, I wonder why), for example an actual selection of pastas and pizzas to choose from, a massive range of starters, soups, very funky ideas of variations of salads (ice cream sauce in a fruit salad with clear jelly), delicious desserts and a fascinating drinks menu. Afterwards, we went to the horrifying swimming pool once more, where I did not die thankfully. My LOH did 2000 before dying of asthma (not literally, but she hadn’t brought her inhaler), and I did 1000 before everyone else left. Quite sad really.

Sunday 24rd July

We didn’t do much, only visiting my grandfather’s house which required getting on the tube, changing lines, travelling near to the end of that line which took an hour, getting a bus or taxi which would take another hour due to the appalling traffic. Last year it wasn’t nearly as bad, which just shows how quickly Beijing is expanding, swallowing everything up around it like a giant sinkhole (I think the geographical definition of it is a conurbation. Thank Year 10 geography). We had lunch at this place they love, where some of the main attractions was deep fried fish which was after de-boning arranged to look like a sort of squirrel (with the proper glaze giving it that reddish hue), meat buns and the deep fried buns which were then dipped in condensed milk aka sugar. I think just eating one of them was like 500 calories.

Next up: brushes for Sophia. Curiously very touristy stuff.

~MW

NB: Christmas is upon us, and as a treat for our family (and possibly the last for a while, since I’ve entered my GCSE two year period now) we are leaving for Rome on Saturday and will be back on the 23rd. I am not quite sure when I will be able to post again. But if I don’t make it, have a great 2017!

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