So I last left off with seeing the Giant Pandas. We had one more day before leaving for Xian and we wanted to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, we are lazy bastards and slept in again. After a lazy morning and a late breakfast / early lunch, we headed to the train station and bought our tickets to Xian for later that day. I spotted a guy with a really cool (and massive) umbrella hat and when I asked if I could take a photo of him, he said no but I could wear it for my own photo. He made my day.
There’s not really much to do in Chengdu proper and so we ended up at this ancient poet’s cottage to check it out. It’s been converted into a huge park with all sorts of stuff related to him. In his museum, they quite modestly said, “The DuFu cottage museum is superior to any other places in the world.” Now that’s quite a statement! I had my doubts at first, but very quickly realized that it was the greatest place on earth. After all…it was DuFu’s cottage! (yeah…who the hell is Dufu?)
We ended up running into a couple we met in Tiger Leaping Gorge and we all talked for a while. They said they spotted us on the train coming from Dali – passed out on the hard seats in crazy random positions. We didn’t see them. So later, it was time to catch our train and we did that. It was pretty uneventful and we had hard sleepers so after some beers and a few games of chess, we passed out and woke up in the morning. We had met a nice Chinese guy who spoke perfect English and we went with him to his hostel in the morning. The hostel was pretty nice seeing as it was huge and had lots of corridors and patios, a restaurant and bar, and cheap rooms. But we had no time to marvel at the hotel – we had to go see the terracotta warriors! For anyone who didn’t know, Xian is the home of thousands of man sized stone soldiers in China that were excavated in 1974. They were all broken up so they have had to reconstruct them. So we wanted to see them, but didn’t have much time so we planned to do it the next day. In the mean time, we went to the museum and grabbed some coffee which we sipped over an intense game of chess. Nancy has been beating me recently and I was having a very difficult time coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why. I finally had to admit that she is a really good chess player and that defeat comes with the territory. It’s much better than playing against someone you always win though. When you are traveling, a 2 hour game of chess can really entertain you through some boring times (as long as you are one of the ones playing).
That night we hung out at the pub and played some pool while we chatted with some Australians, English and an American. I played the drums with the band in the pub which was cool. That morning, we met up with an Australian girl and headed to the bus station so we could go check out the Terracotta warrior statues. The admission to the park was pretty steep (nearly 12 dollars) and my fake student ID card didn’t work seeing as they only allowed Chinese students in – so I just had to pay it. I’ve heard lots of people go on and on about the statues but I’ve also heard most of them say when asked how they were, “…ummm…they were cool”, which led me to believe that they would be somewhat of a disappointment. Well, let me tell you! …They were…
Why? Well, you go in and see all these statues (only about 15% of which have actually been excavated) and you really know nothing else about them. You don’t know why, when, how, how they reconstructed them, why they destroyed them, when they would finish, what the future plans were. You just walk around, see a bunch of statues in some buildings and leave. It would have felt the same just looking at photos (and I had seen my brother’s so I already knew). But oh well, it was on the way, so I’m not complaining.
When we returned, we had our tickets already booked to Beijing. We caught the train in the afternoon – and sadly, we only had hard seats for the 17 hour train ride. So basically, we sat in two pairs of opposing chairs, staring at the Chinese guys in front of us for the whole trip. While passing through the dining car, I saw a foreigner reading John Stuart Mill and of course struck up a conversation. He was an international human rights lawyer from Gibraltar (look on the map – an English colony in the south of Spain) working in Beijing and we had quite a fascinating conversation about the world. I hadn’t talked much about human rights and the farce of the European Union (which he actually believed in) in Spanish so it was really cool. The funny thing was that neither had he. In Gibraltar, they speak Spanish on the streets and English as the official language, but we both chatted away for hours before heading back to our car and chatting with Nancy. Nancy and Jaime played chess while we drank to pass the time away (in these trains, there is not much else to do – and at 20 cents for a huge bottle, it’s hard to resist). I slept from exhaustion for a few hours (maybe two) and we arrived in Beijing at 7:00am. I took Nancy to her hostel and I headed for my friend’s house and gave everyone a call. My old roommate Shery said I could stay with her and I was to meet up with Maurizio for some dinner. I took Nancy out on the town to show her around and then that evening went out with Maurizio and his friends for coffee and dinner. Then me and Maurizio went to the campus pub and hung out there for the night. It was really fun to be able to do that again and it reminded me of so many weekends in Beijing when I lived there.
Well, that night, I had to make it back to Shery’s apartment. To make a long story short, I ended up getting the wrong building and really freaking some Chinese people out at 2:00AM before wandering around the complex and finding the right one. In the morning…well, afternoon, seeing as I woke up at noon, Shery and I got some lunch and then I headed into town. Nancy and I were to get Beijing Roast Duck for dinner and I happen to know where the best place in town is. We went and gorged ourselves – and loved it. What an incredible meal a good Beijing roast duck is, hey.
The next day, I bought my train ticket to Shanghai (a 19 hour hard seat again seeing as they were all booked out – but which I managed to get for 10 bucks as opposed to 40) and then we headed to the Beijing TV tower so I could show Nancy Beijing from above. Even though I had already seen it, I was blown away yet again.
That night, I went out to dinner with Maurizio and some other friends from here and we all had a really nice evening joking around. And this morning, here I find myself doing this post. Funny how that happens.
So how does it feel to be back? Very comfortable. I know where to go for everything and I have lots of friends here. Things have changed, but not as much as I expected. Some stores are different and stuff like that, but nothing too dramatic. My friends haven’t changed at all. People from the stores I frequented still remember me, even, and that’s pretty cool. But otherwise, it’s just a place I’m passing through again. Like being back home for a few days.
So today I’m going to go to the market and who knows what else – then it’s off to Shanghai and then down to Hong Kong, depending on how much time I have. A ticket to Cairo from HK is 650 bucks, but it’s only 100 to fly to Bangkok and 380 from Bangkok airport to Cairo. So I’ll do that and save some cash. My friend Colleen is in Thailand right now so she will reserve the ticket for me. It sure is a weird feeling to have friends in so many countries, let me tell you…