National Holiday: The Shizzy, Xi'an and Beijing
I'm back! After 9 days of traveling for the National Holiday I'm glad to be home in my apartment which, by contrast, is so clean and quiet and comfortable.
So this is going to be a long one.
The trip started with the three of us Chengde girls going down to Shijiazhuang to meet up with everyone else. That was pretty boring so the only thing I'll mention is that we all decided to soften the 10 hour train ride on a hard seat with drugs. Tylenol PM never treated me so well. Plus we bought some pretty awesomely dorky neck pillows to choke us while we were comatose.
The night we spent in the Shizzy was pretty boring too because Brandon decided to ditch us to go to a banquet for the foreign teachers that we could have gone to, but he didn't tell us as it was part of his evil plot to make everyone like him more than me. (Sorry Brandon, I can't help that I'm so naturally charismatic and adorable) So Andrea, Cathy Lee and I stayed in his apartment- three shining stars hidden so that no one could enjoy their beautiful light.
Saturday night we met the gang in front of the Shizzy train station. These hoodlums include: Lauren (Drake), David (Lauren's school in Shiz), John (Lauren's school also), Laura (Drake), Matt (Luther, which is just as good as Drake) and Julie (Luther), Brandon (Drake), Andrea, Cathy Lee and myself. We had hard sleepers for our 10 hour trip to Xi'an though we barely slept. You get that many Americans on a train and something silly is bound to happen. Because we brought our own booze for the occasion (Brandon's birthday was a few days before this and we were on a train) they weren't keen on us sitting in the dining car. You better believe we were on a classy train that had a dining car... so classy that they actually had one Western style toilet in car 7 while the rest were just squatty potties. So we sat on bags of laundry between cars 7 and 8, drinking the cheap champagne and beer we brought, attracting such characters as shirtless men that gave us baijio and duck in a vacuum sealed bag and college girls who braught us peanuts until we ran out and had to buy whiskey from the dining car. That's when they let us into the club. The "driver" of the train (look that's what he told us. He was wearing a little coat and had a walkie talkie so we felt safe that he was drinking with us) danced a bit with Matt, blah blah blah we got drunk, ate duck out of a bag and went to bed in our bunks at about 4. Nine o'clock comes and the ticket collector woman slaps my leg wanting the weird credit card thing she gave me the night before and I know it's about time to get off. We groggily disembark to find beautiful Xi'an shrouded by thick rain clouds, wetness and women trying to sell me umbrellas even though I'm already holding one. Getting to our hostel and then trying to check into the rooms that we had already reserved online was a pain in the ass and lame so I won't bore you with those details.
Xi'an is the capital of the Shaanxi Province and if you really want to know more about it, click this --> http://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/xian.htm It's a walled city with a lot more old structures than Beijing, but it also has more modern structures than Beijing. So it's really pretty cool. After a good nap we ventured over to the Muslim quarter to gawk at the traditional Muslim food vendors and... stuff. In addition to being the home of "the eighth wonder of the world", the terracotta soldiers, Xi'an is famous for their shadow puppets and paper cut outs, so I got both along with fancy chop sticks, a set of 5 copper worriors, a mah jong set, traditional farmer's paintings from the cultural revolution era, some dangly ball things that could be Christmas ornaments and some dried kiwis. All of this was done while getting poked in the face by eye level umbrellas (damn short Chinese). We then met up with Drew (a Drake kid teaching in Chongqing) and Semir (a Canadian also teaching in Chongqing) who took us to a Muslim restaurant for some traditional bread soup... type... stuff. Basically they give you a big bowl with two super dense pieces of flat bread that you have to rip up into little bits. This is "fun" because it makes you feel like you're a part of your meal, but really it just made your fingers really tired and dampened your spirits about the hygienic qualities of your dinner considering you've been wandering around the Muslim market all day. The real fun came after dinner when we went back to our hostel and drank in the skeezy basement with random Christmas decorations and posters of professional ping pong players... and slowly moved into the hostel bar where Lauren "played" the bongos with France's equivalant to Jack Johnson before she fell off stage... and slowly moved to the Mix Club where most of us got up on stage to dance with the professional club dancers (crazy drunk foreigners) and Lauren fell a couple more times before we called it a night.
Day two in Xi'an included my plotting to steal the hostel's friggin adorable orange kitten and wandering through the ancient market. Instead of staying in one huge glom of 12 or so foreigners we split up. Some went to the Drum Tower where you can dress up in traditional Chinese clothes and take pictures as though you are a member of the Imperial Court and the Drum Tower (which was traditionally used to tell the city what time it was) is in fact your seat of glorious power... lucky... and some of us went to the Forest of Stone Steles. I'm not nockin' the Stone Steles, I mean, it was cool, but not as cool as pretending that you rule all of Xi'an. So the Steles... there are over 3,000 huge stone slabs from the Han and Qing Dynasties (that's really old) but to tell you the truth, you see about 10 steles and you've seen them all. There were some pretty cool relief carvings of Confucius and co. and a fun little forest of ancient horse ties with little lions and critters perched on them (as seen in the picture at the beginning of the post) and some beautiful traditional Chinese paintings. The highlight of the day was when we went to an Italian restaurant and had blue cheese pizza. Now I know that maybe you're thinking I loved this pizza because my standards have been severely lowered being in China for 5 weeks now, but no! Blue cheese on pizza is by far the best thing you could do... mmmmm...
Day three we went to see the Terracotta Soldiers and let me tell you, a stadium full of life sized worriers does not disappoint. Especially when you know that there are more of them still buried underground for miles. Not much else to report there other than the fact that we had some hard core Debbie Downer comments coming from Brandon on the bus ride home. The conversations would go something like this: Cathy Lee- "oh yeah, I love going to the beach..." Brandon- "you know, the last time we went to the beach my mom got pooped on by a seagull, twice..." (waawh waaawh) or how about this one: Andrea- "mmm Awesome Blossom, I'd kill for one of those right now." Brandon- "you know I used to work at Chillies, it's disgusting how many calories is in one of those things..." (waawh waaaaawh) Later that night I found a sweet cardboard cutout of a blond, blue eyes Chinese man selling booze. New Chinese boyfriend material? Heck yes! So I tried to leave the hostel bar with him and go back to my room (and it's not that I'm easy, it was love at first sight, plus Brandon said it was ok...) but the bouncer with a water gun said no.
Day four we needed to get out of Xi'an while we could. Because it was the National Holiday, everyone and their split pantsed baby was traveling and we didn't have many options for getting home. Spending a few days in Beijing seemed like the best choice so we took a pretty reasonably priced flight. I know what you're thinking; will people be spitting and smoking and babies be pooping all over this flight? am I going to die? But no, we (Aubrey, Andrea, C.Lee, Brandon and I) found the Xi'an airport to be very efficient and reassuring and the fact that a possible 13 hour train ride had been turned into a 1 and a half hour flight almost made us say "ni hao!".... until we got in our seats and were served hot delicious meals about 10 minutes after take off. Then we almost died. Needless to say the flight from Xi'an to Beijing pretty much trumped our seeing the Terracotta Soldiers, depending on how you look at it. We also got to talk to a bunch of great seniors on our flight who were on a bit of a tour of China. I even met a retired school teacher from Shaumburg (which, for those of you who don't know, is fairly close to my home town). After getting settled into our favorite hostel, the Leo Hostel 2, in the same room we had the time before, the five of us headed to the back lakes area. It was really cool because Aubrey, C.Lee and I got a free tour of the HuTongs, meaning we got lost trying to find Andrea and Brandon, but it was ok because the rickshaw drivers gave up trying to sell us a tour on their bikes and just guided us out onto the main street. There are two lakes behind the Forbidden City that are lined with Americanish style bars and restaurants. It's actually really beautiful because they're all open air and have a great kind of Chinese, Bohemian style of decorating.
Next day we went to WanFuJing Street, the Times Square of Beijing, to look around at all the Western style stuff including Hagen Daas and Outback (aka heaven). Along the way we ran into a little street that was really NOT Western... they had anything you could ever want, on a stick, sort of. Some of my favorites included; star fish, sea horses, giant crickets, baby sea turtles, baby chickens straight from inside the egg and pig testicles. Brandon and I ended up splitting a snake on a stick. It was kind of fishy and really chewy so I'd pass if I were you and you were thinking of eating something normal people don't usually eat. Fast forward through visiting the Drum Tower (they play huge drums every half hour to tell the time) and Brandon not being able to bargan with Chines street vendors for a fake North Face backpack... we were chilling out at our favorite street food place when I met my next potential Chinese boyfriend. Completely drunk, he sat down with us to eat meat on a stick (which is delicious) and buy us rounds of more beer. He spoke only Chinese. The only thing we could make out was "zui hao do pengyou" (best of friends), so we made up what he was saying the rest of the time and had a pretty good conversation with him. He was (we assumed) really impressed with the fullness of our new friend Chandler's beard but had to excuse himself to go pee on the street, which was easy because his fly was down already. He came back though, ordering more and more plates of meat on a stick and proclaimed "wo ai ni" (I love you) to the whole table. This quickly turned into "wo ai ni" directed specifically to me. I knew this because he kept reaching across Brandon to hold my hand and tried to touch my face/kiss me several times. That's where my American boyfriend stepped in to defuse the situation, I don't know why though. Making out with a 50 year old, drunk, Chinese man was totally on my list of things to do while in China. So zui hao de pengyou just drank more and tried to fight 80 year old men that walked by... the final straw was when he blew a HUGE snot rocket in his hand and gingerly deposited it on the ground under the table. We bolted. Back at the hostel I quickly went from having a slight stomach ache to writhing in pain with a fever and horrendous stomach cramps. Damn you meat sticks! I thought we had an understanding... but I guess I over indulged with my new Chinese boyfriend as my meat stick sugar daddy. So Brandon packed my bag for me because we were leaving the next morning, as I prayed that I wouldn't have to use the squatty potties on the train in 12 hours. Stephanie Cosgrove, the girl with the iron stomach, fell from grace that night and hasn't quite been the same since.
And so ends the story of National Holiday...
Stay tuned for updates on Andrea and Stephanie as rising pop stars, fun food in Chengde and the best coat ever made!