There is a quiz later on in this blog. We are really using modern multimedia to the max!
Having not had a rest day for over two weeks, we felt we had earned a few in the Himalayan foothills and duly claimed them in Xi’An. Staying in a very friendly hostel, it is always a nice change to speak to some other travellers, share stories and discover a new town together.
I went for a run on the first morning, towards a big public park recommended to me for its ping pong and taichi. Unfortunately, as with many other parts of China, it was all a building site and my run became an end in itself… On my return, I enjoyed the fourth floor terrace gym (consisting solely of two dumbbells) which the hostel offered, cleaned my bike, and waited for Alex who went into town to buy himself a pair of headphones I had bought myself for a good price the previous night.
We went to see the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, far too touristy for our liking, but had a great couple of encounters on the way. As we sipped soup on nursery-sized chairs in the middle of the pavement, a passer by came to chat in chinese, asking us questions until he figured out I had studied physics at Cambridge, then the floor was his… He was very excited to be able to display his startling knowledge of cambridge physicists while we struggled to figure them out! Can you guess who is who?! Pinyin in brackets for those who cannot read characters!
However easy you may have found that, we were very impressed by this chap’s knowledge, and he used our full attention to introduce us to his young male friend who was also close by. Within a couple of minutes, this latter gentleman had revealed himself as a ladyboy by the display of multiple photos of himself all glammed up on his mobile phone. Interested and touched by his openness towards us, I did not hesitate in giving him Alex’s phone number so that he could get in touch at a later time in our stay in Xi’An! He did, three times:
“Hello? Where have you been? Night live there? I want to see you play? Can?”
“I love you? You in that hotel? I find you”
If anyone going to Xi’An wants his/her number, we still have it!
We returned to the hostel for the highlight of my day which I had been looking forward to since I found out about it. A sixty-four year-old table tennis master came to the hostel for a whole three hours playing with anyone who wanted to. This being low season, I was the only one, and endured two and a half hours of being thrashed by an admirable adversary before I had to rest and recover! At one point, I even wore my China sports top I had bought the night before to try and scare him, but it didn’t work. I did have a great time and learnt a couple of new serves though…
After heading out for our first dinner of the evening in an Easterly direction, we returned to find Alex had lost the room key, though even this had a positive outcome: as he waited for a new one at reception, he intercepted Clémence, a charming French girl, as she arrived from Pyongyang. We therefore inevitably went out for a second dinner in her company and resolved to meet up in the morning to go and visit the Terracotta Warriors.
After another hour on the terrace gym early in the morning, we met up with Clémence and her newly arrived Australian/Brit friend Emily, a motorbike postie in her home town with an enviable joie-de-vivre! Via a noodle breakfast in a street restaurant and a big punch up by the train station, we made our way to the Terracotta Warriors, the main attraction around here, and absolutely loved them. The mix of authentic and renovated is much better balanced than in most other Chinese attractions, which tend to favour the latter far too heavily. I climbed up the city walls as we walked back towards the center for a good view of the town and the sunset before we stopped for noodles and kumquats!
As we came back into the hostel, we were delighted to find Mark, a great guy whom me met and spent days with in Kashgar, sitting on the sofa. It turns out our change of route just meant that we bumped straight into him! After another quick game of ping pong, we all set out into town, tasted duck head, hearts and chicken foot (mostly Alex, I was not so keen, nor was Emily the vegetarian!) and found a bar to relax in. We all made fools of ourselves playing a knee tapping game in the street, then Alex sang on stage and we made a quick getaway!
On the way back, we witnessed a car crash while driving too fast around a corner and were shocked to see no one help the drivers. They got out and the car burst into flames, I tried to get a fire extinguisher but no shops or hotels had any! The flames grew and grew, the tires exploded and just before (we reckon) the whole tank blew up, the most useless fire crew in history arrived and slowly extinguished the blaze. Ten firemen were present: two manned the hose, one operated the video camera, and the others watched on without lifting a pinkie!
We then headed back through the Muslim Quarter, bought some attractive (?) panda bear and reindeer hats but resisted the tempting offer of stargazing from some locals who had rolled out their telescopes onto the streets. Apparently Jupiter is visible even through the smog!
I went for another jog around town the next morning, feeling tired from one of our latest nights of the trip (2am), we are usually asleep in the tent by 7pm! Along with the two girls and their roommate Jennifer, an American living in Beijing, we went walking for a few hours around the small street around the town centre, checking out any stall selling anything vaguely edible and also trying my hand out at selling some Chinese shoes!
That afternoon the girls left, taking the train to Shanghai and beating us there by at least three weeks. We spent the evening with Mark and tried out some bugs, larvae, bull penis and testicles. When in Rome…
*** Answers ***
Sir Isaac Newton