I say halfway home, because coming back to Beijing felt kinda like coming home. And seeing as I’m flying back to England on Tuesday (tomorrow!), Beijing ‘home’ counts as the halfway home right now. I just hope the snowy weather there doesn’t disrupt my flight! Or the weather here, for that matter! It snowed over Saturday night and also during the morning in Beijing, and when it snows here, (which I was told numerous times is not a regular occurrence at all, maybe only once or twice a year, but it’s snowed at least 5 times so far already…) the ground stays extremely icy for days on end. There’re still ice mounds around on roadsides etc probably from the first time it snowed, which was possibly back in November! Simply because the temperature hasn’t given it a chance to melt.
Anyway, so I arrived back in Beijing on Saturday morning, and boy – I have never been happier to hear that Chinese English voice that does the announcements on the Beijing Subway! 🙂 (On a tangent, I heard a “please mind the gap between the train and the platform” recently on one of the lines, but the Beijing Subway is no London Tube.)
The train journey from Xi’an back to Beijing was largely uneventful, compared to the journey there when a verbal fight had escalated to the point of physical contact, right in front (and almost on) us. Instead, as I was alone on the return journey, it was more likely that the Chinese sitting around me would attempt conversation, and indeed, within the first 2o minutes of the 14 hour journey ahead of me, this happened. Foreigners are an intriguing species, remember. Although they were speaking Mandarin Chinese, accent differences just made it near impossible for me to understand anything… It’s even difficult to understand Beijingers, especially the older generation; in my experience, the easiest to understand are university students, or conversations between parents and their very young children, all of whom sound like they’re speaking clearer.
At this particular time, I really wasn’t up for the possibility of having to try to understand and speak Chinese for all of 14 hours, so I (pretended to) read my Kindle for a while, tried to sleep, and was then asked by them if I wanted to join them in their game of 扑克牌 pu ke pai (a transliteration of ‘poker’). I declined and found out that what they called ‘poker’ isn’t actually what I know as poker, and instead, all it means is ‘to play cards’. Anyway, after watching for a while, and not understanding how whatever game they were playing worked, I ended up teaching them the rules of the card game I know only by the (Indian?) name ‘Sathyo’. I’d imagined explaining it successfully in Chinese would be really difficult, but they all picked it up so quickly, and I ended up feeling like I was the new one to the game!
Back to our last few days in Xi’an, on Wednesday we’d gone to Lishan (Li Mountain), and on the bus ride from where we were staying to the railway station where we would get the bus to take us there, we were pleasantly surprised to see a group of Australian tourists, (tourist-sightings were very few, as it’s not tourist season) who asked us if we were going to the Terracotta Army and if we could point them in the right direction. Luckily for them, we’d already been earlier in the week, and the bus towards Lishan was the same as the one to the Terracotta Warriors anyway.
We got the cable car up partway, and then climbed the rest of the way to the peak, which was just lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of steps. Actually, after the cable car, when we started our way up, we were offered the option of horse riding up to the top by a group of men standing around smoking, but none of us wanted to risk it… riding a horse up a mountain in China, I mean.
As usual, there was a lot of smog and fog (aka pollution) but not bad enough to reduce visibility from the top completely. After taking in whatever we could of the view and the wind up there, we headed back down again, seeing some interesting bins on the way… Some were labelled ‘recycling’ and others were apparently specifically non-recycling. I was so convinced. Really.
In the evening, we found a little restaurant down in the Hui area, called Aliren, which was almost the cleanest place I have seen in China, and the food was good too! Bonus!
On Thursday morning we visited the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum, with the idea that we should learn something about the history of Xi’an, considering it was one of China’s great ancient capitals. The Museum itself was one of the boringer types, and we saw a lot of things dug out of tombs etc, which didn’t tell us a great deal about the city’s history itself. It was fun still, I found this row of statues particularly amusing… (Though I’m not sure what they were actually supposed to be)
We then headed back to the Hui area, as although we’d passed by and through it a couple of times, we wanted to take our time wandering through and check it out properly. The Aliren restaurant had made such a good impression on us, that we stopped there again for lunch.
Again, we attracted calls of “Hello scarves, take look” as we walked past the many stalls. And a typical conversation between ourselves and the stall owners went like this:
“Excuse me, how much is this?”
The three of us would look at each other, knowing of course, that the quoted price was much too expensive. As we begin to walk away, the stall owner calls after you…
“Oh you say how much then! I’ll give it to you for 50, yeah?”
“Ok ok friend, let’s say 40? Alright, 30 then!”
“Ohhh just for you! Come back, how about 20?”
This is all well and good, if you were actually interested in buying it…but sometimes, we just wanted to find out prices – we soon found out that unless you definitely want to buy something, don’t ask the price. Even just stopping to LOOK is dangerous, and you’ll find it difficult to walk away peacefully. How do they expect us to buy something if we’re not even supposed to look at what they have on offer!?
In one stall I walked into, I exclaimed my surprise to the others when I heard some music sounding awfully similar to Bollywood… And as I turned to find the source of the music, there was Shahrukh Khan dancing around on the little laptop screen, in front of the two female shop-owners, who looked up at me after hearing my surprise, and said excitedly in Chinese: “Yes! You recognised it!? It’s Indian! Are you from India?”. Well, by this point and judging from their reactions, I thought I might as well say yes. 🙂
In the evening, we went back to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, (where we ate pizza – at Papa John’s no less, oops) to watch the musical fountain show…which was a slight let-down, but nice anyway.
After packing up our stuff and checking out on Friday, we went to the Great Mosque of Xi’an. It is now a tourist attraction and although we saw some Hui people praying inside the hall, it’s not an active mosque anymore. I was sad to hear the woman at the front desk who looked at Nafeesah and I and said “Are you Muslim? Then you don’t need a ticket.” She then pointed at Beth and said “SHE needs to buy a ticket.” Well, no judging done there at all. 😦
The mosque itself was different to any kind of mosque I’ve seen before, probably because all the ones I’ve seen have some features of Middle Eastern/Arab architecture, whereas this one was completely Chinese in design, except for some Arabic decorative writing here and there; but all in all, not greatly interesting, in my opinion. We got stared at a LOT, and spotted people trying to secretly take our pictures/videos, although some were not so discreet, and would aim their phone cameras directly at us as they walked across in front of us. Not the first time we’ve experienced this, anyhow.
Some pictures of things I mentioned in my last post but was unable to upload pictures of:
Predictions of things that might shock me on my return to London:
1. Extortionate prices.
2. The lack of Chinese faces, or I guess, the sudden increase in ‘foreign’ faces!
3. Fresh air! (Compared to Beijing’s pollution levels, I believe I’m more than qualified in saying London’s air is ‘fresh’)
Did I mention I can’t wait to be home? -_-