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January Travels – Part 1

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Monday 18th January 2016, ~5:30pm

I have been travelling for a whole week now, and man, is it tiring.

I find myself on yet another train in China (this time, a nice high-speed one) bound for Guilin.

I left Shanghai last Sunday morning on a flight to Beijing, where I met Nafeesah who made her way up from Nanjing. We spent the afternoon wandering around the area we called home about three years ago, when we studied abroad at Beijing Normal University. Though there were some differences, it was a strange feeling walking around knowing where I was going in a place so far away from home and familiarity. I happily discovered one of the local jianbing makers was still there, and satisfied my craving for one of those eggy, crunchy, tasty snacks, but the day was miserably grey, gloomy and dull, giving me the feeling that the university was a ghost town. The whole afternoon was, overall, rather unpleasant, and confused me slightly as to what I had missed this place for!

Delicious Beijing jianbing!

Delicious Beijing jianbing!

Luckily, I met an old friend for dinner, which was lovely, brightening my evening and pretty much redeeming the day that had thus far been pretty miserable.

The next day was the Great Wall. I felt unsatisfied by my first visit three years ago to the most popular section of the Wall, Badaling, and wanted to visit a different section, bringing us to Mutianyu, a ~2hour journey from Beijing. In total contrast to the previous day, we got a bright sun and beautiful blue skies – a rarity for Beijing with its usually high pollution levels. The temperature remained below 0°C though.
Despite being semi-scammed on our way there, I was amused by our taxi-driver, whose response to the pollution problem was “Oh that’s nothing to worry about, the government is sorting that out right away!” – showing his innocent faith in the government.
Surprisingly, it was less cold once we were actually up on the Wall, but nevertheless, still cold, and very steep. Due to the time of year, there was little greenery, and even fewer visitors. This emptiness atop the Wall gave us some excellent picture opportunities, and luckily it was a wonderfully clear day, so visibility was high 🙂

My Wall

My Wall

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On Tuesday we visited Jingshan Park and Beihai Park, both very central, where we enjoyed scenic romantic walks through the parks, past pagodas, frozen lakes and over bridges. I also witnessed possibly my first real proper sunset in China.

View of the Forbidden City obscured somewhat by the trees...

View of the Forbidden City obscured somewhat by the trees…

Middle of Beijing

Middle of Beijing

 

Having fun in the cold

Having fun in the cold

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Frozen lakes: ice skating and sleighs

Frozen lakes: ice skating and sleighs

My first beautiful sunset in China

Catching some sun in below freezing temperatures :p

On Wednesday morning we left Beijing (and left China), on a flight to Macau. (Macau is not part of Mainland China).

Departing for Macau

Departing for Macau

To be continued…

Xinjiang: Urumqi, Day 1

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It’s been a while since I posted. Again. As mentioned in my last post, my laptop has been totally unusable from a few days after final exams finished, then I was off travelling, and then the last week in China was pretty hectic anyway. Yes, I’m now back in London, but I can still say that I was in Beijing last week! That’s something, right?! I arrived back last Friday evening, and… I already miss China. It feels very surreal (still), and I have this feeling like I’m still supposed to be going back. I can’t be staying here, like, permanently now,  can I…?

Don’t get me wrong, London is an amazing place to live and I love it (don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices, don’t talk to me about prices….) but my year abroad in China has been full of so many amazing (and some less so amazing) experiences and I am 100% glad I did it. No regrets whatsoever. More of that later, maybe. But for now, I’m gonna go back almost a month to the 11th of June – the start of my travels to China’s far West: Xinjiang.

During our travels, I wrote the old-fashioned way, on paper – so here goes typing it up and inserting pictures, of which there are many!

Arrival in Urumqi

After landing at the airport in Urumqi, one of the first things I noticed that I thought was pretty cool was seeing signs in Chinese, Uyghur AND English.

Good English, as usual…

We made it onto a shuttle bus into the city, on which the only seats remaining were one right at the back squashed between luggage and the men to which the luggage belonged, and one seat up at the front next to the driver. Coordinating where we should get off wasn’t made any easier this way, shouting across the minibus, earning us stares from the other passengers. Nevertheless, by the time we got off somewhere on the road our hotel was on, both Beth and I already loved the city. Unfortunately, local buses still confused us, after getting on two that didn’t get us to the right place, we took a taxi…which drove about 2 minutes back up the road, and dropped us off opposite our hotel.

After dropping our stuff, we decided to go to one of the city’s main parks which wasn’t too far from us, Hongshan Park (Red mountain park), named for a red pagoda at the top of a hill inside the park. As soon as we left the hotel and made to cross the road, Beth grabbed my arm and shouted “CAKES!” and started pulling me towards a little shop she’d noticed just a couple of doors away from our hotel. Of all the little bakeries and similar places I’ve seen in China (mostly Beijing) this one was by far the best…it could win on one factor alone: It was clean.

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The fact that the cakes/biscuits were tasty and looked delicious was just a bonus 🙂

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We bought a few each, sat down and ate, at which point I counted all the different baked goods on sale and panicked when I reached 30, realising that would mean eating 10 a day if I wanted to try them all before we left Urumqi. Yeah…they were that good.

This little bakery was where we learnt our first word of Uyghur: Thank you – which is pronounced ‘rahmet’.

As we were entering the park, we saw a guy selling yoghurt…and decided to buy some. We realised that if we wanted to keep eating this way, we might as well forget set mealtimes. Who needs mealtimes anyway, when you have so much to choose from all the time… and so little time to actually choose?

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A cooling yoghurt snack/drink

He filled cups with cold yoghurt out of his mobile fridge, added sugar and nuts on top, and only half-smiled when we said ‘rahmet’. But when we asked if he could tell us how to say ‘tasty’ in Uyghur, he smiled more and replied: I don’t know, I’m not Uyghur, I’m Hui.
Oops.

Hongshan Park is lovely: white picket fences, plenty of shady greenery, a bit of a fairground inside, including but not limited to a ferris wheel, from the top of which we had a (clear, unpolluted!!) view of most of the city. From the top of the hill where the pagoda stood, there was this sign on a railing, beyond which was a rocky drop down to the main road…

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Beyond the railing

The sign on the railing

The sign on the railing

I don’t think anyone who wanted to cherish their life would willingly try to cross that road…from up there.

On another part of the railing, there were countless padlocks crammed onto any free space, engraved (scratched, to be more accurate) with the names of friends or couples… Beth correctly pointed out the romance in what the padlocks symbolised in terms of relationships.

After the park, we tried to find the well known International Bazaar because the hotel reception desk had told us that the Wuyi Night Market (famous for its many different food stalls) had closed down, something we  had not come across in our research. We found another small bakery on the way to the bazaar, got caught in a torrential downpour and incredible winds that pretty much forced us back inside the shops, which were selling headscarves and abayas! That’s not what you think of when someone says China, right?

And what about this scene? (The picture doesn’t do it justice, take my word for it: it was beautiful!)

Beautiful scene

Beautiful twilight scene

The stormy weather meant that we found a little underground market, but didn’t find the actual International Bazaar. I went into a mosque to pray, the first time I’d done that in a long time. Trying to avoid the storm meant that it had become quite late by the time we got back to the hotel. Lots of places started closing what we thought was quite early, but maybe this was because of the weather, rather than the time?

By the end of Day 1, or even halfway through the day, Beth and I have both already decided that we are coming back to this city. That’s gotta say something about the place.

Beth’s input
“I want to live here forever. I want to get a padlock and go with my hypothetical boyfriend to lock the padlock onto the railings in Hongshan Park and then go back after I’m married to find it. And therefore I have to live in Urumqi when I’m older!”

Good logic there.

Attempting to describe Urumqi, I’d say it’s definitely much greener than expected, we both expected barren deserts or something, it’s definitely much greener than Beijjng, there are way less people, it’s hilly (Xinjiang is a mountainous region) and the air is fresher! There are less people smoking, less dogs (in fact, I can hardly remember seeing any today), no spitting spotted yet, and there are dessert places! Yum! Urumqi is a city with a totally different look to any of the other Chinese cities I’ve visited.

Nuts, raisins, chocolates – clean and tidy!

A painted electricity box, showing a woman holding Xinjiang’s famous ‘nang’ (naan)

It’s a lovely city with a friendly vibe, beautiful weather, a bustling lifestyle and plenty of small cake shops to satisfy those sweet cravings 🙂

Bakery no. 2!

The start of the Summer holidays

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And so it begins…

The Summer holidays. With which comes the end of my year abroad.

Okay, not quite yet, but the end is in sight!!

My exams (which started on Wednesday) finished on Thursday, bringing me to the end of my academic year abroad. I’m basically finished! Our visas don’t run out until the end of June however, and as mentioned previously, I will be flying to Xinjiang on Tuesday and spend a bit of time travelling in the region. The plan is to spend a few days in the capital city, Urumqi, then take a 2.5hour train to Turpan, a city famous for its grapes, where we’ll stay a couple of days, and finally a 6hour train to Hami, famous for its melons. (‘Hami’ 哈密 is actually the same as the name for honeydew melons – hami gua 哈密瓜). Fruit seems to be a recurring theme, yes. Although we’ve booked hostels, we’ve yet to book our train tickets, because of the system in China, which means that you can only buy your train tickets 10 days before the date. And we didn’t have the time for that before exams.

Xinjiang: Locations of Urumqi, Turpan, and Hami

We’ve also been spending a fair bit of time trying to properly research and plan out our trip. In Urumqi’s vicinity are the Tianshan Mountains, and the Heavenly Lake, which does look rather heavenly in pictures we’ve seen online, but hopefully I’ll be putting up some of my own pictures soon! This is supposedly the ideal place where you can get a break from the stifling heat, with its clean and cool air, refreshing water and…. I can’t concentrate, this just sounds so HEAVENLY compared to the greyish yellowish whitish scene I could see out of my window for the whole day today. And for the last three days. It looks like a sheet has been hung over the outside of the window, for all the visibility out there.
Anyway, back to the Heavenly Lake at the Tianshan Mountains, you can also spend a night out there in a traditional Kazakh yurt. When am I ever going to be able to do that?! I really hope we can make this happen!

Plus! This time next week, I will be able to say (hopefully, fingers crossed, touch wood, etc etc) that I have been at the CENTRE OF ASIA. The very middle of the enormous continent that is Asia. It sounds much better in Chinese: 亚洲之心 (yazhou zhi xin) which translates to “The Heart of Asia”. Wow. I was impressed. And if you’re not impressed, it’s only because you must be jealous! In all fairness, there’s nothing actually there, except for a very..fanciful…marker, which probably tells you that you’re standing in the centre of Asia (now doesn’t that sound cool?!), and there’s probably nothing to do but take a picture, and then…well, leave. But either way, I’m excited for it!!

More in Urumqi includes the Food Night Market (Hell, yeah!!) and the Tianshan Grand Canyon.

According to Lonely Planet’s guide book, Turpan is the Death Valley of China. Now, I’ve been to the real Death Valley, and boy, that was hot! I guess it’s lucky that there’ll be no shortage of juicy grapes in Turpan to keep us cool and hydrated…? >_<
In Turpan, apart from the Grape Valleys, we can ride camels along the Flaming Mountains (this all sounds so surreal!), and see ancient cities of pre-Islamic civilisations.

Hami is going to be even more scenic, we can go to another part of the Tianshan Mountains again, if our visit there from Urumqi was so amazing that we want more, ride horses around what I expect to be another beautiful lake, we can go to the Grand White Rock (what a name…), as well as eat lots of melons and absorb a completely different kind of culture than the standard Han Chinese one that we’ve become accustomed to all year.

I didn’t mean to write so much about this trip that hasn’t happened yet… I expect I’ll be repeating a lot of this when it actually happens, but well, I got carried away….

From Hami, we’ll get a 27 hour sleeper train back to Beijing – I already know this is most likely going to be extremely unpleasant, but whatever – I’m all for ‘experiences’! I’ll be spending my final week in Beijing, packing up this one year of my life here, before returning to the UK, with my mother who will have come out pretty much as soon as I return to Beijing. It’s all gonna happen so fast!!

In the meantime, I wish I could say I’ve been truly making the absolute most of these few free days in Beijing, and regale you with exciting stories of final Beijing experiences, but in all honesty, there’s been a fair bit to do! Chilling has been on the list too, I won’t lie (some things can’t be helped), but researching for this trip has been and still is an arduous task. It’s not as ‘out there’ on the internet yet in terms of tourist destinations as a lot of well-known places are. We can’t find out everything before we go, so I’m certain a lot of it will be made up on the go, but that’s all gonna be part of the fun!

Not to mention, the weather here has been absolutely appalling lately. The smog/pollution is the worst I think I’ve seen it all year. A friend of mine has a theory that goes a bit like this… Because the government will want to ensure glorious weather for the national holiday next week (the Dragonboat Festival, which falls between the 10th and the 12th of June this year), they have to temporarily pause whatever weather/pollution controls and measures that are in place, for a few days prior, so that they will be more effective when they bring them out again for the national holiday. This, according to a friend, is why the pollution has been worse over the last few days. I guess we’ll see if there’s any truth to this when I look out of the window on Monday morning…

Tomorrow is our Leaving Ceremony at uni, and if the Opening Ceremony was anything to go by, it’s going to be an extremely boring couple of hours of speeches. Lots of SOASians aren’t going, but I figure I might as well. I’m only gonna have one Leaving Ceremony in China, so, why not? Boring as it might be, I won’t know if I don’t go 🙂 My class is also planning on going out for lunch after, and it’s the last time I’ll see most of them ever again!

Finally, I’d like to share something that I’ve found, which actually stemmed from a real conversation I was having with Beth about all the delicious food there’s gonna be in Xinjiang, including kebabs, nang (the Chinese word for what we call ‘naan’, because it’s not actually a Chinese food, but has come from Central Asia, and is found around China in the Muslim restaurants only), yogurt, and some good old pilau rice. I was saying that we should make a map of China using foods to represent areas, so Xinjiang could start out as a whole big nang, and we’d add in other foods at different cities in it, Beijing could be…well, the obvious choice would be roast duck, but I/we wanted it to be personal, something we’d experienced for ourselves and could relate to. Beth pointed out that this probably already existed (breaking my heart in the process), and sure enough…

Amazing grilled lamb kebabs, you say?! I’m so there.

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind though (but nice enough anyhow), so maybe I’ll still make my own one after all, but it’s a taster 🙂
Hmm, I’ll be tasting some o’ those kebabs pretty soon….
*mouth waters*

It’s that time of year again…

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…when exposing your stomach and back is back in fashion.
A typical sight around Beijing when it gets a little hot: the men of Beijing (the young, the old, the slim, the not-so-slim..) will hitch their t-shirts up, tuck them under (or over) the top half of their t-shirts, leaving their stomachs and backs open for public viewing.
Guys, does that really even cool you down?
Either way, it’s not really the most pleasant of sights.

It is a sign however, that Summer is here. The wind that blows over you when you step outside is warm, and the sun – hot. The temperature has been within 25°C and 30°C over the past few days, and it’s going to get hotter still.

Last night I went to have dinner at Al-Ameen, a Lebanese restaurant, and realised after that I should have written some reviews throughout the year of restaurants I’ve eaten at! Some of the information online is outdated, and I could genuinely have provided some information on eating out (the Halaal way) in Beijing, but alas, it’s a little late for that now… Hummus and Falafel though, yum!

Not my picture, but close enough 🙂

The highlight of today was dealing with an issue we had with our electricity top-up card. I often miss the way how things just work in the UK, whereas here, if something works, we’re surprised. Pleasantly, at least. It shouldn’t be like that though!

We have a card with which we can go to the bank and top up our electricity meter as and when required. A few days ago when we tried, we were unable to ‘buy electricity’ (as we say in Chinese), and told that there was a problem with the card. Sigh. We called the number given, were put on hold and told that ‘the line is currently busy, please wait in line or hang up now’. If I’m calling, clearly I want to speak to someone, why would I hang up?! Instead, after a few minutes of ‘waiting in line’, we were hung up on. And not just once, not twice, but three times. Thank you. Very. Much.

Trying our luck today at the bank once more, entertaining the idea that the card not working was a temporary, one-off problem, and still being unable to top up, we were given yet another number to ring. This one took us straight through to a woman who told me that we had to go to the office of the State Grid company, in order to replace our card. We have no idea why, but it needed to be done if we wanted to buy ourselves more electricity before our current supply ran out. Off we went to find this address, and from then on, it was a pretty smooth procedure….

The woman told us which counter to go to to get the new card, and tried explaining to us that when we next go to the bank, we don’t need to insert the card into the slot in the machine, as we had had to do previously, but instead we should just top up at the counter. We didn’t understand what she said the first time round, and when we asked her for confirmation, she just gave up! She picked up her phone, and began talking about “some foreigners, who don’t understand her trying to explain how we should use this new card” and “could you please explain to them, because I’ve tried and they don’t understand me”. Excuse me, but we can understand you very well just now, and some people might say it’s a little rude to talk about us like that when we’re sat right in front of you! We’re trying our best, please be a little patient and do the same with us – we didn’t get it fully the first, and ONLY, time you said it, but please give us another chance 😦

The answer to life, the universe and everything? NO!

I know she was only trying to help, but it really wasn’t a huge change, as they made it out to be, and it probably took more time to understand this via the attempted English explanation over the phone than it would have had she just tried once more.

And that was actually, probably my best experience with systems in China.
Doesn’t that say a lot?

How cheap is food in China?

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If I want more time in the day, does that mean sacrificing my sleep??!
Where does time go when you actually want to use it constructively?
There seems to be so much time available when you’re ‘wasting time’ (not that I do any of that here, of course), but time just totally escapes you when you’re actually aiming to study.

My defence is that Wednesdays are the longest days of the week, in terms of my uni timetable. Classes from 8am to 12 noon, and then again from 3:30 to 5:15pm.  That break in between is extremely annoying. Luckily I only live a 20minute walk away from campus. After getting some lunch with friends, I actually did some work in that time today. But once you start doing the work you should have been doing all year, you realise that there really is a lot of it, and it’s never-ending, and that you need to spend every single moment of your time keeping up, and that this hour you just spent working is only scratching the surface. Wait, why am I even describing that? That’s just standard student life. It’s my own fault I avoided it for so long 🙂

On another note, Nafeesah and I have recently been really trying to figure out and determine (by this, I mean with actual calculations) if cooking at home is more cost-effective than eating out. It may sound obvious, but it’s actually a pretty close call. Today we made….well, I guess I’d call it stir-fried cabbage, in various Chinese-y sauces: soy sauce, garlic chilli bean paste, sesame paste. We’re coming to the conclusion that you probably save a few kuai (20 to 30p) overall per meal, financially speaking, but then we should take time into account too, right?
Spending approximately 2 hours preparing, cooking, eating and then washing up and clearing away vs. 40minutes to walk to the local Halaal place, order and wait for your dish, eat it up (nom nom), and walk back home. (or 10minutes to get there, get a take-away, and walk home again!)
On balance, it comes down to this – minimal monetary savings vs. the opportunity cost of time and better tasting food!

I did get somewhere with regards to the list from yesterday though. I bought tickets to Xinjiang, for after my exams are over in June! I’m feeling that was a little impulsive now, in the sense that I have no idea where I’ll be going or what I’ll be doing there, but that’s something I can think more about as the time gets closer, I suppose. Booking the tickets was the more important, initial step, and I just hope that trip proves to be an exciting final adventure in China!

Something I just read online about Kashgar, the city I’ll be landing in:

The city of Kashgar lies in the Taklamakan Desert, and “Taklamakan”  is said to translate as “go in and you won’t come out,” or the “desert of death.”

Uhhh great, that’s reassuring.
They also don’t speak Mandarin there…

Not exactly a typical Friday evening…

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…but a typical insight into daily life in China.

Last Friday, we went to try out a Xinjiang cuisine restaurant about 5 minutes walk away from where I live, which we’d kept meaning to go to, since it was so close. I’d been here with my brother way back in my first week in China, but due to a combination of, a) – not being accustomed to the food yet, and b) – not knowing the cuisine well enough to know what (and how) to order, it’d be an understatement if I said that we were not the restaurant’s biggest fans. As expected, given our now-excellent ordering skills, and acquired taste for the food, last Friday’s was a much better experience.

However, the restaurant is not what I’m planning on writing about, but rather, the ‘adventures’ that ensued after dinner. This is, instead a post to give an idea of the sort of things we see as standard (A bit of Chinglish coming up). We walked back from the restaurant on a different road and saw some clothes shops which looked half decent and decided to go in for a look…

On the bottom half of the back of a pink t-shirt.

On the bottom half of the back of a pink t-shirt. Makes total sense to me.

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The heart on your shirt could suggest otherwise.

The clothes were surprisingly cheap for the look of the shop though, even for China. A lot of the tops were only 25RMB, but none of us bought anything. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned how weird most Chinese fashion is to us… as you can see from the above examples. We spent a good while in there though, quite literally sifting through every item of clothing and amusing ourselves. When we left the shop, possibly 15minutes later, I commented that the woman inside might have been quite annoyed with us, having spent so long looking around and then left, having bought nothing. “Actually,” corrected Nafeesah, “spent so long looking through all the clothes and LAUGHING at them, and then left!”. Yeah, about that… Oops.

A little further up the road, was a supermarket. that despite being so close to us, is not one we usually frequent. (This is because there is an even closer, albeit smaller, one for most of our daily needs.) Some of the following pictures are not meant to be amusing, (though some are), but just to show a little of what the inside of a Chinese supermarket is like.

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srtrange odour?!

Strange taste beans?? I’ll take 20!!

In the above picture of ‘Strange taste Beans’, it’s not so clear, but we originally misread the company name as “Shaming Foods”, and just found it amusing (Alright, so maybe we were in strange moods – finding not-so-amusing things overly hilarious. What can I say? Maybe it was the Friday night fever…) Then we remembered we were in China, checked with the Chinese characters, and realised it was Sha-Ming and not pronounced ‘shaming’ as in ‘shame’. Ah well, it was funny at the time…
I just put the characters for ‘strange taste’ into my dictionary app, and it translates it as ‘strange odour’. They’re both equally strange beans to have, anyway.

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The fish counter

Not only is the fish counter, very literally, alive, it’s also self-service!

Not only is the fish counter live (quite literally), it's also self-service!

Nafeesah, just helping herself.

“What did you get up to on the weekend?”
“Ah, just did a spot of fishing…”

Part of the meat counter

Part of the meat counter… some nice pig feet in the foreground here.

At least this looks vaguely like a refrigerated section. In the ‘butchers’ outside, i.e. not in supermarkets, the meat just hangs…. outside, a lot of the time. Who said raw meat needed to be kept cool??

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Spice it up!

(Actually, I’m not really sure what they all are, apart from the red chillies.)

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Rice and lentils…and stuff. No Tilda Basmati though, sadly.

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…So cats can enjoy a holiday at home!

Admittedly, I don’t know anything about taking care of cats, but I’m sure I’ve never seen or heard of ‘cat sand’ before. Anyone care to enlighten me?

And finally, by the checkout counter: (Not very clear, sorry, taken on my phone!)

Free soy sauce with your orange juice

Free soy sauce with your orange juice. So stereotypically Chinese!

Halfway home…

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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 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.

Queuing instructions for the cable car. (Not that there was anyone there at all)

Queuing instructions for the cable car. (Not that there was anyone there at all)

One section of the steps up to the top of Lishan

One section of the steps up to the top of Lishan

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)

Compare the meerkat .com!

Compare the meerkat .com!

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.

Gate to the Muslim district, the characters read 'hui fang' which translates roughly to Hui Street

Gate to the Muslim district, the characters read ‘hui fang’ which translates roughly to Hui Street

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?”

“60 yuan”

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. 🙂

It's Shahrukh Khan! On a street on a little screen in a little side street in Xi'an!

It’s Shahrukh Khan! On a street on a little screen in a little side street in Xi’an!

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.

Musical fountain show outside the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is in the background

Musical fountain show outside the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is in the background

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.

Does London have a list of Top Ten Scenic Sports? No, only in China.

Does London have a list of Top Ten Scenic Sports? No, only in China.

Some pictures of things I mentioned in my last post but was unable to upload pictures of:

I do believe the Chinese reads 'cow tongue'. Now you all know what's in your milk.

I do believe the Chinese reads ‘cow tongue’. Now you all know what’s in your milk.

Pit 1 (the best of the three) of the Terracotta Warriors

Pit 1 (the best of the three) of the Terracotta Warriors

DSCF1763

Nice to make your acquaintance, Tea.

Nice to make your acquaintance, Tea.

His characters were beautiful!

His characters were beautiful!

"You shall not pass!" (Gandalf)Maybe Tolkien is much much older than we think.

“You shall not pass!” (Gandalf)
Maybe Tolkien is much much older than we think.

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? -_-