Day 11 (Xian – Shanghai)
So. Yesterday was longer than thought. Woke up, and was very tired. We finished packing our bags, then headed down to the lobby where the guide was waiting for us.
To the Han tomb. Saw a satelite tomb that had been excavated. Impressive. Not quite the Terracotta Army, but still. The satelite tombs were not supposed to be walkable, so they were just filled in. The mausoleum itself was still unearthed and will be for a while yet. When you think about it, it’s a tad ridiculous when there are so many buried treasures that you can’t get around to excavating them all.
Back to Xian for lunch. Shu took us to to a dumpling den for a proper feast. And I mean feast. Dumplings. More dumplings. Duuuuumplings! We got something like 5 plates of the stuff. We ate and we ate. I felt myself growing ever-outwards, but now at higher velocity than ever before.Our guide asked how we liked it, and when we asked about the quantity, she said “it’s about ten plates” and my eyes started bugging. That I fucked up on the chil when I mixed the sauce didn’t help either. I felt as if I glowed, and I’m sure it looked that way also. It was a huge meal, but also one of the best we’d enjoyed on the trip, so it was worth it. The size made it a lifesaver before a long train journey too.
After that, we went to an old house. It wasn’t terribly exciting, and our “prefessional” guide (ie the shill for whatever they were selling, in this case, paintings) seemed dreadfully bored as well. “Yeah…this is the daughter’s room. This is the main hall. Take a picture, or whatever.” Also, there was a shadow puppet show. It was pretty awful, to be honest, but it must have been very high-tech back then. After ten interminable minutes of tw puppets talking back and forth, it was over. “What did you think,” asked the guide later. Stig, ever the diplomat said “It was nice, but we didn’t understand anything.” Sue laughed and said that the dialects were hard for her as well, and she was a local. She explained that it was about a woman who wants to buy something. Then she meets an old man who sells things. I don’t mean to sound condescending by any means, but the gist of the play was haggling? Man, when George Lucas needed inspiration for Episode 1, he obviously didn’t look to Asia just for the costumes.
I should add that the house was also the hub of the Sino-Norwegian relations, and Norway funded the renovations, such as they were. So there was that.
Anyway, after that, it was off to Muslim Quarter, and the great mosque. Once off the main shopping strip, where tourists, hawkers and beggars milled around in the usual fashion, the Quarter was very cramped, lined with narrow streets. The men wore white hats, the women wore the veil. Most looked as suitably glum as the practicioners of orthodox religions generally do.
Mosque was built in Chinese style. Can I get a central axis, y’all? Yeah? Nice. Anyway, it was as beautiful as most of the temples and palaces we’d seen so far. China has ridiculous amounts of this stuff.
At this point, I was melting.
We also needed cash, and getting it was harder than expected; after some unsuccesful attempts, I finally managed to get some, but I was (still am) worried about my card ebing skimmed. Still, I finally succeeded, so we had some cash to tip the guide and driver with. Then to the train station. We got shunted into the VIP section, sort of, the “Soft Sleeper lounge”. At first, it was comfortably quiet, but returning from the convenience store outside, it had filled up. The throng of people and the accompanying volume turned the hall into a near-sauna. Stig started looking somewhat panicked, his eyes darting left and right, and I felt like I was starting to lose my shit too.
We got on the train a few minutes before departure. I really dreaded this trip, to be honest. As we found out from Beijing, “Soft sleeper” turned out to be a serious misnomer, and my back was out of whack for two days after the last haul. The heat also made it stuffy as hell, and our Danish compatriots were not impressed with us, as previously mentioned. The stretch we were about to undertake was even longer, clocking in at nearly 14 hours.
Our roommates this time turned out to be 3 others: mom, grandma and baby daughter. Luckily, not that young a baby daughter. Girl was around 4 or 5, and very quiet. Cute as a button too. Mom spoke a bit of English. We smiled and said “Hello” as they entered. She smiled and said “Very hot” and we all laughed. That was pretty much the extent of our interaction. It was all a bit awkward, and they seemed just as sceptical as us.
So we played cards for a while, as they moved in and out of the compartment. Around seven, I climbed into my bunk to read for a while and wrote this. I sent a blog entry from my cell phone, but it seemed a bit too whiny, and after about five minutes, I wanted to change it, but it was too late.
On a side note, I’m not terribly impressed with the train standard. I understand that standards differ and that this is pretty good here, but advertising it as “top of the line” to a European expecing a smattering of luxury is too big a jump for me. I suppose I’ve grown too unadventurous over the years, but I was also led to expect something slighty fancier. Also, knowing that I’m even likelier to suffer cabin fever on this trip, and given that it’s a night ride with little in the way of an exciting outside view, I’d rather have taken a plane. Still, I guess this goes a tiny way for the environment, and we could have ended up with far worse roommates. But I’d have liked to have a curtain to close, so I could read and not feel bad about it. Also, I moved all my crap up, but now have a noisy bag to dispose of without waking the others. Man.
Around 9 pm, Stig’s backpack fell out of the luggage rack. I tried catching it, but it fell to the ground. Luckily, it didn’t hit anyone. That sucker is heavy. I said “I’m sorry, it just fell,” but not sure they believed me. Hope my case doesn’t fall out after this. I’d really rather not keep pissing off our fellow travelers, you know?