Well its been about three weeks since I last wrote on this blog job, but seeing as no one seems to leave me any messages these days I shall display less remorse in this case than would usually be considered fit for a gentleman such as myself. Right admonishment over my avid readers (yes I have delusions of grandeur, what of it?)!
Ok so where was I.... ummmmmm in Yangshao yes with all the funny rock formations. Well it turns out that it was probably one of our favourite places in China seeing as the experience of living there was more pleasant than having your nails pulled off with pliers. It was extremely backpacker friendly with cheap beverages of all varieties, good company and a smattering of interesting sights such as Moon hill a funny mountain with a half moon whole in it with great views of other funny mountain things only without holes in them. There was also a cave which was home to a mudbath that yours truly indulged in. The mud was stagnant and and only a little bit on the unsanitry side, but it did allow you to float on the service like the Dead Sea which was fun and there was an amusing slide made of mud on which one could attempt to maim oneself. The only down side to the frivolity of bathing in stagnant mud being the numerous diseases i probably picked up and the fact that even now 2 and a 1/2 weeks later i am still dirty! Anyway on balance i would do it again! Right so that was the sights the bars and restaurants probably dont need too much detail, we drank and ate to our little hearts content and generally jollied it up. The highlight of our time there would have to be riding these rediculous electric moped/motorbikes around the various sites. I had a low rider Harley Davidson style thing in Minature form and Jen had a Mary Poppins style bone shaker. I am happy to report mine is the faster of the two hogs, plus its cooler.... sort of. Low light would be the guesthouse where, not for the first time on this trip, we were treated like pond slime by the owner and her lazy and ugly minions, with the exception of one guy who like the orchestra on the Titannic holds his end up (so to speak) in face of massive impending disaster. Good guy, I almost feel bad on his behalf on sending a scathing email to the lonely planet with regards to the accuracy of their reviews throughout the lonely planet.
Anyway onwards it was to the uncharming town of ZhengZhou (pop 8 mil) a good 24 hr train ride north of Yangshao. We would have liked to go to Xi'an directly on the misguided assumption that it would be a pleasant place (more later), however owing to certain ticket rackets and the subsequent exorbitant rates charged for that service we felt that aiming for a craphole (apologies but its a suitable description) such as Zhengzhou would yield results. It did and having been there I would rather pay more and miss it in the future! The one redeeming feature of this particular place being the Shaolin Temple which is an hour out of town and home to the most dangerous and the collest clergy men in the world, The Shaolin Monks, masters of Kung Fu! We got to see a demonstration for about 20 mins which was amazing, but sadly after that the heavens opened and the rest of the day was spent huddled under eaves of temples and cursing our lack of forethought in bringing waterproofs. As it was we left within two days of arrival in Zhengzhou and were bloody pleased to see the back of the place! The stand out memory of Zhengzhou must be our arrival at 11.30pm to a town still very much awake and being taken off by a tout to a cheap hotel which according to the flyer was very decent looking. On arrival we walked up several flights of stairs past corridors with used potty's sitting outside the doors (ensuite facilities ladies and gents) up to our suite on the top floor. The room consisted or a bed (good start), a tele (good), aircon (excellent) and the decor of the bates motel (little worrying). The bathroom was absolutely the most horrendous place we had seen. The toilet didnt flush, reason being that the handle was attached to nothing but fresh air. The shower water was from a stagnant tank and the water smelled of raw sewage, we almost puked on the spot. However we made the mistake of paying in advance (duh) and so engaged in a 10 minute row with the manager (the devil) untill their patience went and they threw us out with our cash back in our hands... Victory! We then booked into a really nice hotel for only 50 cents more only for dickhead here to remember he had left one of the bags back in the hell house, so back to work I went in an effort to save the bag from the clutches of beelzebub himself. Anyway I got it back although they denied they knew about a bag for a few mins before I was pointed behind the counter and located the errant bag. I was then ushered out with what I imagine were a few choice Chinese swear words! Ah dear.
Right so twas onwards to Xi'an home of the terracotta warriors and other cultural delights. Xi'an it must be said does have some culture on offer, however they deserve to win prizes for effectively disguising it with the erection of ugly tower blocks and shopping malls all over the place! We spent three pleasant days there doing our best to absorb what culture we could find whilst in between munching our way through several McDonald's meals a fact neither of us are proud of. Probably saddest was Jennies reaction on finding a Carrefour supermarket, which can only be described as an ectasy! Poor girl was in there for an hour, ok i went too and was surprised at the relative cheapness of certain chinese consumer goods.. fascinating i think you'll agree! Anyway to the big show, that being Army of the Terracotta Warriors. We rocked up on a local bus to the site which is about 20km out of downtown Xi'an only to find ourselves marooned at the very furthest point of one of the most enormous carparks we've ever seen! Literally a marvel in its own right.. well not really, anyway we trudged for what felt like days before reaching what we assumed was the ticket office only to find that it was a massive refreshment stand. The ticket office was actually another 3 hrs down the path. Ok I'm exagerating, but it really is a vast carpark! Anyway we arrived at the ticket office to the usual sight which is familiar to anyone who has been anywhere in China. thousands upon thousands of Chinese tour groups each wearing lurid coloured hats and with the leader bellowing into a loud hailer and waving a stupid flag in the air. Forget the culture forget the sights, the only thing you'll be seeing is the thos stupid hats for the rest of the day... they are like scholes of fish(or is that the footballer?) who envelop you when you get too close. So thats it, we didnt see the warriors. No ok thats not true we did and they are amazing in a 'there's bloody loads of them' sort of way. Jen is convinced they're all fakes, but I hope not and certainly I've never heard of them being fakes before.. they're claim to fame is their preservation after all! Still this is China so who knows. Anyway they were very impressive. However the most amusing part of the site is in fact the museum, which is fairly large and most hold the total for the museum with least in it. It holds a funny leather thing which could be anything as none of the signs are in English.. i think its an alien. It also holds two bronze chariots found in an excavtion, and best of all in the largest hall of the museum is their biggest and best labelled exhibtion. Its an exhibition about the museum, so this is a museum built to hold an exhibit of itself. HMMMM. Very odd.
Anyway sadly that was Xi'an and with a dew exceptions was a little on the unextraordinary side of things. So we departed for the famously well preserved Ming Dynasty town of Pingyao still retained within its city walls. Pingyao must be one of the few places in China where development has not run riot and ruined the place. Outside of the city walls lurks a very ordinary and ugly Chinese town. But within the walls you are transported back a hundred years or more. Narrow alleys and cobbled streets with traditional houses and shops lining each side are ubiquitous. Compared to the bustle of most of China it's so sleepy it's comotosed! We stayed for three nights and probably that was enough owing to the tiny area it covers, but i would list it along with Yangshao as the top china experience. The town is littered with museums and by buying one city wide ticket you gain access to 20 of them which i can assure you is more than enough!! They all look the same anyway and with no English signs you cant distinguish between them really! Lots of nice little Chinese restaurants with amazing food and nice and cheap beer. We also ran into an old schoolmate who I hadnt seen in 5 years and who was on holiday from his job in London.. twas a little strange seeing him but we visited a few places together the next day and had a good time so just goes to show it really is a small world afterall! Anyway I imagine you are now getting a little fatigued by this account so I will speed you on to our current location that being Beijing.
Touted as the place in China for culture and just general interest. It should also hold the title as horrendously polluted which leaves the city immersed in a fug or fumes everyday, which makes it humid and uncomfortable. Still there is absolutely loads of stuff to see, that is if you can bear seeing it with half the Chinese population. We visited the forbidden city today only to find that most of it was behind netting and scaffolding and under restoration, and the rest is so crowded you really dont get to see very much. It s huge and impressive to behold but once again, you're left detached from the history and any ambience there might be. We also attempted to gain entry to Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, only to be ejected from the line by an obnoxious idiot with loud hailer who declared our foot wear unacceptable, this is inspite of the Chinese wearing similair flip flops. Apparently they are notorious for it, we spoke to some other travellers that also had the same problem, only they argued with the guy untill he got bored and went to annoy someone else. I would say we could be more upset about not getting to see a pickled dictator, and we certainly bother to try and get in again given the queue lasts about an hour for about 5 seconds in the actual mausoleum. ah well. Anyway let me start at the beginning of the Beij!
We arrived early in the morning by train at what we assumed would be the main station which has subway access and all the bells and whistles attached. Only it was infact the West Station which has only taxi access. Tai would be more than fine except for the problem of zero English spoken and no desire to attempt to understand what we were on about! So as it was we did our best and hoped he would use his brain and just drop us at Tiannamen Square which at least is less than KM from the hostel we were booked into. Fortunately the cabbie had had his weetabix this morning and got the drift and deposited us at the mighty square in double quick time. However things were not to continue in such a succesful manner. Being idiots we had no map locating the hostel and being idiots we truly believed the written directions provided as an alternative. Suffice to say we ended up completely lost with yours truly making a phone call from a shack to ask them where they were located. Unfortunately his directions referred to streets which to anyone from a first world country would describe as a boggy footpath, so it was with luck that we eventually made it to the front door. The hostel then made the mistake of winding up two very tired backpackers by proclaiming that our booking had now changed and we would be in a bigger dorm than booked, suffice to say he almost lost an arm untill he was saved by an aussie girl who agreed to swap out of a dorm so that we could get the 2 beds we originally booked. Anyway we made it and collapsed for about 20 mins before we were hailed by Simon and Claire our benefactors in KL who delivered my camera to me. They had given up work to go backpacking and were on the first leg of a year long tour around China. We ended up drinking into the night, as well as eating at oone of the nicest and cheapest Chinese restaurants we have found so far. The menu was a little far out with descriptions that had no relevance to the food e.g. the grandmother explodes the hot intestines round the back. I'm serious that was what it said for a plate of spicy beef or pork. Very bizare! Anyway since then we have been to the Temple of Heaven which was very peaceful even though it rained for most of the afternoon visited the forbidden city as i said before and tomorrow we go off to visit the great wall! Its almost the end of the trip and to be honest it will be good to get back home.. although i imagine that feeling will last for about 10 minutes when i actually do get home! Anyway I shall try and update again, maybe in New york city maybe here. Right I'm off for some Peking duck!!