Saturday 23rd April 2011
MP3 track of the day: Fireflies - Owlcity
A huge ball of white light appeared out of know where; it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the sudden switching on of the cabin light. 11:30pm my watch read; I must have only had an hours sleep. The train had stopped and my cabin became full; I didn't really pay much attention to my new room mates but their seemed to be a middle-aged Chinese lady, on the bench opposite me, with an older lady above and a child in the final bunk. As they had only just boarded I forgave them the noise that came with storing luggage and getting ready for bed. What did annoy me was there constant talking until almost 1am; they didn't even try to keep their voices low and so I resorted to inserting ear plugs, and placing an eye mask, upon my face. Eventually I drifted back to sleep.
I awoke sharply, fearing that I'd lost my eyesight. Once I'd removed my eye mask I saw a young Chinese girls face staring at me apologetically. It would appear that, whilst trying to disembark from the top bunk, she had landed on my legs. 7:30am my watch read; I wanted at least another hours sleep.
As I tried to head back to 'the land of nod' my room mates voices didn't seem to quieten; I spread out on my bunk, reluctant to give any space for someone to sit down. I stirred this way and that eventually opening my eyes around 8am; as I sat up it appeared that I had a whole Chinese family looking down at me. I got ready, had something to eat, before staring out of the window. There was an old silence for a short period; within this time I guessed that this large Chinese family, probably occupying many cabins within this carriage, were moving as one. Luckily for me it would appear that they had chosen my carriage as their place for meeting and conversation. Eventually the older lady asked, I think, her grandchildren to talk to me in English. The two girls were eight and nine and were a little shy at first but eventually they started to ask the usual questions; 'What is your name?', 'How old are you?', 'Where are you from?'. At first I was reluctant to play along with this 'happy family' scenario, considering the two rude awakenings I'd received within the last twenty-four hours. However, over time, I mellowed to find the family rather pleasant. The dad spoke a little English in which he told me that he was a Chinese fighter-pilot. The most interesting comment came when the girls asked if 'I liked Japan'. Knowing their past I didn't want to tell the truth (It's my most favourite Asian country, much better than China) and yet I didn't want to lie either. I gave a simple 'yes' to which they groaned and translated the information to their elders. There was a small look of dislike for a while; the girls then began to explain the history and I thought it rather sad that this burning hatred, for something that happened so long ago, was being passed down from generation to generation. Afterwards a period of silence fell upon the carriage. I peered out of the window to see a view of constant industrial units broken up by a few trees … it certainly wasn't breathe taking.
The silence soon broke with the girls trying to teach me Chinese. At first they started with 'Hello' and 'thank you' but then, after they realised I knew these words, they upped the academic level. Soon they were teaching me the Chinese for 'star', 'pink', 'green' and 'necklace' which they seemed to enjoy. I, on the other hand, couldn't really see the point to this lesson as when was I going to learn my new found language? I suppose I could explain to someone, in Chinese, 'that the star in the sky was a pink and green colour … a bit like the necklace I was wearing' but how often would that topic of conversation come up? It didn't really mater; the girls ran a short test and I'd forgotten everything that they had taught me.
The rest of the journey consisted of the odd question, reading my book, looking out of the window and listening to the worlds longest conversation in Chinese. The family then departed at 'Luoyang' and was replaced with a strange woman. She kept talking to me in Chinese and I would reply in English. Both of us had a blank expression on our faces; I think hers was 'Why are you speaking in English?' whereas mine was 'Why are you talking to me as I cannot understand a word that is coming out of your mouth?' After a very large English statement which, if I'm honest, didn't make complete sense she looked baffled and shut up. I continued to read my book, and look out the window, whilst this woman shouted at her phone. The time,11am ... only four hours to go.
The view improved considerably as we approached Xi'an. Run-down industrial units gave way to high peak mountains, with alpine trees growing all over them. With the skies eventually turning blue it was a lovely sight, however my companion kept closing the door preventing me from viewing the outside world. As soon as she sat down I opened the door again. The time was 3pm and we should have arrived in Xi'an; with no signs, or messages, in English my 'worry-o-meter' was starting to spring into life. I found the carriage stewardess and asked her when my stop will be; she smiled and said 'soon'; I sat down relieved that I hadn't missed it.
3:45pm came and the stewardess returned. 'Next stop' she said quietly; I smiled and thanked her. The train seemed to be slowing down for ever; as Xi'an is a walled city, according to my guidebook, I looked out of the window expecting to see a huge wall ... but there wasn't one. Many a time I saw a minor wall and prepared myself for disembarkation, however the train rolled forever onwards. Eventually out of the window, that the Chinese woman was still trying to block with the door, I saw a huge great walled gate, with many red lags flying in the breeze. I put my pack on my back and stood within the carriage hall, waiting to alight.
I smiled at the stewardess as I left the train and walked along the platform. The first thing I noticed was that Xi'an was hot, seriously hot. Once through the crowds I took my backpack off to remove my coat. I was supposed to get a 'free pick up' from the train station however, due to the hundreds of Chinese faces, I was rather hoping that my 'pick up' would spot me before I spotted him. I walked slowly, in the direction of the hostel, looking around me but alas I couldn't see anyone with a placard. Once out of the main square I abandoned all hope and, due to the hostel being quite close, I walked to it.
The hostels amazing; built within a renovated old style Chinese house, with it's many courtyards and round doors, it seems to have everything including a restaurant, games room, laundry facilities and above all, other travellers. I rushed into my room, put my bags within my locker, eager to get out and purchase my train ticket to Chengdu. Remembering what happened in Shanghai I wanted to make sure that I had a seat on a train, in three days time, before they all booked out. As I was moving ever closer to the May holiday I didn't want to leave anything to chance.
Even though the day was growing old the sun was still hot; I passed through a park, with groups of old people performing their exercise routines, before making it to the train ticket office. This time I had a choice of trains; I opted for the 8:00pm train, arriving within Chengdu at 12pm, the following day; this would for allow another full day within Xi'an.
Once this was done I headed to the local supermarket to purchase some snacks (annoyingly there isn't a kitchen at my hostel so I couldn't purchase any meals, however I bought some snacks for my trip to the terracotta warriors tomorrow) before returning to the hostel. I turned on my PC and tried to connect to the hostels network. Once again it failed and this was becoming a serious pain; out of the four places that I've stayed within China only two have allowed me to connect ... the failure rate is higher than South East Asia. With the Chinese holiday looming I had to book accommodation within Chengdu and quick; luckily the hostel had some PC’s that I could use. Afterwards I had a quick shower before getting back to Rome. Once more I found myself engulfed within a novel not wanting to let it go. I eventually went to sleep wishing for an early start tomorrow.