Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Can Penguins look up?

Wednesday 18th May 2011

12 days left traveling the world.

MP3 track of the day: Pingu theme tune-

Weather: The sun was beaming through the train window, but it wasn't until I got to Luoyang that I realised just how hot it was.

My alarm woke me in good time for my arrival within Xi'an; the annoyance being that I was expected to arrive at 5am! Yes my alarm went off at four and, if it wasn't for the other three people within my cabin (two entered late last night), I would have let it ring and I'd just lay there. I switched off the alarm not wanting to get up; I forced myself, slowly, to get ready and as I did I noticed that the nutter was stirring. He'd annoyed me last night; not only did he chat to a crew member until 11pm but he beat me at Chinese chess … twice. Eventually he awoke, got ready, and then, with thirty minutes remaining, he tried to communicate with me. It was 4:30am, I was tired, and I really wanted to be left alone, but would he stop? … no. Each time I looked away he'd tap me on my knee which was highly infuriating. In the end I said that I didn't understand him and asked him if penguins could look up. He looked blankly back at me.

Finally the train stopped and I shot out of my carriage and into the huge crowd; I hoped the nutter couldn't see me. It seemed to have work and, once outside the station, my pace slowed as I tried to find a train ticket counter. After two failed attempts I saw three huge queues, of Chinese people, and guessed that these were the ticket queues. I joined one and looked at the written piece of paper within my hand. It said, in Chinese, that I wanted a ticket to Luoyang on the 8:35am, or 8:55am, train. The hostel lady had chosen these times just incase my other train arrived late, but it hadn't. The time was 6am and I was deciding whether it was worth the possibility of confusing the ticket sales person by asking for an earlier train, or should I keep it simple and go for the times written. As I was drawing ever closer I decided to keep it simple, two hours isn't that long to wait.

Just before I reached the ticket counter a mad, homeless, person was tagging on peoples shirts, blocking queues all in the attempt to raise funds. Most Chinese knocked him out of the way but, as he approached me, I gave him a firm 'no', with my hand out and the eyes on fire. That seemed to do the trick and he never bothered me after that; I made it to the front of the queue and handed my piece of paper over to the ticket saleswoman; she in return gave me a ticket for the 8:35am train at a cost of fifty-five Yuan (£5.50) … bargain. I thanked her and left the ticket office wondering what to do with two hours of my time.

The problem was answered almost instantaneously; across the road stood a McDonald's and I wondered if they had any Pineapple pie goodness. They had. I purchased two, with an orange juice, and sat down; I ate slowly and watched the Chinese news come up on the TV. At 7am I realised that I'd squeezed as much time as I was going to get, out of what I'd ordered, and so I left for the train station. Once at security there was a wall of train attendants with hand scanners; I'd hoped that I would get the Chinese chick who'd dyed her hair red, but alas a spotted male youth padded the contents of my pockets. He did tell me which waiting room I had to wait in; I thanked him, walked through the wall of attendants, and turned to look at the rear of the red-haired chick … she was quite tasty. The three musketeers is pretty heavy going, I thought to myself. I'd managed to read the introduction, and a couple of pages of the first chapter, before I felt tired; this would never happen with the 'Emperor' books I realised. I'd but my book back within my bag when the opening of gates could be heard; like someone had just declared that the gates had seventeen gold bars sat behind them, the waiting crowds descended on the gates faster than you could blink. I waited for the queue to shorten however, as I looked to my left, I realised that said queue went out of the waiting room. I joined an 'off shoot' to said queue and filtered my way in; next to come was a set of steps, allowing me to cross to platform five, before descending down another set of steps to the train. All-in-all it was extremely packed and, I knew, that this is what was to come for the rest of my tour.

As I was only on the train for five hours a sleeper wasn't necessary, therefore I opted for the 'soft seat'. Seeing how many people were boarding the train I was surprised to find that the seat, next to me, standing vacant; in front of me was a small table with two Chinese men on the other side, staring at me. As the train wasn't moving the air-conditioning wasn't on, making most of the Chinese use their newspapers to waft hot air into their faces; I, on the other hand, felt hot but not overly. Considering the temperatures I'd witnessed within Cambodia this was nothing. Soon we were off; the air started to circulate and most Chinese people sat back and relaxed … they were still staring though.

I didn't feel like reading and so I decided to get my Chinese chess set out; it was in the vain hope that I'd get someone interested but, if not, I'd practice a few winning moves. As I set-up the board many male heads turned and people changed seats to be near me. Like a moth to a flame I had three opponents lined up; the first was pretty good and he beat me 2-0. The second was even better though his fashion sense wasn't going to be a 'girl winner'. He had - what can only be described as a metal whisk (without the metal rods connecting) – within his hair; I'm not sure if it was to help with stress, or help his Chinese chess play, but I did ask if he could pick up BBC radio on it. He also beat me 2-0. I was loving the game but it wasn't half frustrating; everytime I saw a devastating move I had to reposition some other piece that was under threat. At last my final challenger came and he wasn't as good as the other two; with all my practice I beat him 2-0. To my face he took the kicking well, but he didn't speak to me for the rest of the journey; maybe I'd found the secret to shutting up the Chinese. Either way it mattered not, after six games of Chess I was tired and my stop wasn't too far away.

My bags were ready, I was ready and there was only twenty minutes to go until my scheduled arrival. It was at this point that a train attendant entered the carriage and, I'm not kidding, talked for at least ten minutes non stop. I couldn't tell what he was saying, therefore I looked at other passengers faces to try to work out what was up; I saw shock, sarcastic grins and laughter. I wasn't sure what was up but it didn't matter, at that point we pulled into Luoyang station and I thanked my three chess opponents. As I left the carriage I realised that Luoyang was hot, very hot. I'd only walked 200 meters, in the shade, and I was ready to collapse. I found my hostel easily and, sat there at the front desk, was a young lady waiting to check me in. Check-in lasted a little longer than I'd hoped due to a very slow scanner; still the lady was lovely and once the formalities were completed she showed me to my eight bed dorm. The room was empty; no luggage, no towels and no dirty underwear. All the bedding was folded and I had the pick of the beds; it was nice to have my own room, but at the same time I knew I would miss the company of travellers. Once unpacked I went down stairs and asked for a mammoth amount of information:

- Where can I purchase souvenirs?

- Where can I purchase cheap clothes?

- How do I get to the Shaolin Temple?

- How do I get to the Longmen Caves?

Bless her she answered all my questions, gave me individual notes for all of my requests and handed me a map to guide me. What was really touching was that I asked if there was anywhere that sold miniature Terracotta Warriors. She said only Xi'an but, as she was a student in Xi'an, she would give me hers for free and she could get more. My theory about the Chinese young became evident once more; I said no but thank you … bless her. I was a little shocked that only Xi'an sold these famous statues, I'm sure Beijing would so I'll check there, I thought to myself.

Once I bled her dry of all the information I could I ventured out onto the hot streets of Luoyang. I was starving and so I headed into town to find food. Now that I was out of the tourist province of China I was experiencing the same problems as before; even finding a McDonald's was proving impossible and so I went to China's fast food equivalent – Disco's – for some spicy chicken. After this I purchased some souvenirs. I made it back to my hostel, hot and sweaty, around 5pm. The receptionist was there beaming and she took an interest into my purchases … I think she likes me. I purchased a bottle of coke before logging onto the internet for the first time in three days. After many emails I shut down my PC and had a long shower; I finished at 9pm and went to bed straight away. Being up at 4am had taken it's toll and I had to be up early to see the Shaolin Temple; tomorrow Kung-fu!

Toodle Pip!

P.S. Can Penguins look up? I've asked, what seems like, half the Chinese population (including the people I played chess with today) and they don't seem to know. Does anyone?


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