For those of you who haven’t been following my train-travel ordeal, I managed to get a hard-seat train ticket to Xi’an after the conclusion of the Chinese program in Beijing. That train left promptly at 5:11PM and got in 13+ hours later at 6ish in Xi’an. But for all the griping I did about sitting with the putong people packed like sardines, it was both not as bad and worse than I imagined. First, I ended up switching seats with a family to get a “single” seat (not sitting with anyone else) that had a bit more room than the average seat. So I was able to sleep a bit in various positions — much like trying to sleep on a plane. But about half way through the journey, a bunch of standing-room people got on. Now standing room means they can stand anywhere on the train so long as they have a ticket. A standing-ticket is the way to catch a train even if there are no more tickets for a particular train. You just go on and buy your ticket en route. The problem is that with so many standers, they just stand/sit/squat in the aisles of the train. So it was pretty much impossible to get through the aisle at any time. Other issues included the fact that since I wasn’t traveling with anyone, I hesistated to leave my belongings to go to the bathroom. I eventually did use the restroom because I decided if anyone was going to just grab one of my bags, they couldn’t get anywhere because the train was packed so densely. I had a lady sleeping at my feet and they certainly weren’t going to get through her either. Also, I have a serious issue with people listening to their ringtones for entertainment on the train, at 2AM.
I got to Xi’an in one piece. I’m staying in a cozy youth hostel that is housed in an old-style courtyard buildings (the ones that they tear down in Beijing). It’s also nice to meet up with three pengyous (friends) from Middlebury here: Mairead, Sam, and Greg. I am getting a chance to get to know them outside Chinese and they provide great insight as we explore Xi’an together.
Yesterday, we had a late start (because I got in early and crashed in bed — kinda like getting an extra free night at the hostel…) and then headed out to see the Bell and Drum towers in the city center. We moved on to seeing a few food markets (which btw, I love) and then to a really-easy-to-miss museum in an old-style courtyard compound which doubles as an art gallery now. We wandered through the Muslim Quarter through mosques and such. Then we took a stroll through the park. We were looking for a teahouse but outside of Hangzhou’s West Lake, these are harder to find than you might imagine. We stumbled upon one in the park and spent a few hours chatting, eating dried mango/kiwi, and playing with the little kids in these tiny teahouse looking out on the frozen lake. Dinner was “korean” but I have been spoiled by going out with my Korean-American friend Susan in Beijing where she ordered the real deal.
Back to the hostel to watch “Litte Miss Sunshine” and experience the ex-pat/backpacker life. I can see why it’s so enticing to play ex-pat in China. We met up with two British Council English teachers who teach in Suzhou for the year. It’s fun talking with them and exchanging stories. That said, I’m glad Middlebury has made an effort to keep us away from ex-pat culture while studying Chinese academically. The Beijing program was far away from Western bars and cafes. The Hangzhou program too is apparently nicely situated on campus to make for prime Chinese learning, less tempting to speak English.
Pictures will be light over the next few weeks, as I’m not on my own computer. Sorry folks!