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The Adventurer’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 10 Feb 2007

Location: Nanjing/Xi'an, China

MapIt's been quite a full couple of days. It feels like a whole week has gone by in just two days. You can really lose your sense of time being on the go like this. I've made it to Xi'an, with some hassles... I'll divide this entry into 3 parts as there's lots to tell.

PART 1: Discovering the beauty of Nanjing

I was planning on going to see the Yangtze River (one of the world's biggest rivers) that first day in Nanjing. However, it started to pour rain and I couldn't get a taxi to save my life, so I stopped for a delicious dinner with noodles, vegetables, and some kind of meat (I think it was pork), and a cheap beer--like a 1 litre bottle of Tsingtao for 12 quai (about $1 US). After the meal, I attempted to go back to the hotel, and got a bit lost, but found my way. Apparently, traffic signals and right of way mean nothing here, as I did what I was supposed to and got hit by a motorcycle! The lady wasn't going very fast and she ended up falling down, and I wasn't hurt at all, just a bit shaken--I hate to think what might have happened had she been going faster. This is the way traffic is. It's a game of Frogger, slipping in between buses, motorcycles, taxis, and other vehicles, ignoring the lights. But I proceeded to cross the street and made it safely back to the hotel. I took it easy and read a bit, listening to the university students relieving their stresses with booze outside.

Slept in a bit yesterday and then I checked out of the hotel and made my way to the Yangtze River. But I wandered around the university grounds for a bit because I stumbled upon some old buildings that looked like buildings you would see in a temple--definitely centuries old--and the students attend classes in these. I could only imagine going to university in a setting like this. I hopped in a taxi that took me to the beginning of the Yangtze River Bridge. You cross this long bridge that is now the 3rd largest bridge in the world (trivia: anyone know the first two??). This structure is massive and took me about 30 minutes just to walk to where you overlook the Yangtze. Again, I was feeling a bit disturbed. During the Rape of Nanking, the soldiers piled up bodies along the banks and dumped them into this river. I read that the water actually turned red from all the blood. The River is wider than the Han in Seoul, but I couldn't see very far because the pollution was so heavy.

Next stop--a daggum good cafe with some daggum good coffee. You'd think it would be easy to get off the bridge, but this was not the case. I had no idea where the buses went, and there were no taxis in sight. So, adventurous as I am, I just hopped on a bus and hoped it would take me to a place where I could get a taxi. The bus was quite dilapidated with wooden seats, and the only one available was at the book. Apparently, the idea of shocks has not made its way to Nanjing as every bump we hit I flew off the seat. I fared well though and made it to a familiar spot and hopped in a taxi. Stopped for a very tasty cup of coffee and I savoured every drop before I went out exploring again.

I wandered down the street to the Drum Tower. It was here that I first began to realize that this was a city full of architecture from the Ming Dynasty. The drum was sounded when there was a changing of the guard or to warn the people that danger was imminent. After the tower, I wandered some more and made my way to a Buddhist Temple. This one was built in the 14th century, with several additions and renovations since then. They even brought in Buddhist statues from India and Thailand. This is one of the most beautiful temples I have seen so far, and well worth a visit for anyone going to Nanjing. The temples here are very different from Korea in architecture and design. They had a beautiful 9 story Pagoda in the center that you could climb for a view of the city. I managed to stumble upon the old city wall that was sitting directly behind the temple, with a lake, a river and a mountain in the background to reveal a breathtaking view. I decided I had to go on this wall.

So I finished up at the temple and found my way to the stairs to the wall. I couldn't tell exactly, but I think the wall is untouched by restoration, but still in tact. It was built during the Ming dynasty. They are not sure exactly what the wall is made of, but they suspect glutinous rice--imagine, rice holding a wall together! This place also offered spectacular views and made you appreciate the beauty that Nanjing had to offer. My visit turned out to be one I won't regret, even if I didn't get to see the memorial of the massacre. I looked at my watch and realized I was running short on time, and that brings me to the next part of this entry...

PART 2: Traveling Woes

Before I continue, I'm not being negative here, just trying to give you a sense of the frustrations one encounters while on the road.

So I'm looking for an exit from this great piece of Ming Wall, and I kept going and going, and came to a dead end, realizing I'd have to go all the way back to where I started to get off the wall. Okay, no problem. Found a taxi and went back to the area where my hotel was with an empty stomach, not realizing that the time was drawing near when it would be impossible to catch a taxi. I grabbed some quick food at a restaurant across the street. I had rice with vegetables and some other thing that looked like fried egg, but wasn't (no idea and don't want to know). My train was leaving at 7:45 and it was 6:00. I went to pick up my backpack from the hotel and to see if they could arrange a taxi for me. No luck, too busy. So I thought I'd go and attempt to hail a cab. Clock was ticking and I had no idea how long it would take to get to the train station with rush hour and everything, and I was determined not to miss the train.

Now, I've climbed mountains, hung off of big, steep rock walls, and repelled down rock walls without a scratch or a bruise, but do you think I can cross the street? Nope! I fell on a crack in the road and twisted my ankle, so I'm jumping around like a crazy foreigner, and people are staring at me (yes, with some laughing). Thanks for your help. I was more determined than ever to make it to the train, so I hobbled across the street, my foot beginning to swell. Then I saw a man get out of a taxi, and pushed my way through people to get to it--I was going to be the next one in that taxi. I tried to show him the Lonely Planet with the Chinese characters for train station, but he looked at me blankly and indicated to me that he couldn't see the characters because he had no glasses (to be fair, the writing is pretty small). Brian's lessons paid off as I managed to communicate Train Station in Chinese, and with that, we were off (Thank you Brian!)!

I actually made it with time to spare, but I think I just got lucky. I'd sprained my ankle before and this didn't feel as bad as the first time, so I figured I'd be ok. Got into line only to discover that the characters for Xi'an on my ticket didn't match up with what was on the screen, but the train number was correct, and someone told me I was in the wrong cue! I was hoping they hadn't closed the gate yet. But then the guy looked again and realized my ticket was just a stop on the way to another destination, but it was the same train. Phew!

Found my sleeper and climbed up to the top. There was a kerfuffle that I was in the wrong bed, so after settling all my stuff, I climbed down to the correct bunk and settled again, only to be asked to switch with another lady and her child because it was too inconvenient to be at the top, so I got my stuff and climbed back up (my foot could have done without the hassle). I had a little pain everytime I moved my foot, but nothing I couldn't handle. Managed to meet a nice professor who was traveling to his hometown for Chinese New Year with his family. Had a really nice chat, practiced counting to ten with his grandson, who showed off his ability to count to 10 in English (he did so much better than I could in Chinese). I finally decided it was time to sleep, so I nestled in and got all comfy. It wasn't long before the Professor began snoring. I'm not gonna lie, this man makes the Guinnes World Book of Records. I did not know it was humanly possible to make those kinds of sounds through your nose--picture a snorting bull, a snorting pig, a baaing lamb, that high-pitched sound a balloon makes when you blow it up and let the air out, among so many others. I immediately took out my IPOD and put on my music. I had it going full blast and I could still hear the snoring. Then I realized my battery was going, so I thought if I could just fall asleep before the battery dies. The snoring was getting to me even with the IPOD, so I thought I needed a beer to relax me. Aha!

I made my way through 8 train cars to the dining car. I politely asked the servers for Tsingtao, and got a very firm "No!" with all the other Chinese people staring at me. Then I asked for tea. "NO!" Then I asked for water. "NO!" I turned around and walked out, cursing under my breath. Hobbled back to my car feeling very frustrated at this point, knowing I'd be going back and listening to the snoring. I decided I'd sit on the small seat to the side away from the beds and put my head on the table to sleep there. But oh no, the attendant comes by and tells me to go back to my bed. I climbed back in, put my IPOD back on and really tried to get to sleep. I managed to do it finally, and then the IPOD died and I woke up again. Now there was nothing to muffle out the snoring. I decided that tomorrow was going to be Miller time folks! I managed to get about 2 hours sleep. We arrived in Xi'an at 8:50 am, and my run of bad luck was over.

It's all character building I know. Ok, had my rant, back to the good stuff again.

PART 3: An ancient city abounding with historical wonders.

I was impressed with Xi'an the moment I walked out of the train station as you immediately face the city wall, established in 582 AD. This wall is being fully restored, so I would not experience the same feeling as on the wall at Nanjing of being on an untouched historical landmark. Nonetheless, it is a spectaculary thing. The hostel was very close to the train station, and I found my way no problem. The owner of the hostel is named Jim Bean and is very popular for foreigners. I lucked out as this place is clean, comfortable, and has everything you need. I went for a 40 minute catnap, and then took a nice, long hot shower (this felt like the best shower in the world). Went for some sweet and sour pork and rice--very tasty--and then headed out.

My first stop was the ticket office to get my next train ticket--done, no problem. Then I went up on top of the Wall. The day was gorgeous, sun was shining, and I was down to a t-shirt and jacket. This wall is huge! I'm amazed at the way this thing was built, brick by brick and we have a massive wall here, complete with gates at each end, turrets, and watchtowers. I was limping, but my foot was doing well, not bruised, just swollen. I took in the view of Xi'an, which is quite dirty and polluted in parts, but it has it's good points. It's very quiet and peaceful up top--not many people at all. I walked from about 1 pm until 5 pm. Then made my way down and found a more modern area of Xi'an. There are modern shopping malls here but done with an oriental design, so you still get the pointy roofs (see the pictures).

Walked to the Drum Tower, again used to sound the changing of the guard or of impending danger. This Tower was a lot nicer than the one in Nanjing, and they had on display some of the ornate furniture used by the Ming and Qing dynasties. Sorry, there were no photos allowed, so I can't show them here, but this is some furniture I'd love to have in my house. There was also the Muslim quarter that you could view from the Tower. You can get all kinds of Islamic dishes here and check out the market, but I was feeling too exhausted, I opted to go back to the hostel and get some dinner and beer. Tasty chicken with vegetables and a nice cold Tsingtao. Just chilling now. Tomorrow I'm off to the place that brought me to Xi'an--the Terracotta Warriors. Until next time.