Going through the mountains on the train
The train from Xi'an to Chengdu was not
quite as nice as the others we had been on.
The soft sleeper area (we won't brave
hard sleeper again!) was abit old and not very comfortable. The
dining cart was even worse! We boarded the train at 1.20pm and
managed to survive on or snacks until dinnertime.
Our new train family
We sat down in the
dining cart on some rickety folding chairs and waited for someone to
give us a menu....and waited...and waited. After trying us with the
Chinese one and rumaging around in a cupboard for 10 mins, we were
presented with an English menu. Unfortunatly when we came to order,
nothing we pointed to was available. It wasn't a menu for the train,
just the only thing they could find in English! The only thing we
established they had was egg fried rice, so that was our dinner (with
a small bowl of what we think was just salt water). Not the best
experience in the world, so we thought we would drown our sorrows
with a beer. Until the waitress shook her head and walked off, even
though other people were being served. After our gourmet feast we
found the snacks cart and asked for a beer from there, we got a funny
look but were given them.
We took them back to our cabin and were
subjected to more stares from men, and filthy looks from the women.
The only thing we could guess was that women were not expected to be
so vulgar as to drink beer. Oh well!
As Lisa went for a walk down the train,
I realised that I was once again being the subject of attention. A
family had stationed themselves on the other side of the door and
were walking backwards and forwards over and over again, staring
inside. I was getting pretty cross so I moved into the corridor too,
and gave them a look, hoping they would stop. As Lisa came back they
were just summoning up the courage to speak to me, by pushing forward
the young boy (as always, the only one who speaks any English). After
the usual amiration of tattoos, height and comparing of skin colours
the snack cart came round again.
Mmmmm, cockerel for tea!
I asked for another beer and was
refused. The family didn't really have a clue what I wanted, but were
eager to please, so started opening up all the compartments to find
what I wanted! They came across the beer and I said 'yes, you DO have
it', at which one of the men bought 3, and the family invited us into
their cabin to 'cheers with them'.
The next few hours were an exhausting
mix of very broken English and some quite skillful charades. Only the
boy and one of the women spoke any English, and the dissapointment of
the others to not be able to speak to us was obvious. The man who
bought us the beer kept 'cheers-ing' with us to make up for it! It
was getting quite late and the boy said 'you want sleep?' I wasn't
sure if it was hint to leave them alone, so asked the same back.
seemed horrified, 'no no, we listen to you all night!' The highlight
of the exchange was when we were asked to sing English children's
song. In my panic the only thing I could think of was '*blink, tongue
out*, went the little green frog one day......' so I sang that....to
a group of middle aged Chinese people and a 12 year od boy. I got to
the end and they were completely enthralled and insisted I taught
them. So we spent the next few minutes blinking our eyes and sticking
our tongues out to the frog song.....how bizzare!
Our hostel is down a gorgeous alleyway
and dates back to the Qing Dynasty. A lot of buildings from this time
have since been destroyed, so there are people taking photos of
everything! It is probably the nicest location of a hostel we've
We had to move rooms once n the first night as the heavy
rain had caused flooding in our dorm (I was quite glad we moved as a
HUGE spider was in there!). We ended up in an 8 bed dorm where we
were almost the only girls. The bathroom door was partly see through,
and the lock didn't work. The absolute worst thing however was the
other girl in the room. Ok, picture the scene... The bunks are
arranged in an 'L' shape in the corners. My head is therefore quite
close to the head of the girl in the adjacent bunk. To get a little
privacy I drape my towel over the bars at the end of the bed. So I'm
lying in bed in the morning, eyes still closed, lean my head back,
have a little stretch and open my eyes a bit to see how the morning
looks. The girl behind me has the towel pulled to the side with her
arm and is staring at me, less than a metre from my face.
'LISA, WE'RE MOVING ROOMS AGAIN'!!
We are a short walk from People's Park,
so we walked down in that direction. On the way we heard the faint
sound of 'Happy Birthday', which was getting louder and louder?
Intruiged we looked round and saw a road sweeper lorry as it went
past, that was playing Happy Birthday 'ice cream van style'!! We had
just about recovered ourselves (it was funny at the time..) when we
heard 'Eidelweiss' playing. We walked round the corner into the park
and saw a large group of old women dancing away while another lady
was warbling down a microphone! We stayed and watched the spectacle
for a few minutes (and bizzarely bumped right into someone we had met
on the train to Shanghai?!?) before moving on. We turned into the
main area and there were hundreds and hundreds of women, all in
little groups, all dancing to their own little tunes.
Gardens of Wenshu Temple
were just dancing by themselves, walking down the paths doing a
little turn here and there! What an extraordinary sight for a Tuesday
Just down the road from the park is a
giant white marble Mao statue. Quite a bit of the Wild Swans book is
set in Chengdu, and it has been really interesting to walk around and
see things which are mentioned. Apparantly the statue was built using
stone that was quarried by hand, as to use machinery would have
detracted the workers from their dedication to his name. Absolute
madness, this whole thing. The site of the statue was one of the
places used to burn all books except Mao's teachings during the
Cultural Revolution, as to read anything else indictated
disillusionment in Mao.
As usual we have been struggling with
finding vegetarian food (Lisa may well turn INTO vegetable fried
rice), or in fact anything that looks like an edible piece of meat.
Lucky dip dining!
So we went to Wenshu temple, which apart from being a lovely place to
relax, has a well publicised vegetarian restaurant. We went in and
looked at the menu, seeing it full of entrails, necks and other gross
things again. However, these were FAKE entrails, oh yes, VEGETARIAN
entrails! Why on earth you would want to replicate something so foul
I don't know. So we opted for a tofu dish, something with brocolli,
and wanted to have a third too, but didn't know what a pick. We have
constantly listened to other travellers boasting about doing a menu
lucky dip when there is no English translation, but we are too fussy
to do it. Here however there was a dish on the menu with no
translation, and it had to be veggie so we gave it a go! The food
arrived in stages as we have got used to, so we spent a while picking
at some brocolli before our rice (in a bucket) arrived. I have to say
that it was very nice! Our magical mystery dish was slightly spicy,
and full of bits of stuff.... I really don't know what it was but it
tasted good and more importanty, no entrails in sight!