Yesterday I hung out with Ed, Noel, Adam, and Hank -- four American boys that arrived the same day as me. They introduced me to a woman with a little food cart two blocks from the hostel, where for 2.50 Yuan you can get a piping hot fresh crepe, made right there in front of you, with an egg and sprouts and chili paste and some sort of crunchy salty biscuit thing in the middle. Makes for one tasty breakfast. From the crepe lady we snagged our train tickets to Chengdu
and caught the bus to the train station, where we caught a different bus out to the Terracotta Warriors. If I were on my own, I would have gone for the bus that both the guidebook and the front desk said to take, number 306, the one with TERRACOTTA WARRIORS printed in big black letters on its side.
But I wasn't on my own, and as we walked up to that bus some random dude came up to us shouting "warriors! bus! warriors! bus! bus! warriors! bus!" so we opted to go with that guy. This is what happens when you hang out with dudes. Sound thought processes and judgment? Yeah right.
The ride was entertaining, that's for sure. I'm pretty sure we swerved to hit every pothole possible, on a road that was already plenty bumpy as it was, and the guy laid on his horn like there was no tomorrow. Seriously. Over an hour and a half in that thing, and the whole freaking time he was honking his head off. There would be a hundred yards between us and the next vehicle, and he'd be honking like a maniac. Annoying as all hell? You cannot begin to imagine.
After a solid thirty minutes of that there was nothing we could do but laugh. Dude was psychotic.
We went to the bathroom once we reached the warriors, and encountered an entrance fee. What? You want me to pay you so I can use your filthy disgusting bathroom? I've heard of this and have been expecting it, but it was a first for me. The boys were all cracking open their wallets and I'm standing there calculating how long I might be able to go before toxic shock sets in. Then Adam has a brilliant idea and is all "KFC!" And the boys are all "KFC!" And I'm supremely confused, because I thought we were grouching about having to pay for a disgusting bathroom, is now really the time to be jonesing for fast food? And then it hits me: "KFC!" So off we go, where the boys teach me the best lesson I've learned in China so far: when you need to pee, go to KFC.
The bathrooms are FREE. And better yet, they are PRISTINE. They're beyond nice. They're like what a bathroom in the Marriott looks like. Dark wood paneling, marble floors, proper sinks and soap and hand dryers and even (GASP!) toilet paper. Hot damn. Those boys are BRILLIANT.
We then strutted past the disgusting bathroom declaring how "nice and relieved" we were and "take that you greedy swine" and so on. Traveling on my own is great, don't get me wrong, I love it. Love it. Loads more than I thought I would. But hanging out with like-minded people who are pissed off by the same things I am makes all the difference in the world. It's like a layer of protection and invincibility. Instead of the world getting me down or feeling like an outsider or that I'm not doing something right because I can't for the life of me grasp a certain cultural aspect or getting the run around because of the language barrier, it's like things are fucked up and that's how they're going to be, but there's other people around experiencing the same exact thing with the same exact reaction and it's far less stressful.
FAR less. That, and things are WAY funnier. Walking around with those four was like a regular comedy routine.
The Terracotta Warriors were pretty cool, but we were pretty disappointed that we couldn't get closer. They're down in a pit and arranged in formation, and you're looking down on them from a pretty good distance. There is no up close and personal (except for a couple that are in a glass case display in another building). And while the massive pit (I thought it resembled Texas Stadium, Noel thought of an airplane hanger) gives you a pretty good feel for just how many of those guys there were, you're so far removed it leaves you feeling like you're getting gypped. (Which you absolutely are; the entrance fee is OBSCENE.
) Note to the guidebook photographers: I realize you have terrific telescopic lenses and that they can be quite handy. Please do the rest of us a favor and refrain from zooming in on the warriors like you were standing next to them. It's massively disappointing for the rest of us. From the warriors it was back to the bus stop where we agreed we'd take the proper 306 back into town, but of course were accosted by the same "xi'an! bus! city! bus! bus! xi'an!" and off we went on a similar bus back, horn-obsessed driver and all.
By the time we got back it was after 4pm and we were pretty hungry. (We snagged yams outside the warriors, but a yam can only hold you over for so long.) We wandered through the Muslim Quarter in search of some mutton soup the boys wanted to try (specialty of the region) and I pointed to a massive pile of diced potatoes and chilies.
The potatoes turned out to be gelatinous cubes of I have no idea what. Some of the boys thought tofu, but it was translucent and didn't taste like tofu. In any event, it was pretty damn good, and spicy as all hell. Snagged some dried kiwi and showed the boys the soft boiled quail eggs with chili paste on a stick that I feasted on the day before. YUM. Wandered around the Muslim Quarter for a couple hours, eventually being lured into another restaurant by some guy shouting "beer! beer!" at us. (I say "lured." It didn't take much luring at all, as you might imagine.) We made friends with some wasted local who gave his very nice cigarette case to one of the boys, and probably woke up this morning pissed off and swearing at his wife for stealing it.
The boys ordered more lamb and some chicken wings, all speared on metal sticks and grilled out front. (Like I said before, the Chinese are WILD for anything that can be speared on a stick.) Hence "The Meatsticks" reference; I kept passing the meatsticks to whomever and at some point after who knows how many beers the word "meatstick" struck Ed as particularly hilarious and he dubbed the boys "The Meatsticks." You had to be there. Close to three hours and four liters of beer (apiece for each of the boys -- I had three) later, we made our way home. There's a bar downstairs and my "I'm going to sleep" turned into "ok but just one" turned into "TAKE THAT, MOTHERFUCKERS!" over foosball. It was a good night.
Meg and The Meatsticks Part Deux today.