adventures in the people's republic of china and beyond

Thursday, August 23, 2007


31 hours on the train to Turpan: Part 1

I haven't had much time to blog - I've been pretty busy - but I've decided to write long blog posts on the weekend, then break them up into shorter parts to upload over the week. Because a post without pics is boring, I just uploaded some random pics I took in Xi'an. Stay tuned for more!

Good old downtown Xi'an. I'm sure it will look entirely different by the time I return.

Our journey to Xinjiang began at the Xi'an train station, trying to buy tickets. You can buy tickets up to 12 days in advance here, but, as usual, I had forgotten entirely about booking train tickets and was now hoping that tomorrow's train to Turpan wasn't all sold out. After waiting in the queue for a while, listening to some really gung-ho police voice belt out on a loudspeaker "Do NOT buy tickets from other passengers or unauthorized dealers! You may be scammed!", I finally got up to the ticket window.

"Any sleepers for Turpan tomorrow?" I asked. The ticket seller, a youngish guy in his 20s who was nicer than the average 40-something disgruntled rail employee, told me there weren't any sleepers at all for the next two days (you can only buy 2 days in advance at the train station itself). "But there are still seats. You wanna go?"

Delicious Indian food at the Delhi Darbar restaurant. (In Xi'an).

Contemplating the prospect of spending over 30 hours in the hard seat compartment, I decided I would wait until tomorrow and try booking tickets for a couple days later. How popular could the Xi'an - Turpan line possibly be?

The next day, I went to the local ticket selling office, a few blocks away from our school at Jiaotong university. There was the typical long queue outside the booth, filled with people who could possibly snatch up the last sleepers to Turpan. Getting to the booth, I asked about the availability of sleepers to Turpan tomorrow.

Good old XJTU (Xi'an JiaoTong University). This is the main cafeteria, "Paradise of Cambridge."

The ticket lady gave me an incredulous look. "To Turpan? All sleepers have been booked for the next 10 days!"

10 days is a big chunk of traveling time. Considering that we were unwilling to pay around $150 each for a flight up to Urumqi, it was either missing out on 10 days of travel or toughing it out in the seats. "Gimme two seats for tomorrow then", I said, handing over a wad of pink 100-yuan notes.

Thirsty? Forget Jack Hut's overpriced 5 yuan drinks, rock a QQ bubble tea for just 2 yuan and get both tapioca pearls AND jelly in your drink!

On our last day in Xi'an, we took care of paying the rent for our dorm and went out for some pre-departure shopping. I went to have a pair of new jeans shortened for 3 kuai and bought some contact lens fluid. While waiting for my jeans to be shortened, we noticed a shop selling tea leaves and thermoses, an essential Chinese traveling item. The tea leaves shop owner, an older lady, had that nice way of talking that made you feel like she was one of your aunties. I always like it when older people call me "xiaohuozi"(小伙子, "young fellow/young man") for some reason. But maybe it doesn't have to do with language - I remember feeling the same way in Korea, asking nice old ladies who ran restaurants for directions.

Drum tower at night. Fountain shows always draw a crowd.

We bought some tea leaves, as well as two thermos bottles. Chinese thermos bottles are special - they have a metal grill on the top so that tea leaves don't get into your mouth as you drink.

"小伙子, may I ask where's your friend from?" she asked, referring to Rebecca, who quickly replied that she was from Sweden. "And I'm from the US," I added.
"The US?! "
"I'm American Chinese(huayi, 华裔), you see."
"Ohh, an American Chinese! Some of my nephews back from our village were supposed to come by the shop today. I nearly thought you were family!"
It's experiences like this that make me feel really great about being in China.

Having bought everything we needed, checked out of our dorm room, and packed up our stuff, we left for the train station.

To be continued...

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Thursday, August 16, 2007


I'm still here!

Sorry I haven't been posting - I left Xi'an and have been travelling around Xinjiang for the past few weeks. I won't have any time to blog until I get back to the US on August 21st, but there'll definitely be lots of stories to tell after I get back...

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