lish (lishd) wrote,

china part 1: "hello, what is this?"

the italics are from the itinerary, & my notes follow each section. photos are inline per day.

China Golden Route 10 DAYS
part 1: beijing | part 2: xi'an | part 3: shanghai | extras

D1 | Nov-3 (Sat): North America - Beijing
Start your tour by taking international flight to Beijing.

we depart from seattle & have a nonstop flight to beijing. our paperwork states the airfare, included in the groupon price, at $1046 each. holy crap, that's half what we paid for the whole trip! the launch is uneventful except for an "i told you so" moment with a memory card & when joe is stopped for a private screening at security. i ask if it's random & they say no; i ask if they can state what the problem is, & i'm told, "we found an anomaly in his groin region." lulz forever that joe's 8ga hafadas might blow up the airport. i attempt to exchange some USD for yuan at 5.4, as the cashier tells me she'll do it without a fee, but i feel ripped off & end up backing out of the exchange. (i find out later that i was smart to cancel.)

i had the genius idea to math out our sleep so we'd be on china time right away, which entailed staying up late friday night (easy), sleeping in late saturday morning (super easy), then staying awake for the entire flight (much less easy) & basically going to bed when we arrive at 11:40pm in beijing. the flight is 12h20m, so i have my netbook (2-3h battery), zen vision:w (4h battery), game boy advance (~5h battery), & a couple of books. i don't end up needing any of it, as the private tvs in each seat are filled with free movies, some of which are actually good.

the flight attendant goes through the usual pre-flight information, though i'm disturbed when we're told that "most seat cushions can be used for floatation". perhaps that means that others become lead weights - it's water landing roulette! the guy sitting behind me keeps putting his knees in my back, so as soon as i feel him let up, i recline my seat as far as it'll go. after a moment, i see his feet in the aisle next to me & i smirk - punishment reclining works.

we each brought a bunch of food since airline fare is usually terrible & expensive, but i'm pleasantly surprised by that, too. we're served a decent dinner on the flight (better than your average lean cuisine), several snacks (including a delightful 3am ice cream sandwich), & fresh fruit & a croissant omelette sandwich for breakfast. good work, delta! the basil-lemon hand soap is a nice touch, too. i take a couple of twenty minute naps & basically achieve my sleeping goals, & our trip begins with no jet lag. it also begins with a pesticide spray that is "not harmful to people or animals." ooookay...

D2 | Nov-4 (Sun): Arrive Beijing
Meet your guide on arrival in late afternoon and transfer to the hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure. You could have a good night sleep. Tonight's dinner is not included.

we arrive safely, disembark the plane onto the tarmack, & find it's FUCKING COLD out. it SNOWED yesterday! all the weather reports had said it'd be 50-60F through all three provinces, & i checked every day last week... but there was a cold snap last night & we're screwed. i wrap my scarf around my head for the crammed bus shuttle to the terminal where we queue for immigration. joe goes through without incident, but my guard is feisty. he says in broken english that no one in china has nose piercings, then he makes pig noises at me. he tells me i look younger in the passport photo i took all of three months ago. uh, thanks. (ps, EVERYONE is younger in a photo. that's how time works.) when he's finished checking my passport, he hands it to me, jerks his head towards the exit, & says, "now go away." i comply.

we meet up with some other tour attendees from our flight, including PermaSmile, Friendly Single Woman, and Irish Guy with Quietest Wife, then board the coach. we pull into a waiting lot for an east coast flight to come in, & an hour later collect another cluster of people. on the bus, we meet a very tired tina, our national guide & interpreter for our entire tour, & jakson li, the local guide for beijing. we finally head to the hotel around 2am local time, & are told they have a good rate for currency exchange.

this day is a wash since we got in so late, but our room at the jade palace hotel is beautiful. amusingly, it's also stocked with condoms & "for him+her marital aids", ie lubes. go china, being all subtle with your population growth. there are two bottles of water in the bathroom, provided daily by the hotel, as china has no potable tap water. there's passable wired internet in the room & i overcome the general shit-will-blow-up paranoia of plugging into a 220V outlet for the first time. i'm happy to find our outlet adapter works perfectly, though sad that batteries don't charge any faster.

this room has a fantastic bathtub with super hot water, but the hardest bed i've ever encountered. at joe's suggestion, i lay down pillows from the second bed to sleep on, as i'd quite literally end up bruised otherwise. we sleep for a few hours before the wake-up call i ordered at 6:45am.

D3 | Nov-5 (Mon): Beijing (B/L/D)
Following breakfast, you will start your tour from the largest public square in the world - the Tiananmen Square, and then enter the Forbidden City, home of Chinese emperors for more than 500 years. In the afternoon, you will visit the harmonious Temple of Heaven, one of the best examples of Ming Dynasty architecture in China, also an ornate sanctuary where Chinese Emperors worshiped the Gods. Then visit the Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. Welcome dinner, feast on the emperor's cuisine - The Beijing Roast Duck Banquet will be arranged at a leading city restaurant. After dinner, you may attend an optional energetic show - "Legend of Kung Fu" at your own expense.

the itinerary details said these would be "american style breakfasts" but i'm pleased that they're not VERY american, so that's ok. there are waffles & bacon & croissants & cereals for the xenophobic sissies, but there's also a good pumpkin salad, fish porridge, & steamed dumplings filled with spiced cabbage. i'm able to try lotus root for the first time - it's delicious & i go back for more.

we board the coach & head off to tian'anmen square via lishi road (hee). i see a lot of bicycles & a lot of english everywhere, above shops & on billboards. i find it odd that many places list their telephone number after "TEL:" - isn't there a character for that? we're already getting a lot of interested looks, & a surprising number of evil eyes. (the latter is perhaps due to joe, as i'm used to bitches being jealous - no, seriously. it happens a lot.) the stop lights have timers to show how long until the light changes, which is brilliant.

the thermometer on the bus reads 9C, which btw is REALLY FUCKING COLD, & it's crazy windy. i have a fleece jacket, a thin vinyl raincoat, & a fleece scarf over jeans & a tshirt - i am not dressed for this, so of course it's a day to walk around outside everywhere! jakson details that tian'anmen square is sixty soccer fields in size, & we'll be walking over three miles today. yay! -_- we leave the coach & i put on a brave face, wrap my scarf around my head, & tuck my exposed fingertips into joe's arm at every opportunity. entering the square, i totally feel grammy's presence, that she'd walked the same steps that i'm walking, & it makes the cold more tolerable.

there's an old joke about eating chinese food in china, except "they just call it 'food'" - old as it is, apparently no one on our tour has heard this before, as everyone cracks up when we say it. we milk it pretty badly - i keep telling joe to step in chinese snow, or as they call it here: snow. hey look, a chinese sparrow! or as they call it here: a sparrow. & so on.

jakson informs us that it's a tradition to touch each of the bronze knobs on the door as you pass through gates, & then put your hand in your pocket; this grants you luck, & joe & i flank each doorway. no matter what we do, we are getting stares like mad - people scowl, mouth agog, & turn their heads to follow us as we pass. smiling at them like i do in the states isn't working to shock them out of their judgment. i'm beginning to see that the immigration guard at the airport was correct: i'm the only person in all of china with a septum piercing, & they don't know what to make of it.

i am horrified to discover that beijing mcdonald's does delivery service. i am surprised in an entirely different way to see that an older asian woman on our tour has tattooed eyebrows! (good shape, too.) at the forbidden city, a street artist paints joe on a plate & tries to sell it to us. i suppose it's a decent likeness considering how kinetic joe is, but it looks more like joe as a drag queen, & not a pretty drag queen, either. (later we realized we were within the concubines' quarters, & then it made more sense, heh.) the busker tries to add me to the plate, but we make a quick getaway.

we have the peking duck for lunch instead of dinner, which is fine by me since it's SO rich, & also pretty horrible to the animal. it's good to have such a traditional chinese experience, but it isn't nearly tasty enough for the torture required to produce it. (google it if you must.) the quanjude restaurant, one of the oldest & most famous places for this meal, is rated A on a kind of hilarious rating system. the wait staff demonstrates how to wrap the duck in a flat pancake with some sweet bean sauce, onion & cucumber, & other dishes are placed on a lazy susan in the center of the table. (we'll come to find that nearly all of our meals are served this way, which i really enjoy.) i'm glad to note that many of the dishes use other parts of the bird, too - some various vegetable dishes & a white broth ("the duck swims in it") with some kind of leafy green. people on our tour are starting to have personalities, but we can't remember anyone's name. No Pork is muslim & keeps asking if anything has pork in it; her husband Harmless carefully tastes things for her while we do our best to answer.

jakson is awesome & tells us a lot of stories on the coach. we head to the temple of heaven, which is unremarkable to me, as i'm pretty much over the history dump & being frozen. the 500+ year old jasmine trees are rad, but i begin to wonder how i'm going to survive if it's this cold the entire trip. i try to be game & i follow joe to whatever he wants to look at, snap some pictures, bear more odd looks. i am relieved when we leave.

we do a bit of shopping - joe finds the 2G memory card he needs for his cheap old camera for 100¥. Photo Lady is taking DSLR pictures of absolutely everything. New York & his wife, Picky, get a serious tongue-lashing from tina for being ten minutes late back to the bus. apparently New York is a chef & went off to have some mutton. there's an optional show tonight about kung fu, but at $50 each we decide to skip it.

with nothing else planned, we're sent to wander the area around the theatre for an hour & a half. everything is cold & poorly insulated; we spend a good chunk of time in a nearby mini-mart & almost buy some lime-mint & mango-citrus mentos, but they don't take visa & we forgot to swap for yuan this morning. Carlos, a charming & funny older mexican guy, buys the mango-citrus kind & gives us some. they are horribly stale. joe & i ditch the other half dozen people who didn't opt for kung fu - no easy feat since we were unofficially selected as group leaders in lieu of tina & jakson - & we find a warm hotel lobby to chat away the remaining time.

we don't make it to the medical sciences academy, but jakson says we'll have time on wednesday. i vaguely think it might be like the mütter museum, so i don't want to miss out. we head to dinner, featuring sweet & sour pork & chicken, salted steamed cabbage, & tiny flat sesame buns. every meal is served with one glass of liquid each - bottled water, coke, sprite, or beer, & additional glasses can be purchased. tea is usually provided as well, & this tea is tastier than at lunch. beer is always the same price as coke, about $4/glass. over the trip, it becomes apparent that it's not that beer is cheap, but that soda is very expensive.

on the coach back to the hotel, tina reviews the next day's itinerary; Deal-Seeker (of the tattooed eyebrows) interrupts to ask questions. tina admonishes her, "be quiet. be patient. listen," in the most schoolmarmish of ways. i am delighted.

still freezing, i end my day in a deliciously scalding hot bath that i can't figure out how to empty.

D4 | Nov-6 (Tue): Beijing (B/L/D)
An unforgettable outing includes a walking to the wondrous Great Wall, at Juyongguan Pass, where you will have the chance to climb a portion of this 3,700-mile vista and marvel. Zigzagging from east to west along the undulating mountains, the Great Wall, said to be visible from the moon, was built to hold off tribal invaders from the north. Its dramatic descends steep ridges and narrow valleys will scatter a good landscape for your camera. Then you'll have an opportunity to shop at the largest Jade Center of Asia and Cloisonné Factory. In the afternoon, visit the Ming Tomb and walk through the Sacrificed Way features the giant animal sculptures group. Back to city, enjoy outside view of the Bird's Nests and Water Cube. After dinner, cap off the day by attending an energetic performance of Acrobatic Show.

there's no lotus root this morning, but we still get a decent not-TOO-american breakfast from the offerings. Friendly Single Woman joins our table - she is alone on the trip, & is always happy to be included. afterwards, i exchange money at the front desk for 6.1¥ to the dollar, which is 350 more yuan than i'd've had from the airport - over fifty bucks more! (you can generally divide ¥ by 6 if you want to know what things cost me in USD). we finally learn how to say "thank you" in chinese - xie xie ("shay shay").

jakson continues his stories as we drive to each destination. for reasons we cannot comprehend, jakson uses the phrase "do you know why. because -" after every third or fourth sentence. he doesn't wait to see if we know why, & it's not actually a question; it's almost like he says it in place of "you know". joe & i begin saying it ourselves, including his accent: "i am very hungry, doyouknowwhy. be cows we have not eaten, doyouknowwhy. be cows we are still driving to the restaurant."

we head to the jade center first, & have a great lecture & demonstration of good jade, including how to spot a fake (real jade is cloudy when backlit; fakes are clear or have air bubbles) & how to "listen" to jade (when struck, real jade makes a crystal-like 'ting', & older, better jade sounds higher pitched than young jade; fakes sound plastic & dull). i also learn that jadeite is from the mountains & jade from the ground, which is something i'd tried to get body jewelry lapidaries to explain out. jadeite is far harder than jade, so jewelry is made from jadeite but carvings are made in jade. i like that the guide calls us "friends", as does jakson. we shop the center for an hour & endure surprisingly pushy sales people who REALLY WANT our 100 yuan. the bangle i like best is around $40,000 USD; i apparently have good taste. there is a carving out front of 100 horses from a single piece of multicolored jade that i could own for $300k.

yesterday there was some concern that we might not make it to the wall due to weather conditions, but we do. it's snowy on most steps & icy on many others, & really rather dangerous, but we're there. the steps are sometimes normal sized but mostly quite tall, & very uneven. some are polished smooth, even more treacherous with the ice, but some have mortar to step on. joe teaches me the "rest step" technique, & with it i'm able to walk up 1000 steps with him (yes, he counts). we have an hour deadline to meet for the bus, so i start my way back down at that point, while joe continues on. shortly after we part, i slip & fall on my ass, but i land well & am only moderately bruised, not broken. (i also successfully protect my camera.) i make my way SLOWLY down the wall, clinging desperately to the scattered bits of handrail, while joe stomps out another 500 steps to the top of our section. some-crazy-how, he still catches up with me as i approach the bottom - damned hikers! (trivia found online: The Great Wall today stretches about 3700mi in all. There are about 2000 steps per mile, which would equal 7,400,000 steps.)

after the hour of terrifying cardio, we head to lunch. i'm starting to notice that all the taxis are hyundai elantras. the cloisoneé factory is a giant touristy souvenir station with a restaurant upstairs. lunch includes lots of veggie & zucchini dishes, fish balls (doughy fishy spheres, rather interesting) & orange slices. i buy some han disks for 10¥ - they are shaped like necco wafers & taste like minced & pressed cherries - but we don't find anything else we need.

the temperature rises to 20C & we head to the ming tomb. on the way, jakson talks about obesity & health, especially of china's youth, & he worries about mcdonald's & kfc popping up everywhere. Friendly Single Woman is sitting in the first two seats of the coach, & jakson looks directly at her for a lot of this talk. (this strikes me as rude & awkward, as Friendly Single Woman is herself obese, yet hasn't had any notable trouble keeping up with us on the journey.) jakson advises us to "eat less, do more exercise, live longer." can't say i disagree with that.

ming tomb is peaceful & a lovely walk, though i'm hobbling a bit as the Great Wall damage catches up with me. i take lots of photos of the giant stone animals. we drive to olympic park next, & are told about the recent beijing olympics & its impact on the city. there are five large buildings which create a dragon, & the last one with a fancy top is the tail. we walk another mile around to see the water cube, which is wild & lights up dark blue at night, & the bird's nest which i keep calling the duct tape building. (i make joe pose so i can photoshop in some duct tape later, but i probably won't bother.) signs to keep off the grass are hilarious & small kites are being sold in a genius manner - strung together & all flying high. White Ponytail & his wife, Adopted Grandma, are awesome. his white hair is short except for what amounts to the back third of a mohawk, kept a foot long & tied back. he tells us this joke:

a chinese woman walks into an american bank to exchange some money. she gives the teller 600¥ & is handed $100. the next day, she returns to exchange another 600¥, but only gets $90. she's clearly upset by this, & says, "hey, why are you ripping me off? yesterday i got $100!" the teller tries to explain, "lady, it's just how the exchange rate works. it's fluctuation!" she replies, "yeah? well flux you white people too!"

the acrobatic show is fucking exceptional. it starts with a tap dancing juggler who works up to nine balls in motion while tapping. then there's this immense show of plate spinning with minor tumbling - these women grasp bundles of sticks, holding aloft seven spinning plates per hand, & some 15 dancers are on stage at once to do somersaults & balance on each other's heads without dropping a single plate. next, male acrobats leap through hoops across the stage, at one point jumping through a hoop twice as high off the ground as they are tall (i screamed when it was just BARELY cleared). bicycle tumbling is next, followed by women lying on the ground flipping umbrellas around with their feet. MADNESS. i thought this was an "optional" show, but it ended up being included, so there's $60 we didn't have to spend & SO would have!

afterwards, we go for dinner at a very out-of-the-way restaurant jakson knows about, & we have eight different kinds of dumplings with our sweet & sour chicken, spicy beef, steamed mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, & some kind of white melon for dessert. we come back to the hotel to hang out & internet. i discover bright pink robes in the closet & change into one while joe naps; i nearly fall asleep in the bathtub (which we'd figured out how to empty) while trying to soak away having a great fall on the great wall.

D5 | Nov-7 (Wed): Beijing - Xi'an (B)
Today you are free to explore the city at your own leisure. You may choose the optional Hutong life tour to visit the old alleyways on the rickshaws. In the evening, take an overnight soft-sleeper train to Xi'an (approx. 12 hours).

we pack up & head to the bus. china hotels are smart - when you hand in your room key, they call a maid to check your room to make sure you didn't leave anything behind or use the mini-bar. i'd taken the lubes & "marital aids" for the lulz, but discover at check-out that they aren't free... oops. i return them instead of paying 85¥.

we opt-in on the rickshaw ride & totally choose the best driver - he's easily forty years old & pretty skinny, but he quickly races out in front of everyone else & we lead the pack around tiny residential streets. at one point, he passes another rickshaw being driven by a friend of his, & grabs onto the backmost rail - his buddy notices the added weight & looks around to find our guy laughing at him. awesome that we found the one rickshaw driver who actively gives people shit!

the rickshaw ride pauses for us to check out a typical beijing home owned by a friend of jakson's. it's got several small, cold rooms that all open up to a shared courtyard. nothing is insulated & it's very, very spartan. there is a 9" tv plugged into the one power cord i can find. i have no idea how someone could live here in 2012. we see a plaque stating that this is one of the homes chosen for olympic housing - must mean for spectators, as we'd already seen the olympic village apartments & such by the water cube. (jakson said those now sell for something like 10k¥ per square meter!) the owner dresses joe & me in red fabric & has us pose for a photo; i fear he might've accidentally married us.

we head back to the rickshaws & return to our starting point. we walk along a river past a bunch of street vendors, & are faced with some interesting snack options, including fried seahorses, starfish, & scorpions. we decide to try the scorpions, three for 15¥. the vendor looks at me, points at his nose, & says, "hello, what is this? hello, what is this?" it immediately becomes one of my favorite questions of the trip. he fries up our scorpions on the spot, & they're really delicious - very crispy with a bit of spice. the other members of our tour are aghast, & we insult their virility.

we then drive to the academy of chinese medical sciences, which was skipped monday. this isn't a museum, but is an actual scientific research facility where they test & create herbal medicines & remedies. we start with "traditional chinese herbal foot massages" - we put our feet in individual tubs full of translucent dark brown water, & are given a short lecture as we soak in the heat & herbs. the doctor lecturing us explains about the pressure points in the feet & how a foot massage affects every organ in the body. he goes on to explain that herbs have been used medicinally in china for centuries, & that they can cure a lot of things for which western medicine prescribes surgery or long-term "treatment". we're told there are three pulses in each wrist, representing liver, kidneys, et cetera, & that the doctor can diagnose us just by feeling these pulses, & looking at our tongues & our eyes.

twenty college students enter to begin the massage. our feet are dried, the buckets removed, & balms applied. the girl doing mine is absolutely adorable, & keeps becoming anime when she smiles. she's pals with the guy working on joe's hooves, & they subtly inspect my foot tattoos. when they look up & see our nose piercings, they grin & gasp & it's on. things like "whoa, what else do you have pierced" & "show me your tongue!" are beyond all language barriers. they see joe's tongue, then mine, & even the head nurse-type woman is amazed by my four tongue bars.

after a half hour, the doctors come in. the head doctor, who they call the professor, has been practicing for over forty years. he starts at the far end of our row, & the massage students begin cleaning up & removing their stools... all except for ours. OUR students just. keep. going. FOREVER. & it's sooooo good. the professor checks my pulses, is visibly upset by my tongue (surely for the jewelry, as my tongue is normal otherwise), & gently pulls down the skin under each of my eyes. minor TMI coming: his translator asks me if my period is regular, & i reply that it newly isn't - i was diagnosed just last month with an endometrial polyp i was going to have surgery to remove in december. he also asks about my digestion & diet - i recently started including a lot more nuts & oils, as well as taking a probiotic, as i'd had some issues with my intestinal flora & thus my immune system. wait, what the hell - he got that from touching my wrists & a two-second look at my face?! AWESOME.

so they tell me no, don't have surgery, they have herbs to fix me & i'll be good as new in four months. i confer with joe & decide to spend the $600-some for a two-month supply of three kinds of herbs. if it doesn't work, then whatever, it was worth a shot... but if it DOES work, then i've avoided pain, surgery, any surgery-related complications, & a 2-week recovery time off work & stuck on the couch. i can order another two months through their email, & they encourage me to email a status report, too. i'm a little surprised that nothing was prescribed for my scoliosis, but it's not like there's an herb to straighten my spine, so i figure they only prescribe for conditions they can cure. joe is similarly accurately diagnosed, & spends a bit more for a four-month supply of his herbs. we find later that everyone was surprised at the doctors' accuracy, most bought in, & some people didn't need any at all (which reassures me on the "it's just a tourist scam" front).

did i mention we're still being massaged? our foot massage FINALLY ends a full hour past everyone else's. & everyone noticed. the group consensus is that we're regarded as rock stars here, & the students just wanted to be near us as long as possible. i accept this explanation immediately.

we board the coach & are told that obama won! HOORAY. the entire bus cheers except for Friendly Single Woman, who wanted romney. the obama-supporters aren't poor winners, & i tell her it's okay, she can still ride with us. X) lunch wasn't on the itinerary for today, but jakson works it out somehow. it features a whole fish (trout i believe), roasted duck, & a great tofu dish.

though today is scheduled as a free day, we decide as a group to visit the zoo - this was Friendly Single Woman's suggestion on day 2 & i dig it. jakson collects 25¥ from each of us for our tickets, & we're warned that carrying our cameras & bags on our shoulder or behind us means "it belongs to somebody else, everybody else." we strap in & practically run through the zoo to several locations with pandas, & i get some video. i really want to see the reptile house, but there isn't time - ah well. jakson asks us, "what is the pity of the panda? he cannot take a color photo." groans abound.

the next stop is shopping - they call it the arcade, & it's about a square half mile full of snack food stands & little shops. i buy a kilo of roasted chestnuts for 20¥, then joe & i split something we see a LOT of chinese folks eating - candied fruit on a stick. it's basically marinated fruit threaded onto a kebob & then glazed in a crisp caramel. we choose one with small yellow & red tomatoes, two big hunks of kiwi, & a haw at the bottom. (haw is a tiny apple-like fruit.) it's delicious - the marination makes it less sweet, so the caramel isn't overkill. we see a ton of "freaky" snacks too - more scorpions, both the small ones we ate & large black emperors, snakes coiled & fried, the seahorses & starfish again, some kind of brown pupae, & spit-roasted baby ducks. i kind of want to get a black emperor, but it's the type of scorpion i've kept as a pet & have tattooed on my body; i eventually decide i don't need to taste every weirdo thing just because it's there.

we find our way into a shop with a ton of tiny wrapped dried fruits & other sweets priced by the kilo. the owner takes note of us & starts following us around, pointing at some things & giving a thumbs up, pointing at others we're looking at & leading us to better versions of them. we end up with nearly a kilo of treats, little cakes & nuts & dried fruits, to try together.

everyone in this place wants a photo with us, but they're mostly polite about it. walking through one empty store, joe & i keep looking over our shoulder to find more & more iphones aimed at us, with giggling chinese teens behind them. they just have NO idea what to do with us here, & are fascinated by our hair. after wandering a couple of hours, joe & i split another treat, some beignet-like eggy dough balls served with a granulated sugar. they were three for ten yuan, & they're good - the sugary stuff isn't very sweet.

at some booth or another i pick up a small bill with a five on it, which is a half-yuan, five jiao. wtf. a yuan is only about sixteen cents, & they have paper money equivalent to eight cents? when there's also a coin for the same amount? okay, china.

dinner is also not on the itinerary, but we're again fed - at the restaurant near the arcade, we're served deep fried shrimp, duck, & chicken; as we already had something fried today, i stick mostly to the cucumber, bok choy, & celery, but there's also a sesame ball that's amazing. i notice that Irish Guy doesn't seem to spend much time with Quietest Wife. they often eat dinner at different tables. not everyone is like me & joe, spending every minute together, but not every relationship can survive travel, either. perhaps Quietest Wife is just Quietest Coworker or something.

so to all the people i told about this trip & said i didn't know how to pronounce "ex eye apostrophe ay en": i was right that i'd find out!@ xi'an is pronounced "she-ann", & it used to be the capital. & knowing we'd have a twelve hour train ride to xi'an & only sleep for seven of those at best, i spent the previous few days torrenting shows i'd missed on sunday via the fairly pathetic hotel internets. i look forward to catching up on dexter & misfits & such. we say goodbye to jakson at the train terminal, & tina pays 5¥ for each of us so we can board early. tina tells us to lock our room doors, & always wake someone if you need to use the bathroom, so they can watch the room while the door's unlocked.

it's four people to each sleeper room, & we're assigned to the second room with White Ponytail & Adopted Grandma. i dig both of them a lot. we swap them our bottom bunks since they're grandparent-age, & joe & i are oh-so spry, & they share some lychees with us. on the way to the toilet, i pass the first room & see Carlos tucked into the bottom left bed, comforter up to his neck, smiling brightly. then i notice the other three beds all contain young single women, & everyone is cracking up at Carlos's angelic expression. the man is definitely NOT unhappy to be in this room!

the power outlet in our room doesn't work, but i'm still able to watch mythbusters (with a very snoozy joe) & this week's dexter before my battery light starts flashing & i shut down for the night.


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