Well, it had been shaping up to be just another two days off, until yesterday Alistair, Grace and I said "Let's do something". We had initially thought Chengde, the emperor's summer palace. So we raced to the bus station... only to discover the trip was 5 hours long, and the next bus left at 5:30pm. It was then 12:45pm.
Alternate plan: Qinhuangdao, a small (hahaha!) city by the sea about 200 km east. The bus trip was fine. I sat next to some guy who scoffed at the idea of an adult eating chips. I was told that only children eat them in China. Xien zai wo zhe da, I guess. (Now I know) The tv show was complete ass, and very emblematic of Chinese television - slap-sticky, irritating, easily-digested swill aimed at 4-year-olds. Half the people on the bus who weren't sleeping were snorting and giggling. Le sigh.
Qinhuangdao. We arrived at 3 o'clock, and checked out the train station to see when the last train left, given that if we took the last bus we'd only have two hours to wander by the sea and grab a bite to eat. Couldn't get an answer. Checked tourist information... they didn't know or didn't care to know.
After a forty yuan cab ride, we were at the beach and wandered a bit. The air was nice, and it was good to stare out across the waves. We couldn't get to the Old Dragon's Head, where the Great Wall emerges from the sea, but that was alright; it was 40 minutes farther east.
Brides. There were so many wedding couples on the beach. There was a rocky outcrop that jutted into the sea past a nice pier (pictures soon to come) with like 10 brides all arrayed for photographs.
Anyway... we wandered the pier, took some photos, then went back to where the pier met the land and paid admission for this museum-y place. Some square plus building commemorating an emperor (can't remember who). So more photos, and climbed a bunch of stairs... only to have them close the doors to the big building on us as we arrived. So we toured the grounds, saw peacocks and ostriches, Alistair almost walked into a nasty green and black spider whose main bulk was the size of my pinky, and left.
Grace needed to call her friend to see if she could buy us train tickets so we could stay longer, so we waltzed into the Holiday Inn on the seashore and had a few beers while she did that. That was successful, so we had another few hours - until 10pm.
Supper. It freakin' rocked. We walk into this restaurant and are led across the foyer and into this enormous room filled with tanks. They had everything: lobsters, crabs, eels, sole, rock crabs, nurse sharks, sturgeons, etc etc. Alistair and I chose two crabs (poor guys) and we all picked another three dishes from their menu. We had the crab (messy but good); eggplant with seafood; a large mixed seafood dish that had squid, fish, shrimp, etc. (awesome); battered fish; and a pork dish just to spice it up.
Then we hit this off-the-beaten-track bar that looked like a cave or something. The only lighting they had came from candles and a few small lamps behind the bar and near the KTV machines. We ordered beer and people started coming over to talk to us. Grace did karaoke, then I did "A Hard Days Night" which is a really sucky song to sing karaoke to, by the way. In the midst of that, one of the Chinese guys brings me a glass of beer. Then afterwards he arm-wrestled me, of all things. (Don't ask)
To the train station, where we hung out with Ting and her husband, and talked for a bit, providing something for a hundred-some-odd folks waiting in the queue to watch. Then a last-minute scramble: the tickets Ting had gotten us were for today, not last night, so those had to be changed. No problems in the end, but it was just one of those "of course the tickets are wrong" kind of things. We'd had issues like that since we left our apartment.
The train... wow. I'd forgotten what trains here were like. Only 13 yuan ($1.50), but 3 hours long... and there was no space whatsoever. At one point, I was kneeling on the ground getting stares because I'd assumed a beggar's stance. Spoke with a few people near me, and managed to sit down for a bit when a few guys stood on their benches, allowing for more actual sitting room. It was just packed, seats and aisles. On top of that, they tried to move trolleys through for food, beer and water... and at some point an attendant was mopping! That was freakin' funny. Grace said "Why are you mopping?!" and he said he didn't want to be, but that was his job.
We finally got back to Tang Shan at 1am, tired and sore... only to find that our entire apartment block was without power. Woke up this morning still without power. I'm posting this from work, and that's why there are no pictures as of yet.
So yeah... a fun day, well worth the minor hassles and inconveniences. I think next week I'll head to Chengde on Sunday night, and spend all of Monday wandering, getting back late Monday night. For National Day and the week we teachers have off, I will go to Datong and check out the Yungang Caves and the Hanging Temple for 3 or 4 days. That's in early October. Then Steve and Nika will be here late Oct, early Nov.
Okay, time to plan my three middle-school classes and my business class. Pictures will be up by the time most of you get up. (if I have power back)