Alrighty, this is a whooper (and no pictures, so PG you can go check out a more colourful site. ;) ) Going to write this as I wrote in my little travel journal thingy, omitting some stuff.
Had no issues in Beijing on Friday (23rd). It's 19:15 right now, and I'm on the train covering my first 1200 km of the trip. A group of peasants in the train waiting room stared at me for quite some time when I bought a folding chair. Beijing Xi Zhan (west station) is a monstrosity of a place. Fitting that I leave for my trip when that's where it all started when I was sent down to Shijiazhuang on the 21st of July.
The guys in my compartment are nice, and the female attendants are super friendly. Soft sleeper is quite a way to travel!
Just spent two hours speaking and playing cards with two of the guys in my compartment. Some TV show was on (like America's Funniest Home Videos, except just silly stuff and no blah blah) so I said "Ah, Meguoren" (Americans) and they had a good laugh. Following that convenient ice-breaker, we chatted about where I'd been, what I was doing... the altitude of Lhasa, Kunming and other places. All kinds of things, in other words. I then taught them how to play "diao yu" (Chinese go fish) and we played that for an hour and some. Nice guys! Time for sleepy sleep.
Day 2 - Xi'an (3.24)
Arrived - no problems - in Xi'an at 07:05. By 07:25, I had my ticket to Chengdu for the 27th, 22:10. Now I'm going to check out the centre city - the city walls, Drum & Bell Towers. Tomorrow, I'm off at 07:00 to see the Teracotta Warriors & Horse (and other things). The day after tomorrow, I'll go to Hua Shan, maybe. Need to find an internet bar...
Had a long day. I ate baozi (large dumplings) for breakfast. Emailed my mom, Angie and Suzi. Then I walked... I ended up walking about 12 km the whole day. I only taxi'd back. I walked to the wall and followed it south to the West Gate. Very nice walk through there. Then wandered down the main west street. Got distracted by a W.C. sign and wandered down what was a side street of the Muslim District. Ate you tai bing (cabbage fried roll) and accidentally found an awesome temple, all the writings in Arabic. It might have been the Great Mosque (note from 3.27... it wasn't)... but I doubt it. No one else was there. It was nice, though. Cats brought me to it.
Then wandered down a main market drag, still in the Muslim area, and feasted on skewers of lamb and some sort of sweet pastry.
Saw the Drum Tower, then the Bell Tower. The only part of that that was cool was looking out and seeing a gate at every cardinal point. In the spirit of walking, I found myself on a nice arts market street. Lots of hua (paintings) and shu fa (calligraphy). Took some good photos, and following that, I scaled the south wall and wandered about. Huge freakin' wall. It's about twice as wide as the Great Wall and approx 20 meters high.
Then, for a change of pace... I walked some more. I was kind of aiming for the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. Saw lots of neat things on my way. I even wandered through a university campus in search of a bathroom.
The pagoda wasn't really worth the walk, nor the admission price. To be honest, I think I'll be skipping most temples and such on this trip. If you've seen five, you've seen them all.
On my way back to the Fenghe Lu Hostel (blegh) I called a friend of Fancy's (sales girl from Tangshan). So she's on her way now (should be here for 17:00).
It was a nice day and hopefully we'll have a good supper. Then it's sleepy time and the Teracotta Army tomorrow.
(note - 3.27: had a good time with Fancy's friend, Kaitlyn, and her boyfriend, Xiao Mao (little Mao). We had hotpot and chatted for a while.)
Day 4 - Xi'an (3.26)
Day 3 was a great day, filled with teracotta, mausoleums, police chases and beer. Left the hostel at 08:20 or so and arrived at the 7 Sages Hostel (where I'm sitting comfortably now at 09:30 on the 26).
Met two German women and an American (Chinese) guy: Johanna, Kaitya and Nan. Ended up hanging out with them the entire day. Their hostel (this one) is so much nicer than mine. It's an old courtyard style hostel, changed over from a very old admin building and army barracks. Very cosy and calm. Wish I'd stayed here.
We hit the Teracotta factory first, which was great. It's where they make "official" figures for sale using ancient molding etc. techniques.
After that, it was off to Qin Shihuang's mausoleum and underground palace. Holy cheesy and tacky. And then...
Teracotta Warriors & Horse itself, around 10:45. It was awesome. The walk up was interesting. Basically, the actual mausoleum (untouched or even dug-up) is still under a hill, with the Teracotta Army to the east 1.5 km. Anyway, a modern old-school Chinese village was built between the road and the pits of the T.W. & H. ... then some weird-ass shopping plaza. It's pretty enough but sort of out of place.
The T.W. & H. itself was great. Pit 1 was the largest and most unearthed/restored. Just amazing. Pit 2 was the generals' HQ and camp, only partly restored. Pit 3 was disappointing, as 90% of it was just... dirt and rock, with the highlights of the ceiling beams containing the figures below. The final building was the museum itself. Funny to think that one of the greatest historical finds of the 20th Century was discovered by farmers trying to dig a well in 1974.
7.5 km away was the Hua Jing Chi (sp?) springs, the largest hot-springs in China (we were told...). Very very nice. The whole place was built by an emperor for his favourite concubine, Lady Yan.
I've got lots of pictures, anyway. Following that, we came back to the 7 Sages Hostel and worked out a trip together (Nan, Johanna and I) to Hua Shan. We leave in one hour (11:00). We had a nice beer in the courtyard, went for supper (fantastic) and hit the train station. 14 kuai for the train to Hua Shan.
Oh, then the taxi home last night... the driver pulled a fast one and was stopped by a nearby cop. He promised to pull off to the side... then tore off, laughing. Twenty seconds later (if that) he was trying to outrun and evade a police cruiser. There was a chase, with the end result being us almost rammed by the cruiser as he cut us off at 80 km/h. Lots of yelling then ensued. Quite memorable.
I'm back. On the train, supposedly standing tickets and we have top floor seats. Good deal for 14 kuai!
Day 5 - Hua Shan, Xi'an (3.27)
A great but exhausting day yesterday. We went 7 km and 1800 m (up). Quite a hike. The first 2 km were easy - the path was like a ramp. After that... it got ugly. Small stairs and some insane inclines. Some of them were 80-degrees, though most were 50-60 degrees, approx. Some very tough go's.
Anyway, after the train ride to Menyuan (stop for Hua Shan), we bought some food and water and got on a bus. When we were dropped off, we took some back alleys and bought fruit. Seeing a cobbler/leatherworker, I asked if he could punch two more holes in my belt. Everyone was (surprise) pointing and staring. That was my second "belt off" exhibitionism show. He also cut part of the belt length off. At least the guy got something to tell his friends about.
After that, we walked up to the Temple of Spring, partially under restoration (damn Olympics). Then into Hua Shan itself, the steepest and most dangerous of the Chinese sacred mountains. (so I've read and now believe)
Twice Chinese pilgrims/climbers asked Nan how much Johanna was paying to hire him out as a bag-carrier. That was fucking funny.
As we climbed, it gradually got colder. At the 4 km mark, we put our sweaters on. The trip past that point (the last 1.4 km to the North Peak) was chilly but we were sweating so didn't feel it til we stopped.
We arrived at the North Peak hostel at 18:15 and thought about stopping and staying, and making an early morning climb to East Peak the next morning. We decided against it, and headed out. 1 km later and 1h20m we finally got to a hostel near East Peak. We settled in for mantou (steamed bread) and instant noodles, and hit the sack. (Yay electric blankets!)
We awoke at 04:00 and started the black walk, rented flashlights in hand. There is no way we'd have made it in time for the dawn if we'd stayed on North Peak. Suddenly, I look around and there are patches of snow. It wasn't too cold, though, and by 05:15 the false dawn gave us enough wan light to see by. At 06:00 or so, we were at 2000 meters (up) and 8 km (forward?).
Twenty minutes later, the sun rose orange through a cloud-haze of pink and purple, shrouding the mountains. It was awesome. We were at the second-highest point on the whole mountain. (South Peak is 2100 m vs 2060 m on East Peak)
We enjoyed the walk a nice walk back to North Peak, the sun bathing the slopes all around us. My legs were ready to buckle. The walk down was worse than climbs up. Unfortunately, that meant that I was seeing the path we'd taken the previous evening. Black Dragon Ridge was brutal. This long, high ridge with almost sheer drops on both sides... maybe 2 meters across the ridge was.
Now we're headed back down by cable-car ("Eet's O'stre'an!") and I'm not sure how I'm going to spend the remainder of my day. I'll figure it out later.
Had an awesome walk down to Hua Shan village. It was about a 4.5 km walk down a gently-sloping road from the cable car drop off. Such a gorgeous stroll back down, walking through a meandering gorge next to a rushing stream. Took us an hour and some. The cable-car ride, though, was less than fun. My fear of heights has abated, but that damn thing... I hate being suspended like that.
Okay, I'm getting carpal tunnel syndrome, I gotta stop. There's more, but whatever. Next stop... Chengdu!