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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Friday- Succumbing to Temptation!

Today was one of those days where you simply have to
take a break from your surroundings. It was one of
those days when I felt that China might swallow me
whole, and in an effort to hold on to my Americanes. I
simply latched on to those uniquely American things
that I could find. Waking up today, I heard water
dripping out on my window seal and though Oh Dear, it
is raining. This would be the second time that it had
rained since I have been here. Not really concerned, I
stumbled out of bed at 5:00, so I could catch my
train. I showered and dressed then headed out the door
to find that it was not rain but huge chunks of snow
that had covered Chengde in a blanket of snow. Still
needing to get away, I flagged down a taxi who took me
to the train station. If I thought that normal driving
was scary, it was even worse when the roads were slick
and icy. However, I made it to the train station alive
and found my way to the queue. Now, the interesting
part
came when we were boarding. None of the people had
seats as we were not the originating point of this
train ride. Thus, this led to a mad dash to board the
train. The only problem is that I was not aware of
this, so for the first two hours of my train ride, I
was stuck in the middle of the isle which was terribly
annoying as the snack cars came by every five minutes
plus people kept walking back and forth down the
isles, and I simply wanted to say please stay the fuck
in one place. Eventually, a man let me sit for awhile,
and we trades places for about an hour then I played
seat warmer for several other men until finally the
men got off and gave their seats to me. I was so
happy. The people next to them were not as they wanted
to lie down. Sitting down, I then ate a small snack
and the young man next to me decided that he wanted to
talk. This would have been fine if either of us could
speak, but neither of us could. Luckily his wife could
read, so we wrote to each other then I broke out my
phrase book, and we communicated that way. The young
man was very nice and insisted on feeding my
strawberry tomatoes and pears which I did not mind but
was really not hungry. He then pulled up my shirt
sleeves and pants legs to look at my skin. He was
simply amazed and laughed at all the hair that I have
on my arms and legs. We joked around them finally made
it into Beijing. I got off the train and was a little
hungry. At this moment something simply snapped. I got
out of the train station and was headed for the subway
when I saw it. In the corner of my eye, I saw that red
and white bucket of chicken being held by that aged
but smiling colonel that we are all familiar with. I
do not know what prompted this, but I simply started
running towards it. I rushed across the bridge and
scaled a small fence then leaped over some pipes and
went into the KFC. I was so elated and quickly ordered
a spicy chicken sandwich, fries, and a Pepsi. I was
so happy although I did not have a seat as it was
incredibly crowded. At this point, I was sat next to a
Chinese couple which did not seem to like my company.
I ate quickly, but was still happy. Mariah Carry was
being played over the speakers, and I was simply so
happy. I then walked around the mall next door and
experienced a great happiness. At this point, I felt
that it was time to go to the train station. I caught
the subway then a taxi who took me there. I got there,
and then reality hit again. It was so crowded, and
people were pushing to get in while they scanned our
luggage. At this point, I then saw the most graphic
and horrific picture that I have even seen in my life.
It was of a train bombing that happened somewhere in
China, and they showed everything. I almost puked.
There were boy parts and dead bodies everywhere in the
pictures. People were just so mutilated. I simply felt
horrified, and I had a great unease about traveling
after this. This would only be added to Saturday when
I learned that a man killed four people in a hostel
last week. They caught him, but I was not very
comfortable. I sat in the platform with thousands of
Chinese waiting to catch my train, and I was so ready
to get to my sleeper to forget the images that I had
just seen. We boarded an hour and a half later which
seemed like an eternity then I found my bunk and took
a nap. I got up once or twice but slept most of the
time as I was a little stressed out.

Saturday- Rejuvenation

Waking up at 5:30 this morning, I was a little
annoyed,
but we pulled into the train station, and I exited
out the front. I was met by a representative of the
youth hostel who brought me to the hotel, and I was
extremely happy to arrive. I got here, and it was the
most amazing hostel. It was in a very old hotel that
had huge courtyards in the middle with birds and cages
everywhere. I was very happy. I then signed up for the
terracotta warriors trip then headed to my room to
unload. I got a free breakfeast and had a traditional
English meal of eggs, bacon, ham, tomato, and that
unique sausage I became all to familiar with in
England. At that point, I then went for a walk down to
the Bell tower and wondered around and listened to
them play music. I came back and met a Jewish couple
and a New Zeeland couple who I would be spending the
day with. We loaded out bus then headed towards our
destination. Both of the couples were coming from
Vietnam where they had gotten to from Thailand and
Cambodia. They said that it was simply beautiful. The
Israeli girl looked just like Jill and wore a blue
headband like I gave Jill as a present one year. We
went to a place where they make replicas of the
terracotta warriors and looked around. It was very
neat. We then went to the Mausoleum of the first
emperor which was also interesting. Finally, we got to
the terracotta warriors. They were very unique, and I
enjoyed the experience. At this point, we then came
back. I got here and freshened up then headed out the
door. I wondered around the Muslim quarter and looked
around the different markets. I then went to the drum
tower and finally I headed back and walked along the
city walls and went to the small goose pagoda. At this
point, I asked a gentleman to take my picture, and he
did. We talk, and he then ended up showing me around.
He took me out to eat with several of his army
buddies, and we hung out for a long time. I had an
amazing fish and chicken dish along with egg drop
soup. They were simply to die for. At this time, I was
very tired, and so I came to the hostel. He followed
me back then I we agreed to meet in the morning. I
came in and did some writing then simply dropped in my
bunk. I was rooming with two Swedish gentlemen and a
German. That was interesting.



Sunday- The Two Faces of Travel.

Now I have managed to stay pretty level headed for
most of my trip up to this point, but today I almost
lost all touch with sanity as I moved from calm to
panicked within thirty seconds after learning that I
would be stuck in XiAn for another day. Normally this
would not have bothered me, but I really needed to be
back in Chengde and teaching by Monday evening, but
unknowingly, this would not be what fate had in store
for me. The day actually started out farley normal. I
woke up around seven thirty and washed up then headed
to the front desk and checked out of my room. I then
me Fu Ping (the Chinese Army Officer) who decided to
show me around the city. Being very hungry, we both
decided to stop for breakfast at a little street
vendor. We had these amazingly delicious round
doughnuts like pastries that were covered in sesame
seeds and filled with Chinese red sugar. It was ewy
gooy delicious. Of course, we also had a bowl of
piping hot soybean milk. This was not as good. The
covered the bowl with plastic bags and put in the
soybean milk in which case you drunk it out of the
bowl. I must say that I am not a fan of hot milk, but
I am really not a fan of warm soybean milk. Either
way, it was a meal, and we were filled up for a long
day of adventure. We left there and walked to one of
the markets down the street in order to look around.
We got there, and it was mainly produce and clothes
very few traditional goods, so we decided to leave. In
an effort to save time, we took a Taxi to the rest of
our destinations. We left the market and rode across
town to the temple of the Eight Immortals. The place
was packed and for three blocks there were street
vendors set up around the temple. There were so many
people that it was very hard to maneuver through the
crowds. But somehow, we made it to the temple gates,
and Fu Ping paid for our way in. We got in, and the
temple was very crowded. It was a Taoist Temple and
very beautiful. There was a huge marble bridge over a
beautiful reflecting pool filled with gold fish. This
was called the Bride to heaven as you had to cross it
in order to pay homage to god. People were burning
incense everywhere. I am used to this, but I was not
used to the overwhelming number of people that had
packed the temple. I then remembered that Monday is a
religious holiday called the tomb sweeping day in
which they go clean their tombs and pay homage to
their ancestors by burning paper money, offering food,
and other items. There were some great Taoist Monks
there. My favorite part was all the trees that were in
bloom around the temple. Everything was so green and
beautiful. I loved it. We left there and wandered our
way through the crowds to get to another taxi. We
hoped in and finally made our way to a taxi door who
then took us to the large goose Pagoda. I was
expecting it to be huge, but not as large as it was.
You could see it from seven city blocks away. It stood
in the center a very large round about, and you could
see it from many directions. We got there then walked
around the outside of the temple. There were Japanese
Cherry trees everywhere, and they were all in bloom.
It made for an explosion of colors that I was simply
amazed by. My Goodness it was stunning. We then went
into the Temple, and a fury of picture taking began.
There were so many beautiful green gardens all around
the temple. It was just incredible. The colors of the
flowers were stunning. There was yellow Rhododendron,
pink cherry trees, purple trees, and many colors of
flowers that were stunning. There were small
sculptures of different religious figures everywhere.
The most important was a bald monk who is very famous.
He went to Afghanistan and brought back some famous
scriptures to XiAn. This is believable since XiAn was
the beginning of the silk route. We walked all over
the gardens then went and saw many of the Buddhist
Monks and Nuns. We then climbed up seven floors of the
Pagoda. This does not sound like a lot, but the stares
tended to curve several times between each floor, so
it was a whole lot. I was tired at the top. We looked
through the windows then headed down and decided to
start on the next leg of our adventure. We caught a
Taxi and went to the Confucius Temple that housed a
great number of old Chinese Steles which are huge
stone tablets with religious and other scripture
written on them. It was beautiful and once again
filled with many beautiful flowers. It was like a
wonderful escape from all the hustle and bustle of the
city that surrounded me. We met his two friends who
decided to join us for lunch. He wanted to take me out
along with nine of his other friends, so I happily
agreed. We had decided on the restaurant earlier when
we saw it while walking to the market in the morning.
It was a like a Chinese Cowboy Texas Road House. I can
not really explain it any better. There was wood
paneling everywhere with women dressed in early
Chinese costumes with their hair up in Princess
Amidala style from Star Wars. It was a sight to
behold. They then had these huge barrels on rockers
which you could ride as they had a saddle over the
barrels. We then ordered our food. We had huge Pork
Ribs along with sautéed peanuts and spinach that was
marinated in wonderful oils. We also had a tofu soup
and these fantastic tofu noodles. They also tried to
make me eat the nasty jellow noodles, but I would not
do it. Of course they also brought straws to the table
then they showed me how to suck the bone marrow out of
the ribs joints through the straw. I simply faked this
as I am not a fan of bone marrow. My favorite was the
catfish and eggplant soup. It was simply fantastic as
it had an amazing flavor. The dumplings were also
delicious as well. Some of the best that I have had in
China. We also drank lost of bear, and he wanted me to
drink Chinese wine which is actually whiskey, but I
only had a sip as it is too strong for me. We talked
for awhile and enjoyed ourselves. They asked me when I
was leaving, and I told them this afternoon. I told
them that I had to go buy my train ticket. This is
normally fine as I have been able to do this
everywhere, but they said that many people leave from
Xian to Beijing, and it would probably be impossible
for me to get a ticket. I panicked a little at time,
but they decided to check for me, and they all pulled
out their cell phones and made calls for me. We waited
for about an hour and talked then they got the call
back and it said that there were no tickets left. I
panicked some more at this point, but I asked if they
could help me get a ticket. They called and said that
it was impossible, but they could get me a flight for
the morning or a ticket for the next day. I told them
to just get me a sleeper, although they were both the
same price. They called and said that they had got one
for me. I was fine with this, but all the stress had
turned my face a bright shade of red. I did not know
this at the moment, until Fu Ping asked me if I was
all right. I went to the bathroom and splashed my face
with water to cool down. I told him that it was due to
the alcohol. We then decided to leave, and I asked him
when I could get the ticket as I really wanted to have
it in my pocket. He said in the morning, and he would
send his friend to give it to me. I was not really
comfortable with this and went into panic mode and
asked him if he could get it now. He said that he did
not have the time, but we could try to get it this
evening. I did not understand this as we had the time
to go play pool which is where I was taken to. We went
and played pool then snooker which is a giant pool
table with fewer balls and large pool sticks. It made
me think that someone was trying to compensate for
something. We played then the stress got to me, and I
turned bright red again. I told him that I needed to
go lay down for awhile. He was reluctant though as we
were supposed to be waiting on his friend who is the
best snooker player in all of China. The only problem
is that his friend would not be there for several
hours. I told him that I really needed to go back to
my hotel and finally he agreed. I got there and got a
room for another night. I washed up, and he suggested
that we go somewhere to help me feel better. I am sure
that he could see that I was panicked still. He ended
up going around the corner, and treated me to this
amazing massage. We were laid in these two chairs and
some Chinese young women came in and gave us the most
amazing massages that I have ever had. They brought in
these two huge wooden buckets filled with hot water
and tea and soaked out feet. They then rubbed down our
arms and shoulders and backs. It was great. They then
gave us pedicures and massaged our feet and legs for a
very long time. We were in there for a total of three
hours, and it was total bliss. We then left there and
walked across town and met his friend in the Muslim
quarter. He is the National Chinese Snooker Champion.
At that moment, we ate Muslim food for super. This was
fine although I was not very hungry. We had kabobs and
very spicy rice for dinner. They were beef and lamb
kabobs along with beef kidney kabobs. It was good but
very hot. Luckily we were drinking this grape juice
which tasted like a snow cone flavored grape juice
that we used to get as children. It was amazing, and I
had several glasses. We ate then he got a call that my
ticket was ready. We went and picked it up then he
treated me to some tea at a tea house. The tea was
fantastic. It had a sweet flavor to it. We talked then
it came close to 9:00, and he had to leave to get back
to his barracks. I said goodbye and thanked him then
walked back to the hotel. I passed many people burning
paper money and leaving fruits on the sidewalks for
their ancestors. It was interesting although I am not
sure who safe it was to have open fires in the middle
of the city. I got to my hotel after watching some
dancers perform then I found my way to my bed and
collapsed. It was a long day, and I have learned a
lot. I guess the main thing that I was taught is how
gracious and giving Chinese people really are, and I
will be forever indebted to Fu Peng, and his friends.


Monday- The Day of Devastation and the Dollar

Today I momentarily lost touch with reality, and
during this time period, I went on a shopping spree
that ended with me buying a Guitar for twenty five
bucks. Now I will admit, normally went I get a little
down, I will spend money, but today I went all out and
bought a huge number of souvenirs. This could have
been because they were so cheap, but it probably stems
from the fact that I was devastated from the news that
I did not get into Graduate school. I woke up this
morning and washed up like normal then checked out and
found an internet café. I sent out a few e-mails and
got the e-mail which stated that I had been rejected
and would not be admitted for the fall. I was very
upset, but I did not have time to think about it.
After reading this, I sent two more e-mails then left
as I did not want to think about it anymore. I decided
to walk to an antique market which I saw on the map. I
went down the street and found some curly bread for
breakfast. It was overcooked, and I did not like it as
much. I ended up leaving it for someone. As I walked
down the street, I passed a waitress and busboy crew
who were warming up for their daily chores. They went
through roll call and inspection. They ten did some
exercises and were drilled by the head staff. I had
seen this a lot, but it just reminded me a lot of high
school band. It was so odd that I just had to watch.
The things which the waitresing staff must do here. I
got to the market and looked around. I was not really
impressed, so I headed back down the street to a more
traditional market. I got here, and the spending
began. I was simply possessed. I bought beautiful
traditional children’s purses that were had woven and
traditional leather shadow puppets. I bough pictures
and a beautiful whistle. Had woven straw goods, and a
few other things. I then decided to go for a rest as
it was incredibly hot. The thermometer said 88
degrees, and I believed it. This would not have been
so bad, but I was wearing a long sleeved shirt plus a
jacket which I had no where to put. I once again felt
weak of mind, and when I saw those golden arches, I
gave into temptation and had me a Big Mac, Fries, and
a Cold Coke. This is saying a lot as I have not eaten
McDonalds in over three years, but I dove right in. I
was grooving to the I’m Loven It Song as they blasted
it over the speakers. I left there and walked down to
the Muslim Quarter. I found my way to the Great
Mosque, and I rested for awhile. I enjoyed the
serenity of the place. It was the most peaceful place
that I had been to in XiAn. It gave me some time to
regain myself. There so many birds, and butterflies,
and flowers everywhere. It was very elegant. I loved
the bowls everywhere that had small Gold Fish. It was
an amazing getaway, and I felt at ease. I stayed for
awhile then decided to head back out. The mosque let
out into a huge bizarre, and I ended up buying several
more beautiful things which were simply stunning. I
then left there and went back to the Hostel. I
barrowed some of their magazines and read for awhile
then I took two of them as I wanted something to read
on the train. I left and ran into an Australian whom I
had met earlier in the day, and he showed me a Guitar
which he had just bought for twenty bucks. I smiled
and asked where he had got it from. At that moment, I
really wanted a Guitar myself. I went to the bank to
try and get some money out, but the back of my Credit
Card was not signed, so they would not let me. I had
enough money anyways, so I went and found the shop. At
fist I was not going to, but I ended up buying it. I
got it and a case for twenty-five dollars. I am not
sure how I am going to get it home though. I am not
sure if it will mail back or not. I then decided to go
to the train station. I caught a Taxi who took me
there then I waited in the station for an hour or two.
This boy beggar would not leave me alone, and a young
woman saw him then told him to leave me alone. He
would not, so she gave him a very stern talking to,
and she barraded him for lying to her. She eventually
left, and he returned, but luckily I was able to board
the train. The sleepers were not like the ones going
to XiAn. They were open and it was hot. I was sleeping
in the same bunks as two old Chinese couples. We
talked through my phrase book, and they fed me flat
bread and plums. It was good, but I eventually went to
sleep as I was greatly exhausted.

Tuesday- Everything Catches up With Me!

Today was a very long and hard day for me. I woke up
around six thirty and washed my face then waited for
us to pull into the Beijing Train Station. I got off
and told my friends Goodbye then headed for a Taxi. At
this point, I got into a Taxi that did not have a
meter, and I did not realize this. He drove me to the
long distance bus station in the rain, and when we got
there, he showed me two hundred Yuan. I looked at him
in amazement, and I told him that I did not have that
much. He pointed to my guitar and at that moment I
said no. I grabbed everything and thirty Yuan at him
and told him that his was a cheat and walked away. I
am sure that he was floored, but I did not turn back.
At that time, I was greeted by a running man who kept
yelling Chengde, and I said yes. We ran to the bus
station, and I boarded the bus. Put the Guitar in the
back and held onto my pack. This was fine until we
headed down the road and more people kept boarding
then he wanted to put it into the trunk. I was very
paranoid about this as my memories kept going back to
Alex’s Bag being stolen in Costa Rica, and I had
everything in my bag. The man eventually insisted, and
I gave it to him, but I was paranoid the rest of the
trip as more people boarded, and he put their stuff in
the trunk. I simply said to myself. If my stuff is
gone, I am going home tomorrow. The ride was long as
hell. It was five hours of no leg room. White people
were not built for Asian buses. Plus, the bus was
packed to the rim. If we were in a wreck there would
be no way to escape and the isles were all filled with
fold out seats plus people were sitting on fold out
seats next to the driver and a couple of people were
standing. The bus held forty people for a twenty five
passenger bus. I really want to say what the fuck.
This was annoying, but not as annoying as getting lost
and going in an odd route for my only guess to avoid
the police which made us take an extra hour and a
half. We also passed several wrecks which were just
awful as they had slammed into the cliff walls. I also
saw the remnants of several fresh land slides that had
covered the road. All of this added to my unease. By
the time that we got there, I was ready to get off the
bus. I got off and people started grabbing me for
hotels and taxis. I had not got to my stuff yet which
was my prime concern. I told the people no, and the
kept grabbing me. Finally I said go away very loudly
which I do not know if they understood or not as they
kept grabbing me. I was going to go with one taxi
driver until I saw that his Taxi was black, so I hoped
in a red one which angered the other man. I was not
going to be swindled again. People were still grabbing
at me up until this point. I managed to make it home,
but I only had fifty Yuan . I rushed inside the house
and grabbed five and paid the man thankful that he did
not run off with my guitar which I had left in there.
I got inside and everything hit me at once, and I laid
down on my bed and just cried. I did not have time to
do this for very long as I had to go teach my two
classes. I shaved and showered and enjoyed the hot
water. I then went and gave the teachers their lesson
and finally did my students. I got home at 9:00 and
crashed. I was ready to escape to my bed. This was the
end of my weekend which was incredibly long and very
emotional.

Sorry for the delay in writing.
Christopher

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