Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Xi'an - It Is Hard to Pronounce

Xi'an to Chengdu Train
Hotel Jinhe, Chengdu

It has taken me a couple of days of practice, and I think I am still screwing it up. The first syllable is like 'sigh' with a bit of 'ch' thrown in. The second is like the American pronunciation of 'Anne'. I think. You can be certain that it is not my destiny to master the finer points of Chinese pronunciation.

We arrived around 22:00 on Friday the 29th. Up late, we hopped over to a restaurant near the train station recommended by Vicki. The ordering system there was very strange. We bought a debit card from the cashier, then walked around a cafeteria-style U-shape picking out things. Each station charged your card and arranged to deliver selections to your table. When finished, we got a refund of the remaining cash on the card. Dishes of note included: crayfish covered in sticky red chili sauce, noodles in broth with jellied blood, and huge pork and vegetable dumplings. I ate more than I really should have. What can I say? I love dumplings. They are my kryptonite. The blood noodles were nice as well.

The rest of the day was spent doing some hardcore tourism. We saw a large pagoda/temple complex that houses Buddhist manuscripts brought to China from India in the 7th century. The Drum and Bell towers were fine examples of traditional architecture and provided some commanding views of the modern city. V&L found this all very boring.

After a quick rest at the hotel, we headed back out top sample a local specialty. Each diner got a big bowl and two puck-sized pieces of bread and set about the job of breaking the bread into small bits. The waitress came along from time to time to check on our progress and shout at us for being substandard bread-breakers. Eventually, she relented and took away our bread bits. They came back 15 minutes later having been cooked up with a heavy mutton stew. The combined effect of the mushy bread bits and the slippery stew broth is very nice. I finished my whole bowl and some of Lily's.

Early to bed with the intention of an early rise and viewing the Terracotta Warriors. During the night, there was a disturbance in The Force. Not really. Replace 'The Force' with 'my stomach' and 'disturbance' with 'convention of angry Frenchmen'. It could have been the blood noodles or the chicken feet or any of the other 'delicacies' that I had had recently. I was feeling too unsteady for a sweaty bus ride out of town. Vicki and Jason took off and left Lily and I behind to take it easy.

The Gaullic subcommittee meeting in my gut quieted down towards mid day. We headed out to a local park. I was hoping to just lay in the grass and feel sorry for myself, but we ran headlong into a troupe of acrobats, a alligator pit ringed by a go-kart track, and a high-wire show. A good sit by the side of the lake rounded off what turned out to be a very enjoyable afternoon.

I left Lily watching Chinese soap operas and popped into the local internet cafe to satiated my lust for IP and my fetish for TCP. Jason and Vicki returned shortly thereafter and we all joined up for a very so-so dinner in the hotel restaurant. Never give Chinese girls beer. We spent the rest of the evening watching V&L alternate between wrestling (enjoyable) and moaning like little kids (not so enjoyable). Everyone passed out or fell asleep early.

The next morning was all about planning. We combined Erin L's advice with some reading from the Rough Guide and our own poorly considered opinions and decided to make off for Chengdu. L&V helped us navigate the furstrating process of getting tickets. Then it was time to say goodbye. Vicki was staying in Xi'an. Lily was heading back to Beijing.

We boarded the train around 17:00 and headed south for Sichuan Province.


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