02
Mar
10

Day 7: Xi’an Tour Day 2

Day 2 was just a touch less befuddling than Day 1.  At least we had some idea of what we were in for today.  That, in addition to the fact that there was no multiple-mausoleum debacle, made today seem positively logical.

On the average day, the Chinese breakfast buffet might be enough to confound the unsuspecting tourist.  However, thanks to yesterday’s constant confusion, breakfast went off relatively smoothly.

Here is how the Chinese buffet breakfast works.  You enter a room with huge circular tables all over.  There are always so many tables that you do not need to worry about having to sit with anyone else.  The table will have a large Lazy Susan on it, but you won’t use it because you don’t have enough people to merit getting big plates of food and spinning them around to each other.

The breakfast menu – Drink Options

  • Coffee.  Usually.
  • Tea
  • Hot tang.  This is some sort of powdered orange drink that is made with hot water.  While the appearance of coffee might be sporadic, the tang is universally dependable.  The cups for the tang will always be too small.

The breakfast menu – Food Options

  • Some sort of bok choy-type green.  It can be delicious, but when it sits on your plate for a minute too long the edges get cold and it loses all appeal.
  • Roasted peanuts.  These can be unwieldy for the novice chopstick user.  Squeeze too hard and the tips of the sticks will cross violently, sending the little bastard spinning on the plate.  Practice makes perfect.
  • Various steamed dumplings.  Some of them have delicious meats and pastes inside of them.  Others do not, and are just a starchy wad in your mouth.  A good rule of thumb: the cheaper the buffet, the less likely any tasty surprise is hidden inside. With this in mind, though, it can still be frustrating because even in the nicer places it is very hard to discern the stuffed deliciousness from the unsatisfying, pasty, bland balls of dough when they are in the serving pans.
  • Fried eggs.  This is sometimes an option in the nicer establishments.  An extreme challenge with chopsticks.  This is one of those foods that makes you wonder, why haven’t they switched to forks?  I found that if you shovel the egg onto a sturdy piece of toast, you have a much more workable surface for the chopsticks.
  • Bacon.  This is usually more like slabs of ham.  Specifically provided to make the western tourist feel at home.
  • Awful eggs and tomatoes.  I’ve never eaten it, but I just know that it is awful.  It is scrambled eggs with huge chunks of tomatoes.  The eggs are kind of soft-scrambled so it looks like a hideous soupy mess.  I guess it doesn’t sound too bad if you don’t despise tomatoes, but there you have it.

Day 2 Tour Begins. Same van.  Different family.  Our old family is gone, but will never be forgotten.  Since we had to go to the airport directly from the tour, we were traveling on the bus with our bags.  And since every seat was filled with a person and there was no luggage space, that meant our bags were in our laps.  Our bags are big.

Xi’an City Wall.  The poor man’s Great Wall. It’s a huge ancient wall that surrounds the city of Xi’an to protect the city from an invasion of the Mongolians or Visigoths or Byzantines or someone.  We rented bikes and sped around on the top of the wall, barely seeing the red blurred streak of Chinese lanterns, barely feeling the breaks in the ancient stone beneath our tires.  I definitely didn’t feel the huge gaps between the bricks on my poorly padded bike seat.  I had a Phenomeblonde moment with a photo-shoot stranger on the wall.

Phenomeblonde

Kites on the Xi’an City Wall

Shopping Stop. Another jade museum.  More magic jade teapots.  This one was awesome though because there was also a little supermarket.  Is it bad that we had more fun in the grocery store than at the jade museum?  There were confectioners making amazing candies, including some weird spun sugar nugget with peanut inside that looks (and feels, I imagine) like a silkworm cocoon.

Lunch. Was a relief and a surprise after our tour lunch yesterday.  Open buffet.  Safe choices.  Amazing chow mien.  Phew!  I avoided the egg/tomato soup like the plague.  (You know, if you were going to imagine “plague soup,” this egg stuff is what it would look like.)

Big Goose Pagoda.  Here comes the confusion. We made a stop at the Big Goose Pagoda, which is a tall, narrow, tower-like structure.  And that is all I know about it because we never actually went there.  I was expecting to actually get to the pagoda at some point, but we spent the whole time in the park area below it.  Which was actually fine because we experienced one of the most amazing Photo-Shoot Stranger moments.  After marveling at an area the size of a football field with water fountains shooting out of the ground and soaking thirsty people standing on them, we came across a Chinese tourism staple – the Dress Up Like an Ancient and Important Chinese Person costume stand.



When we decided to go ahead and partake in this time honored tradition, we thought we knew what we were getting into: a few people laugh and point, we take some pictures, we’ll be on our way.  Well, those delusions were put to rest rather quickly – as soon as we showed the tiniest amount of interest in participating.  I was setting down my backpack to get started picking out a costume and there was already a crowd of people waiting to see what would happen.  We were right about the laughing and pointing – it started while we were putting on the robes and didn’t stop.  I had Phenomeblonde stranger shots with eight people in about ten minutes (bringing my total for the day to nine!).  And a little boy looked at me, his eyes went wide, and he sprinted away from me, horrified.  By the time we were finished taking our pictures of each other, the people working in the photo stand had taken pictures of us, downloaded them, and put them on their computer screen to draw in other customers.  Can you say movie stars?

Impressive, no?

Off to Lanzhou. We had to fly to Lanzhou, which hangs around right in the middle of the country. It’s a major rail hub, so we needed to get there to start the trip to Tibet.  Once again, Sam dealt with the details of finding the travel agent counter and convincing them that we already bought tickets.  We spent some free time in a restaurant, and Sam went off to the bathroom.  Leaving us alone.

**A waitress approaches.  Our heroes prepare themselves to order drinks.  Stephen points to a Tsingtao.  Waitress’ pencil scribbles on her pad.  Kristy points to a cafemochafrappachocochino.  Pencil scribbles on pad.  Kristy has second thoughts.
Kristy: Crap I think I want a beer.  **Points to a Tsingtao.  Pencil scribble.  Tries to wave off the coffee.
Kristy, to the waitress: I don’t want that, I want the Tsingtao.
Waitress:  **blank stare.
**Heroes look at each other, look at waitress.  Waitress looks at heroes.  Three scribbles remain on the pad.  Heroes laugh.
Stephen thinks it’s time to break out some hand signals.  Points to the coffee on the menu, crosses it out with finger.
Waitress: **blank stare.
**Stephen points to the coffee, wags finger in a “tsk tsk” motion.
Waitress: **blank stare.
**Stephen points to the coffee, swipes with both hands in a “safe at home plate” motion.
Waitress: **blank stare.
**Stephen points to the coffee, gives double thumbs down.  (On a side note, the thumbs down is a form a communication that Kristy and I have joked about as being our last resort form of communication.  Let’s se how it works here:)
Waitress: **blank stare.

In the end, I think we ended up getting the coffee and the beers.  (And several more beers, but that is beside the point.)

On the flight we received probably the most fishy smelling meal ever served on an airplane.  We could smell it through the foil container.  Definitely a step backward from the Kosher meals.

Upon landing at any airport in China you go through a security medical checkpoint where someone swipes something on the back of your neck or takes your temperature or something.  (We were nervous already about our previous flight because China had a pretty strong reaction to H1N1, not letting people in from Mexico, and we were in Cancun about a few weeks after the outbreak in Mexico City.)  Coming into Lanzhou I was nervous because just a few days earlier I had a fever and I was still coughing on the flight.  And we were just paranoid enough to think that a single cough in front of the med-curity could be our downfall.  So I pounded water to keep my throat clear and hoped for the best.  It worked out.

We took a bus from the airport to the city, where I watched the guy next Sam try not fall asleep while sitting up, doing that violent head bobbing that is so fantastically entertaining to watch.  And then for some reason the bus driver got out of the bus and start screaming at someone else.  Really, spit-in-your-face screaming.  Which turned out to be an appropriate foreshadowing of the volatile drivers in this city.  More to come.

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3 Responses to “Day 7: Xi’an Tour Day 2”


  1. 1 Sam
    March 3, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    i think i stopped leaving you two alone with waitresses after that incident (well, making sure we ordered before leaving).

    Plus, dont forget the magically delicious sweet and salty popcorn. mmmmm

  2. 2 Kristy
    March 3, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    note: we actually succeeded in not getting the caramel macchiato by just giving her enough money for the beers. Those were probably the most expensive beers we had the entire time we were in China. The popcorn really was amazing.

    that kid falling asleep next to sam was definitely a highlight of that day. he somehow lurched upward and backward without ever waking up. i was hysterical. i think i may have also been hysterical simply because we had waited for an insanely long time to get on that bus after the flight.

  3. March 3, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    yeah the kid was doing full sweeping head bobs- it would jerk up higher than it normally sat on his shoulders while awake. amazing.


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