Day 8: Serendipity in Lanzhou

Lanzhou is a place you go when you want to get to other places.  It’s like community college.  We came here dreaming up big plans of taking a day trip to a small buddhist village called Xiahe (pronounced: Jah-hoo, with the J sound from “dijon” and the OO sound from “book.”  Sorry, that’s as well as I can explain these sounds.) and then going to Tibet.  Of course, in an effort to make the trip as exciting and unpredictable as possible, we didn’t bother to have the transportation for these trips reserved yet.

In order to actually enter Tibet you must have already purchased an organized tour, emailed scans of your passport to the tour guides, and have special Tibetan visas.  So we did all that.  Problem: in our scramble to get to Xi’an, we got there a day or two earlier than we planned, meaning we now had some time to kill in Lanzhou.  Solution: spend some time in Xiahe and other places.  Problem: there is some pretty extensive unrest in areas with high ethnic Chinese populations, Xiahe is one such place, and trains to such places are cancelled.  Solution: well, it turns out that the only possible train to Tibet in the next few days is today, so let’s just go to Tibet now!  Problem: those pesky tour and visa requirements – ours are for specific dates, not including today or tomorrow or the next day.  Solution: Sam gets to spend a lot of time on the phone with our tour company figuring out how to extend our visas to start tomorrow, and I spend a lot of time “guarding” (read: sitting on) our backpacks.

**A note on Chinese train stations.  First, there are like seven stations in every city.  On this particular day in Lanzhou we spent a lot of time in taxis going from one station to another.  (A note on taxis in Lanzhou to follow shortly.)  Second, in all the Lanzhou stations we toured on this day, while Sam elbowed her way up to the exit lane to the ticket counter and haggled on the phone with tour companies, I watched a fascinating process.  I sat on my backpack, riveted, while little ladies pushed big piles of sawdust (or something.  dirt?  Rice?) around the terminal with a big broom.  Once they felt satisfied with one particular pile, they would push it up against a wall (or just leave it in the middle of the floor), walk over to another previously discarded pile, and start pushing that one around.  Why?  These are the little cherished mysteries that I dare not ruin by asking questions.  I choose to sit quietly and watch, bewildered, and leave it at that.

**A second note, on taxis in Lanzhou.  Generally, driving in China is a bit different than driving in America.  The honking alone lets you know you’re in a different world.  Driving home from LAX, the first thing I thought was, Wow!  It’s so quiet here!”  But Lanzhou drivers take it to new terrifying heights.  Our taxi driver brought us to the train station like John McClane racing to defuse the bomb at Chester A. Arthur Elementary School.  And as he was (barely) slowing to let us out, he recklessly gunned it at an innocent pedestrian by the curb.  This, in addition to our volatile bus driver from last night, type-casted Lanzhou drivers as negligent at best, perhaps even intentionally dangerous, as in the case of our Jack Bauer driver.

It ended up that we got the tickets for Tibet leaving today, and we think that the visas will be ok.  It was blind luck, complete serendipity, that trains to Xiahe were cancelled in the morning.  Otherwise, we would have gone, had a nice time in a little Buddhist village, returned to find that we were stuck in dirty Lanzhou with no trains to Tibet, and been forced to fly into Tibet, missing out on the singular experience of the a twenty-six hour train ride through the world’s highest mountain rail passes.  And we probably would have had killer altitude sickness when we got there.

Even though it was part of Day 8, I’ll save the train journey for another entry.

I only took one photo today that is worth posting, so here it is.  There will be more photos of the train ride, and I’ll go wild once we get into Tibet.

Lanzhou Architecture


3 Responses to “Day 8: Serendipity in Lanzhou”

  1. March 5, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Are you sure you shouldn’t have been asking about buses to Xiahe, rather than trains? I thought south Gansu was open these days? Shame you didn’t have more time in the city, as there are some interesting things to do. Agree about the taxi drivers, though! More Lanzhou architecture photos here:

  2. 3 Sam
    March 12, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    we were at the bus station. She almost sold me the tickets then saw you and kristy lurking nearby…hahahha 🙂

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