Pictures from our slightly-chaotic first experience of a Chinese sleeper train. The original post is here.
Tag Archives: China
I thought it was about time that I uploaded some photos from the days where we were in a hotel with a slow Internet connection and just wanted to get something uploaded.
The first episode features, amongst other things, the interesting snacks available at Donghuamen Night Market, as mentioned in an earlier post. It’s also given us a couple of ideas of places to look for when we’re back in Beijing (and that’s definitely ‘when’, not ‘if’).
I’m definitely hoping to improve my Mandarin before we go back; I think it’ll make it much easier to escape from the places that cater to tourists, and experience more of the authentic cuisine.
I will have a look at your blogs, I promise, but it’ll have to wait until I’m back in the world of normal Internet connections, and not relying on flaky hotel connections from behind the Great Firewall!
I know there’s a few days of stuff that we haven’t mentioned yet, but we thought it was worth writing up this evening while it was still fresh in our minds.
Having arrived back in Beijing after our “7 beds in 7 nights” tour of a small part of China, and quickly getting the compulsory handbag shopping out of the way, it was decided that for this evening’s dining it was about time I got to experience the culinary delights of Donghuamen Night Market.
This is obviously set up for the tourists, Chinese as well as Westerners. Some of the snacks are pretty standard fare, and we took advantage of these to line our stomachs to start with: something burger-like, made with chopped-up cooked pork, fresh chilli and coriander, which was really quite nice; and some fried dumplings, not the best we’ve had but still quite palatable. We thought we’d seen something that looked like a cheesy chip butty, but it turned out to be something like two fried eggs with chips squashed in the middle, so we gave that a miss.
Then we could put it off no longer: it was time to sample the more esoteric offerings. The big scorpions were quite expensive at ¥50 (£5) each, so we went for two small ones on a stick for ¥15. As Clare had tried these before, it fell to me to have the first one. Not too bad, actually: a bit like a small shrimp, deep-fried in its shell. Not very meaty at all. Clare had the second one, barely turning her nose up at all.
The first hurdle having been crossed, it was time to raise the stakes a bit: crickets. Not just a little cricket, but decent sized ones that looked like they might have a bit of meat on them. Not too expensive either, at ¥20 for two. I decided that the legs weren’t worth the bother of nibbling separately, so just put the whole lot in my mouth in one go and crunched it. Quite meaty in the middle.
Clare had to brace herself to eat her cricket; I think she’d spent too long looking at it and watching me eat it, rather than just getting it over and done with. Probably didn’t help that it was the one from the middle of the stick, not so easy to just stick it in your mouth and chew!
We decided that was enough dodgy food: the starfish didn’t look that appetising, I’d been warned that the snake was just chewy and unpleasant, and the silkworm pupae seemed like the casing might be a bit too crunchy. Besides which, the lights had been turned off on all the stalls, so it was obviously packing-up time. We grabbed a quick large stuffed pancake just to make sure we weren’t hungry, then headed off round the corner on to Wangfujing Street.
This is lined with expensive designer shops (most of which I’ve never heard of), and leads off to Wangfujing Snack Street on one side, through a traditional Chinese gate, as if we haven’t seen enough of those this week. (What you can’t see in the picture is the woman who’s trying to get me to give her money because she’s got a baby.) This area has a mixture of tat stalls and food stalls, selling much the same assortment as the night market, but with still-wriggling scorpions (before they go in the deep fryer, anyway), and something else: seahorses. I really didn’t fancy trying them, not just because I thought they’d be all crunch and no meat, but mainly because I didn’t think it was the sort of thing that should be encouraged.
We had a token browse around the tat stalls, and discovered that Chinese hats don’t fit my very Western head, lucky cats aren’t as cheap as we hoped they might be, and no, we still don’t want to buy any more chopsticks!
After recuperating back in our hotel for a few hours, we worked up the energy to head out for the evening about 9 o’clock. Apparently the “place to go” in the evening in Xi’an is the Moslem quarter, founded by Arab traders over 2000 years ago.
To start with, we just wandered around the small alleys enjoying the sights and soaking up the smells, but very quickly found that the food was just too tempting. First we tried something that were like fried spring rolls, and just ate them walking down the street. This gave us sufficient sustenance to cope with walking around a little more, until we decided that we really needed to eat something more substantial.
We picked one of the many meat-on-stick places, somewhere that looked reasonably clean, and through the usual combination of our poor Chinese, the staff’s broken English, and a bit of pointing, managed to order some meat and a couple of beers. We soon realised that we hadn’t ordered enough meat, so got another round of sticks, and a type of flat bread (paid for separately), which the waitress sliced up for us… and when I say “sliced”, I mean put on a chopping board and hacked apart with a cleaver!
We also got some free entertainment while we were eating: a guy walked into the restaurant with an ehru (sounds like the beginning of a bad Chinese joke), and went round the tables asking if anybody wanted him to play for them. A group of show-off Chinese businessmen types engaged his services, and after going through a few typical Chinese pieces, he launched into Auld Lang Syne, which seems to be very popular over here!
After leaving the “restaurant” and walking around a bit more, we headed to a likely place to find a taxi about 11 o’clock, as more and more traders started setting up their stalls: the night was clearly still young! As well as the usual stalls selling tat, and the people flying huge strings of small kites, we saw something that we’d never seen before: tricycle-mounted telescopes! They were pretty big ones too, something like 15″ reflectors, although I don’t think they’d be able to see much as it was fairly overcast that evening.
After a quick shower and rather strange breakfast in our Xi’an hotel, we were taken by our guide (Nigh – pronounced “nee”, as in “I’ve got nee money left to buy any more tatt”) and driver (Mr Hoo) to see the terracotta warriors. This has been something of an ambition of mine to see, so after the long journey to get there, I was getting really quite excited. However, as I’ve come to expect, there was more important business to attend to first: a trip to the ‘official’ ‘fake’ terracotta warriors factory.
This is apparently the only factory officially licensed to reproduce the statues as souvenirs and also produces reproduction life-size ones for displays, exhibitions, etc. After a 2 minute tour by one of their own ‘artists’, we were taken to the obligatory showroom where he did his best to try to sell us a life-sized warrior, shipped directly to the UK, including all insurances and fees, for approx £2000. Tempting, but we resisted. Instead we settled on two 30cm high statues for a lot less. Suckers, I know.
Then, we went to see the real thing. We arrived in the South Gate car park, where the tickets are purchased. The first thing I noticed was a stall selling fur: row after row of pelts in various colours. Nice. The museum itself however, is inside the North gate, a 10 minute walk away. So, off we went, passing stall after stall of souvenir vendors, selling warriors (I didn’t dare check prices, but at least I knew mine were genuine fakes), jade and, bizarrely, the occasional German Shepherd dog statue. Strange.
Eventually, we reached the North Gate. WOW. There are three pits in all, each within a large building. The first, and probably the most well known, is like being inside an aircraft hangar, with rows and rows of these amazing soldiers in formation. We stood and stared for ages, it is utterly mesmerising. Towards the rear of the pit is an area which is still being excavated (all this work takes place during the night), with heads, limbs and armour poking out of piles of earth. There is also a collection of ‘jigsaw’ soldiers, which are being painstakingly pieced together. It must be an archaeologist’s dream job.
Pits 2 and 3 are equally fascinating, if less jaw-dropping. Pit 2 is still largely un-excavated, but with small sections exposed to reveal more of the same piles of broken statues, this time with the odd horse poking out here and there. Pit 3 is much smaller but exposed in amazing detail, showing horses and generals and the original tiled floor on which they were all set out.
We finished with a look around the 4th building, a museum containing other relics found on the site, including bronze horses and chariots, and some of the weapons which the soldiers would have been carrying. Unfortunately due to being made of wood, these have not survived. Our guide, Nigh, was of course very knowledgeable and happy to wait whilst we just stood and stared (and Paul took photo after photo).
After lunch on the way back down to the South Gate, we passed more fur vendors, this time noticing much larger pelts. “Bear” I suggested? Apparently not. Only when I saw the ears and nose did I realise the relevance of the “Sascha” statues. All of a sudden Nigh seemed at a loss for answers to my questions. Perhaps I’m lucky that I’ve now spent so long here and not been challenged by such things, but it was rather an upsetting end to an otherwise amazing day.
On Monday morning, we briefly got out of bed at 5:45 to wave goodbye to the rest of the teachers… then we were on our own in China! Of course, the only sensible thing to do at this point was go back to bed…
Later, having got up at a much more reasonable hour and had breakfast, we got a taxi to take us to the CITS (travel agency) offices, so we could pick up our tickets for that evening’s sleeper train to Xi’an. This being a Monday morning, it seemed to take absolutely ages, but we got there without any problems (aside from our first encounter with “professional friendly locals”, who I think try to engage you in conversation then get you to go somewhere for something expensive that you didn’t really want).
Then I got my first experience of the Beijing Metro, as we headed to the Lama Temple. The subway seems perfect: 20p per journey of any distance, clean, regular, punctual, easy to navigate and work out where you are at any stage of the journey. I suppose that’s the advantage of being fairly new, rather than having 100+ years of history to deal with like the London Underground.
The Lama Temple is incredibly tranquil and peaceful inside, despite being at the junction of two inner-city dual carriageways. You pass through a number of different main and side temples, containing different types (manifestations?) of buddhas, each of whom have their own specialities. Outside of each is a place to light incense sticks as an homage to Buddha; you’re not allowed to take pictures or light incense inside them, but you can leave the incense sticks or other offerings instead.
The Buddha statues are in an incredibly variety of shapes, some with many arms, feet, faces and heads, and range in size from roughly person-sized up to the biggest which is some 16m tall (IIRC), carved from a single piece of wood.
After wandering through every bit of the Lama Temple, we made our way back out to the noise and hubbub outside, and took a chance on a restaurant that Clare had spotted on our way in, which turned out to be perfect. Clean and modern inside, friendly service, and not at all expensive despite being in a very touristy area. Probably one to go back to if we’re ever in the same area.
After that, we got the Metro back to the nearest station to the hotel, which is about a twenty minute walk. We did find another area that’s worth exploring if we had more time, as this is full of art shops and music shops, but we just needed to get back to sort ourselves out for the evening train.
We’re currently travelling, and experiencing hotel Internet speeds that are slower than my first ever modem back in about 1995. I thought I should post some quick updates on what we’ve done over the last few days, and what we’ll be doing. This is going to be quite brief, and no photos; it’s taken me 30 minutes just to get an email to send successfully, trying to upload photos would be futile!