Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
124Trip End Ongoing
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- Mike Strutter (an extremely crude quote for which I make only small apology)
We got a sleeper bus from Yinchuan to Xi'an. A sleeper bus is an extraordinary thing. A bus that has the seats pulled out and bunk beds erected in their place. Three rows, lengthways down the bus. Each bed is about five and a half feet long and not really designed for the likes of Vinny and I.
But no problem
Such was the horror of the experience that when one of the tires blew out a few hours later, it came almost as a relief.
The negative drawback was that it added four hours to our journey time while we trundled along for fifty mies or so before stopping at a shack by the side of the road where some chaps, quite efficiently, jacked up the bus and changed the tire. The fact that they changed it to a rather tired looking effort with all the tread of a formula one car was only a slight concern. We were more worried about the kareoke coming back on.
The experience was a lot more unpleasant for Vinny than myself. For the last day and a half he had been suffering from what I call 'The Illness'
Xi'an is a big place, made ridiculously famous in 1974 when somebody discovered 6,000 lifesize terracotta warriors, complete with individual facial expressions, weapons and horses, in a shed. It can only be called careless that such a find took so long in the discovering - and should be incentive enough for all of us to look behind the lawnmower a little more often.
We're staying in a rather swanky loking hotel which has a hostel on the top floor, with clean rooms, western toilets and hot showers - all for three quid a night. And we bumped into Adam the American from Leo Hostel in Beijing, making us extremely aware that we are in no way off the beaten track. Vinny went to bed and I met a few randoms for some beers and frivolity in the downstairs bar...
The next day Vinny was almost better, so we did some sightseeing and then went out at night with our new entourage of well-wishers. As well as Adam the American, there was Elke and Bergard from Beligium, James from England, Aaron from Sydney, Jenny from England and Ian from Scotland
After strolling through the Xi'an red light district - a rather sweaty and unpleasant affair where the ladies wear thick tights that almost disguise the horrific rashes on their inside thighs that they didn't get from picking wild berries - we made it to our first club. Guided to a table very far away from everyone else, we watched with some interest the Chinese cutting loose. Every table had a four digit number above it and a telephone - the idea being you can ring up other tables and work your magic from afar. By the time we had worked out how to use our phone however, they had turned it off, perhaps expecting us to phone up other tables, say "You're a cock", and then hang up, a la The Office.
After nipping to the loo, where a rather nice man waits until you're urinating before starting to massage your back (We hope he was an employee), we made our exit.
Next up came the MGM club, which was a lesson in the bizarre. We were made extremely unwelcome in the first big room, after siting down and being told to move three or four times. We were ushered through a couple of corridors into the 'hip-hop' room, where we found ten or so more westerners and still a good fifty or so Chinese
Approaching the bar, six of us had beers pushed into our hands by passing people, who then gave us a toast that nearly broke the bottles and downed their drinks in one. This happened again and again, and it was only after half an hour or so that the bar staff pointed out to us that they didn't actually sell drinks. What they did remains a mystery - although every now and then they would pour two drinks, give us one and then see who could down it first. As we hadn't paid to get in the club all this free alcohol was confusing in all the right ways.
Eventually we worked out the score. Around a corner was a mini supermarket, where you could buy bottles of beer, wine and spirits to take out into the club. This was strange. Imagine, if you will, going into an English nightclub, down into the sweaty dark, turning a corner and finding a Tesco Metro full of pissheads and you'll be close.
The Chinese were extremely hospitable to us, both Vinny and I catching the eye of more than one extremely gay man (still got it). Then large groups started to fight for our attention and the opportunity to ply us with more free drinks. The beverage of choice is brandy or whiskey mixed with Chinese Tea....
Vinny was the biggest hit though, as it was decided by the Chinese that he was actually Jesus Christ. His beard, now more bushy than ever, is one of the best things most of the Chinese have ever seen. His likeness to Chewbacca is getting more and more frightening by the day, and my insistence that he should follow me around calling me Han Solo has so far failed to be acknowledged. Yoda or Jabba the Hut are about the best I can get from him.
Leaving the club around three, our group of nine had dwindled to five, and rather than mess around getting a taxi home we decided to get into two motorbike taxis and have a race. All the guidebooks tell you never to get into motorbike taxis as they're dangerous, and tend to rip you off... What they don't tell you is that they're fun, and by overloading them with people you don't get any faster than about twenty miles an hour so all is good.
The next day, I woke up with 'The Illness'. 'The Illness' is a necassary evil of being anywhere in Asia I find, and I'm sure it won't be the only time the pair of us suffer. The first thing to do is starve yourself - which is easy, because your cramping stomach doesn't feel hungry as encouragement for you to not put any food in it. Then it's just a matter of staying within sprinting distance of the toilet and sipping water every now and then. Something like a coke won't do it, because the sugar in it counts as food and your body punishes that sort of eating-by-stealth about thirty seconds later.
That night it was my turn to stay in while Vinny went out on the town, which is a fair arrangement and hopefully I'll be fit before our 'farewell' drinks tonight.
For tommorrow we're off to Changdu to see the Pandas, having decided to sack off Shanghai as yet another big city. Which reminds me - Vinny wants me to make clear that when I refer to Hohot and Yingchuan as small towns, I only mean by China standards. Each still has well over a million people.
After Changdu we're looking at going to a place described as a 'small village' (pop 71,000) where we are going to go... wait for it.... horse trekking for four days up to an ice mountain. That is if they make Chinese horses that'll take me and Chewie. Already I have a mental image of carrying a skelatal horse up a hill over my shoulder, the poor beast having passed out after an hour. We figure that Shetland Ponies may do, as our feet could touch the ground taking the pressure off.
That or Hobby Horses.
And yes. We are aware that we have both only ridden horses once, and that was about 14 years ago. And that four days may be quite a long time for 'rusty' horse riders like us to spend on horseback. But.... well, it's a laugh, isn't it?
Maybe we should pick up a couple of pairs of those tights for our saddle sores.....