"Ball or aerosol, sir?" No, it's for my armpit

Trip Start Mar 21, 2010
Trip End Mar 21, 2011

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Where I stayed
New Henderson Hotel

Flag of China  ,
Monday, May 17, 2010

THE look on the girls' faces was a mixture of abject terror and dumbfounded confusion.

Well, can you blame them?

There they stood at the men’s toiletries counter in this large supermarket in Xian, chatting about boys, the latest footy scores and just how Mr Sticky gets his meat to stay on his sticks, when two British blokes ran around the corner, spotted a row of deodorants, screamed like demented chipmunks and high-fived each other like a pair of American basketball players.

It was, of course, the successful end of mine and Mike’s five day search for smellies.

So I filled my proverbial boots with the stuff.

This successful conclusion to “smellygate” came at the end of our first day in Xian, the capital of the Shaanxi province and one of the oldest cities in Chinese history with a population of around ten million.

I have to say as we got off the bus at our (rather swanky) hotel, I immediately felt that unlike Beijing, Xian was the real thing. It was gritty, sweaty, dirty, loud, fast, bustling, shouty – utterly mesmerising.

And it was here that I experienced something I hadn’t had for weeks – hey, stop sniggering back there. God you lot are so smutty.

I’m talking about dippy eggs. Now, I am extremely particular when it comes to fried eggs.

In the scheme of things – The massive Greek debt, Lincoln City’s rubbish season and a new prime minister – it may not seem that important, but to me it is.

A fried egg has to be as runny as it can be and the moment of breaking the yolk must be held off until the last possible moment.

And at breakfast on our first day in Xian, this fine chef fellow cooked two perfect dippy eggs in front of my eyes, the first since I left Cardiff a month earlier. I was a happy man.

(Please feel free to post your thoughts on the great dippy egg debate in the message boxes below).

Right, back to culture and the Great Wild Goose Pagoda and its smaller but none the less angry neighbour, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.

Both are really impressive, well over 1,000-years-old, and were apparently home to a shed load of very old Buddhist writings back in the day.

Under the warm sunshine and it being a rather beautiful and peaceful place, with lush gardens, trees, towers, fountains, colourful songbirds and statues of Buddha all over the place, I decided to try out a bit of tai-chi.

Balancing on one foot, I soon felt at peace with the world but also realised I looked a bit of a tit so stopped pretty quickly.

The Culture Club outing was in full swing by now and after a stop at a jade factory, we headed the 40km out of Xian to the underground home of the Terracotta Warriors.

Got to say right now, I was a bit underwhelmed.

Yes, I know they are extremely important in terms of Chinese and world history but I couldn’t help feeling the story of a group of farmers discovering them in a field 40-odd years ago was a bit more exciting than the actual warriors themselves.

If you’re in the area, go and see them and make up your own mind.

Back in the city, we headed to a nearby restaurant in search of a noodle or two. With there being no English menu (quite rightly in the middle of one the oldest cities in China), we went for the pointing at pictures option and were served with delicious buckets of pork and beef and a chicken complete with its head and claws. And all for around 2.50 each.

With all this amazing food, you will be pleased to know that a bit of exercise was on the menu
(ta da!) the following morning.

Currently in at number five in my top ten “wow” moments of the trip, it was a hugely fun cycle ride around the city wall, which allowed us to look down over the bustling roads and parks as we cycled the 14km square route.

The Tour De France it might not have been but I haven’t had so much fun on a bike since, well, ever!

Hey, here’s an interesting fact that I discovered about Xian. Apparently, it’s going to host the Association of International Producers of Horticulture’s 2011 World Horticultural Exposition.

What a great excuse to come back.

But it was the end of our time in Xian and we spent the next day on a bus travelling to Ping Yao, where we stayed in the West Street hostel.

Another place with age old walls separating old and new parts of the city, the hostel was at the heart of an area which, to me, seemed to be aimed purely at tourists having been built around two or three important historical attractions such as the city prison, its first bank and local government offices.

The hostel was wonderful and welcoming and consisted of a series of small wooden apartments, each with a bedroom and a bathroom.

The one bed was a huge double and had the most comfortable mattress you can imagine. I was in with Mike and I am pleased to say the bed was definitely big enough for the two of us!

As the hostel doubled up as a restaurant, we were given the chance to make our own dumplings.

It really is as difficult as it looks but I gave it my best shot. However, my cat’s ear dumpling turned out more like a pig’s ear I’m afraid.

After a morning walking the old walls and a visit to the prison and bank on our second day in Ping Yao, news filtered through that there was a place called the Pirate Bar not far from us.

And with plans for our very own pirate party on board our forthcoming cruise progressing well, we thought it would be a great place to get some inspiration. Was it buggery.

That place should be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act.

I’ve got more pirate DVDs than that place had pirate stuff. The only nod to anything piratey was a couple of posters of Johnny Depp and Keira Knightly in Pirates of the Caribbean.

And it was cold.

Needless to say we walked the plank pretty quickly and headed back to West Street for a bottle of rice wine to end our stay in Ping Yao in typically tipsy fashion.

It was another early start as we headed towards our fourth Chinese stop off, Datong.

But on the way I experienced something which would not even make the top 100 of this trip, maybe not even the top 1000.

I will let the pictures of the mountainside temple tell their own story, but needless to say as I stepped out onto a balcony at least 100 feet up in the air and which was held up by a wooden pole and a bit of chewing gum, the Pirate Bar back in Ping Yao seemed a pretty attractive alternative.

I suppose I did take some comfort that the pole had been there for hundreds of years and had done its job well but with the wind and snow whistling around the nether regions, I have never been so glad to be back on terra cotta (bum bum!) in my life.

With Datong just a stop-off and a quick dinner in the hotel, we were soon heading back to Beijing but not before the number one wow moment so far – Rob throwing up over the Great Wall of China.

Well, actually walking the Wall was the wow moment, Rob being sick was just a mildly amusing bonus, particularly as he threw up on the friendly side.

While it has to be one of the most amazing building projects ever (you should see some of the pointing – just stunning), I have to take issue with the steepness of some of the sections.

If you were a soldier and you got a message to say that a few of the enemy were trying to climb the wall half a mile up the mountainside, you’d be totally buggered by the time you got there and not much use in a fight.

I’m not quite sure which “action” words to use to describe my walk on the Wall.

I think “lung-busting” just about covers it.

In fact, it was bloody hard going and I must admit to having to sit down on a set of steps half way along, much to the consternation of a kindly Chinese gent who clearly thought I was about to die on his country’s beloved Wall.

But what a thrill, what a view, and what a sense of achievement when we got as far as we could along our section.

What a joy to sit down for ten minutes and recover.

I know of people who have walked much bigger sections of the Wall than we did – some walking for days – and I have a new found admiration for you all.

The end of our time in China was fast approaching as we drove back for a final few days in Beijing.

It was back to the King’s Joy Hotel where this time, I was bunkin’ with Dunkin (OK, I was in a twin room with Duncan, but I like the rhyme).

Thanks to the wonders of Wi-fi, a few emails later, we had arranged to meet our Norwegian friends from Irkutsk in Bar 365.

And so to another fabulous night of dancing, drinking, bongo playing and air-guitaring with most of the Oz-Busers, including our new member Pam, the two lovely Norwegians Sunniva and Mari and a host of other visitors to the fine city of Beijing.

The last slice of Chinese culture came on our last full day in Beijing with a visit to the Birds’ Nest Olympic Stadium.

A breath-taking piece of work, it was stunning both inside and out. The only disappointment was that we were not allowed to run the Oz-Bus 100 metres around the track which had witnessed a rather impressive run by a certain Mr Bolt.

My money had been on Marlo, with Dave and Freddie battling it out for second place.  And with an age handicap in place, I might just have squeezed into ninth place. But it wasn’t to be and we had to be content with walking around instead of running.

After the excesses of the previous night, our last evening was relatively tame as we looked ahead to the next part of this across the world adventure – 15 days on the Diamond Princess cruise liner.

Next episode: We board the Love Boat
Slideshow Report as Spam


Pat (Ozbus 7) on

I like a runny egg too - with soldiers on the side. What you describe is quite a passionate affair!

Pity about the Terracotta warriors. Most of them must be in a museum somewhere. The photo still looks impressive!

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