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Friday, September 09, 2005

Praise the Lord, it's over

I have not had a shower in three days, and for most of that time I was wearing the exact same outfit. How is that for a pickup line? If it turns any of you on, then you can come see me now.

So, 20-hour bus ride from Hetian (Hotan) to Urumqi (Wulumuqi). Then an 11-hour walkaround followed by what I thought would be a 25-hour train ride to Xian. When on the train, I found out it would be 38 hours. Then, when we were less than an hour away from Xian, the train did not move for more than an hour, and in the next town we were motionless again for about a half hour and I just about lost my cool. I was not a happy camper. I was shouting "Gama!" which means "What?!" and then under my breath I was practicing some Chinese curse words I have recently learned and which I will not repeat or translate here.

The saving grace of the journey was that I sprung for the soft sleeper, so at least I got two good nights of sleep during the trip. I had a lot of time to study some new words (non-curses) and to write a bit. I did this in the dining car over a few beers next to some very red-faced, and loud men. They were talking about America the whole time I was sitting next to them, but never talked to me. Oh well.

The three older ladies I shared my compartment with also talked of America. They asked where I was on 9/11, and they talked about xiao bushi (Little Bush). No one on the train likes him, to the best of my knowledge.

Walking out into Xian was a bit of a shock, in part because I had forgotten how to associate with large groups of people during the train ride. On top of that it must be pushing 35C here, [95F--ed.] which is the hottest I've felt since Turpan. Also, while Wulumuqi is also a big city, Xian has a much more cosmopolitan feel somehow, at least in my initial impression. The main streets are crowded with well-dressed young men and women and possess a plentitude of fashionable shops.

There is a lot going on here by way of construction. Old areas are being torn down and new buildings put up. Meanwhile, the old street near the Drum Tower is undergoing a facelift, at least the buildings which have not already been repainted and turned into tourist shops or "Traditional Chinese Restaurants." This is close to the Grand Mosque, which was the one tourist site I visited today. It is more of a temple than a mosque in the way it is built, but it is nice. It was very nice for the first five minutes before a loud Spanish-speaking tour group shattered the silence inside, followed by English and German speaking tour groups strolling past.

For all that, though, just in the walk I had today, it is apparent that there are plenty of old neighborhoods around. You can still find chickens and pigeons in cages on the street, waiting to be sold. A Chinese-speaking foreigner arriving in these areas is still reason for everyone to stop what they are doing and crowd around.

Xian still has its original four walls, surrounding the old part of the city. The wall is 14 km in total, with a north, south, east, and west wall. There are also several pagodas and temples and mosques in the city. Then there is the main reason for most to come : the terracotta warriors in Qinshihuang's mausoleum. [It's worth reading up on the First Emperor, too.--ed.] This is where I will go tomorrow morning, I think. Other than that, I plan to spend a few days in town, walking around as much as my legs will let me, hoping to stumble on the magic, forgotten neighborhoods like the one I did today.

One interesting thing here, several people turned down my requests to take pictures of them today. After all the people who wanted me to in Xinjiang, this was a bit of a surprise, though it may have something to do with my unshaved, rumpled appearance. I did manage to get a few still, and I hope to get more tomorrow. There is a decent population of Hui Muslims (Chinese Muslims here) and I have already seen a thousand faces I would love to have photographs of. We shall see if tomorrow brings better luck.

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