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Friday, August 25, 2006


On the road

Even the rickshaw drivers have cell phones

In many ways the beginning of our trip was marked with the train out of Beijing. We each had a hard sleeper bed for the 13 hour journey. Our car had appromixately 20 compartments, each with 6 beds. We shared ours with a nice family from Taiyuan. The 8 year old son, Jim, was fascinated with us. So I tried in broken mandarin to communicate - but I can barely get from point A to point B, so it was difficult. Then a proud father of a 14 year old soon asked us to talk to his son in english. His son was painfully shy, and blushed from head to toe.

Supposedly, in any given moment about 1 million chinese are riding the railroad. It is their main intercity transportation system, and railroad stations can be massive, throbbing, individual cities of their own. Beijing has 4 'main' train stations. There are three classes: hard seat (cheap, uncomfortable, and for the masses), hard sleeper (more expensive but allows one to attempt sleep), and soft sleeper (out of range for most chinese, but not all - Jason Fei rides soft sleeper with his family).

Smokin & cruisin the Pingyao streets

We arrived in Pingyao at approximately 8 in the morning. We were promptly attacked by touts, trying to take us to hotels with 'big discount' where they would get a commission. We weren't sure if the city was in a cloud of mist or smog, but as we never saw the sun for two days straight, we think its the later.

Aside from environmental concerns, the city of Pingyao has some charm. Its an ancient chinese city with an intact city wall and old chinese architecture. It has a long financial history as the banking headquarters of the Qing dynasty. Its also a total tourist trap. Although the city came highly recommended, we were underwhelmed. The highlight was the chinese opera we stumbled upon during one of our many walks. It was filled with locals and chinese tourists, and was hillarious. They even had english subtitles! The best part was when a large bald chinese man played his local trumpet while performing various feats - like balancing a bucket of water on his stomach, holding a bicycle with his mouth and playing through his nose, as well as other maneuvers. I hope to upload some video soon.

This lady suffers from headaches - she has signs of cupping on her forehead; Traditional Chinese healing that involves the placement of suction cups where it hurts.

Now we are in Xian, having a restful day, and nursing some stomach issues picked up in Pingyao. The plan is to see the famed Terracotta warriors, enjoy what this city has to offer and continue west.

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