Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Changes

Greetings from Jijiang.  We have spent the better part of the last 4 days just trying to figure out if we really want to cut out the southern part of China or if we can somehow finagle our way south.  Many plans were considered and then thrown out the window. We decided to cut bait and buy a plane ticket south because of the impossibility of getting space on a train southward.  So our plans have changed again and we will continue our downward journey to Laos and then backtrack up to China in about a month's time.
I was talking with Cindy this morning about being on the road.  We both agreed that the most magical part of the journey is the stuff in between and not the tourist sights like the terra cotta warriors.  Don't get me wrong, seeing things like that are great, but the real interesting experiences are mainly the things you don't expect.  Stumbling into a true Chinese neighborhood, trying new foods, experiencing with awe the sheer numbers of Chinese people on the streets and in the subway systems, meeting other travelers and swapping stories, etc. 

One of these experiences happened on the train ride down from Xi'an to Chengdu.  We were in a hard sleeper train this time.  I was a little wary of the idea because I was not sure how uncomfortable the bunks would be.  I was surprised to find out that "hard" sleeper meant no such thing.  The bunks were lightly padded and linen was supplied.  About the only difference between it and the soft sleeper were the addition of 2 more bunks in the compartment and that there was no door.  The world was passing by my feet most of the night. We ended up on the bottom bunks and if it was not time for sleeping (the train shut off the lights at 10:00 PM), practically any one could and would be sitting on your bunk.
The sound of English being spoken brought 4 college students from the next compartment into our little world.  They were in their early 20's and were studying things like engineering, food science and aid work.  They had already been on the train for 24 hours or so and were coming from the far north east of China and were heading to the university in Chengdu. On and off for the next 16 hours they co-occupied our compartment. We were thoroughly entertained with questions about the west, how we liked China, what we thought of their government, card games and a myriad of other dialogs.  It was such an enjoyable time that the train ride just flew by.  Before we knew it we had arrived in Chengdu.
We stayed in Chengdu just one night and took a flight to the old Naxi (a nomad Tibetan tribe that settled in the area) town of Jijiang.  Currently we are just holed up.  I have developed a nasty cold.  Im sure it was brought about by the horrifically polluted skies of Beijing, Xi'an and Chengdu.  Here the mountain air is clean and crisp and I hope to recover soon.
Today we leave for 4 days of hiking.  Finally on the move again.