Day 9 Xi’An

I slept in past the 5:30am wake up call at Tagou and got up at 6am.  I was not quite as sore and stiff as I thought I might be and that was a nice change of pace over the last day.  I got ready finished packing and made my way downstairs.  When most of the group came downstairs with out luggage we were horribly loud. As I arrived down in the lobby I saw the old man that ran the shop in the lobby sleeping on a cot in the lobby.  He started in surprise and quickly got dressed and put his cot away and disappeared.  I felt bad for the large racket we were making that woke him up before he intended to.  We ate our last meal at Tagou and I ate what little I could.  The spicy eggs still wouldn’t let me eat much.

We got our belongings together which for most people now included various weaponry.  Some had enough for a small arsenal.  Luckily Tagou had written letters of release for them stating that the weapons they carried were not cultural relics and that the bearers were not a menace to society.  This is a very important document to have when traveling, especially if you intend to check the weapons on the flight home.

We boarded the bus and it was time to leave.  It was a somber departure for me.  I really enjoyed my time there and wish I had the opportunity to spend more time.  Even to afford the 3 or 4 weeks that some of the students from England were doing would be great.  We watched the kids do various warm up exercises and strengthening exercises as our bus was leaving.  Some jumped up and down quickly off of a stack of mats that was easily 3 feet high.  Others had kids sitting on their shoulders and were doing squats with them while both the top and bottom child used their hands for balance against the wall.  Many looked at the bus as we left the school or stopped and waved good bye.

We arrived back in Zhengzhou and went to a train station.  This one looked different to me and once we were inside I was sure that this on was not the one we departed from when we first arrived.  When we went to wait for our train, which would undoubtedly be behind schedule, we ran in to the group of students of which one had dazzled the crowd of the kung fu show with his mimicry skills.  They were headed to Xi’An as well.  Grand Master Eric Lee gave me so Po Chai pills for my stomach.  It is a medicine used for digestive tract ailments primarily diarrhea.  After about 20 minutes my stomach felt much better.  I laid down on one of the soft couches while we waited for our train to arrive and must have fallen asleep quite deeply as several members of my group had to shake and call for me.

We walked outside and found an older looking double decker train waiting for us.  Everyone was boarding and it took a while some to store their luggage and find room for the weapons.  We were the last to get on board and get situated and the train kept wanting to depart but we were holding it up.  Now I understood how these trains could get off schedule so easy.  Once situated I realized that this was an older train but it was quaint and had a certain charm to it.  There were two bench seats facing each other over a small central table that was attached to the outer wall.  The curtains were lacy and the aisle decently wide.  It made the train feel more open and friendly than the tight lines of the bullet train.

As the train started rolling various servers came around selling coffee or tea or fruit.  It was really nice having fresh fruit on the train.  Now that my appetite was coming back I was ravenous.  I had several rice cookies, some grapes, some pomegranate, and lots of wonderful shortbread cookies that a older Dutch group gave to us since they did not want them and they had befriended Sylvia who is half Dutch.  The fruit vendor made several rounds during our long trip as did another gentlemen who was selling gifts.  Every time he came through our car he had a different item to sell.  He had a triangle snake toy and made lots of marvelous shapes and items out of one or two of them together.  He even came around with some bracelets that could be turned into necklaces made of various colored beads.  He was very friendly and fun and always told good stories or jokes.  He was so personable you almost felt bad for not buying anything from such a jovial guy.  Great sales tactic.

The train ride was long and though not as smooth as the bullet train it was a much better ride all around.  This time when lunch was offered we all chose the noodle bowl instead.  It was a very good meal and I was starving.  We had to walk back to an area between cars near the bathrooms to fill our noodle cups with hot water from a dispenser.  Just the fact that I could eat it made it one of the best meals on this trip.  It was supposed to be a hot beef noodle bowl.  We all kept looking for the luxuriously huge strips of beef that were portrayed on the front of the bowl.  We all searched and finally we began finding some tiny pieces that would be very easy to miss they are so small.  I used the restroom on the train and was glad I could stand while taking care of my business.  It was old and not that clean but what was most worrisome was that the train constantly swayed and rocked on the tracks.  As I looked at the sunlight filtering up through the drain, leading me to believe that our waste was being dumped directly on the tracks as we passed by, I felt bad for any one who had to squat and use the toilet and not sure how in all the rocking you would not make a mess of things.  I often looked out the window and saw more of the scenery which is both strikingly beautiful and disparaging all at the same time.  After several hours on the train, we finally arrived in the afternoon in Xi’An.

We arrived and went through the train station to the city outside.  It seems as thought the farther away we get from Beijing, the dirtier each city gets.  Xi’an is a beautiful city but with the pollution, trash and traffic is very dirty all the time.  We met our guide for the city that would assist Karen, Cindy.  She hurried us along for the 5 blocks our so that we had to drag our luggage to get on the bus.  She advised us to keep an eye out and for the women to keep their purses in front of them with a hand on them since there were a lot of pick pockets around.  The sea of people was intense and we made our way down the shop lined streets.  On the other side were often homeless looking people selling small things for money.  Knives, jewelry and other items would be laid out on a small blanket or scarf for sale.  Some held babies close to them while others had a picture out beside them, perhaps of a loved one lost.  These people wore different clothing and had different facial features which indicated that they were part of an ethnic minority.  After inquiring I was informed that they are from the area near Tibet.  And though I saw many homeless people in Xi’An the majority of them were from this Tibetan ethnic minority.

We barely crammed ourselves and our luggage in to the tiny bus and then made our way to the Titan Times Hotel.  The hotel was magnificent.  The rooms were very luxurious and clean and had Western style toilets.  We had some free time for the rest of the day so I decided to take a shower and clean up and then some of the group was going to meet up and get a full body massage.  After the training at the temple, my body could really use a massage so I was looking forward to that.  I took a shower and it felt so good.  I stood for long minutes under the hot water relaxing.  I finished up and Norman decided to go wander around for a bit.  I waited lying on the soft bed waiting for a call or something to let me know it was time to go.  I waited for a long time and then tried to call the rooms of other members of the group.  I could not find anyone or reach anyone so I laid around.  I later went down to meet up for dinner.  Supposedly they called my room to let me know they were leaving but I never received it so I was very disappointed to have missed the massage and to have been left behind.

We left for dinner and made our way out into Xi’An traffic which is just as crazy as everywhere else.  We saw the City Wall which defended Xi’An and still houses the old city.  It is an impressive and massive structure.  We got out in a market area and we saw the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower.  The bell of the Bell Tower was stricken at dawn while the drum was beat at sunset to indicate the end of the day.  These two towers marked out the time of day for the entire city.  We went to a dumpling restaurant.  I have never seen nor eaten so many dumplings in my entire life.  The restaurant is famous for making dumplings of different types that have different shapes.  Some are tiny and white called ‘Pearl Dumplings’, others are shaped like ducks or even walnuts.  They range from sweet to tangy to spicy.  We had 14 courses of dumplings as well as a few other dishes.  There was so much food I could not eat it all even only having one dumpling per course.  The food was delicious.  Afterwards we spent some time looking around the market areas and then returned to the hotel.  Even though we did not do much, the traveling alone made for a tiring day.  I was glad of the advice of friends before leaving to not pack too much since we had to drag our luggage around all day.  It was nice to get back to the hotel and to sleep in a comfortable bed.

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