Thursday, 11 February 2010

Day Six – Xi’an to Shanghai

Guest Writer: Stephanie's Mom

We had to get up fairly early to get in the visit to the Terracotta soldiers and get back in time for our flight back to Shanghai.  We had the option of joining a tour from the hostel but they were including a couple of shopping stops and we were worried that would make us too late.  Stephanie had researched and found a bus that would take us the hour plus ride out of the city to the museum.  Our hostel was at one end of the city right against the wall, the bus station was at the other end of the city right against the wall, and then the bus ride would be over an hour outside of the city.  We decided to first grab a quick breakfast in the hostel's café which, unfortunately, only offered Western style breakfasts.  'Terra' was still there and this time we got her attention and fed her our leftovers and got lots of doggie lovings that we sorely miss from back home.

We grabbed a taxi to the bus station and hopped on the bus.  They had many busses lined up just waiting for this route and the last stop is the museum (no getting off too early this time!!!).  After a few passengers got off, there were only about a dozen of us left for the last stop.  There was a lively happy group and they collaborated among themselves and us and asked if we wanted to join them to try to get a group discount, we said sure.  We were the only laowai there and as we went into the entrance, they all wanted pictures with us, putting their arms around us and such.  The 'leader' went up and asked for the discount but 'no go'.  I guess it needs to be pre-planned.  It was only 65RMB for B and I to get in, S used her college ID to get a big discount, only 35RMB.  There were dozens of guides hanging around the box office and entrance asking us if we wanted a paid guide for 35RMB per person in the group.  They stated that there really isn't that much information inside and they had all the good stuff to tell us.  They especially told us that very little was in English and really pushed for us to hire them.  But we refused multiple times, with multiple guides both because Stephanie had been there and we didn't believe there wouldn't be information.  Our group haggled with one guide for a long time (the entire walk from the entrance to the first building) and they eventually agreed on 3RMB per person.  We broke off at that point and went our own way.

WOW!  First we hit Pit One which is the largest pit of excavated soldiers.  It is a huge area that isn't even entirely uncovered yet.  They have areas where we see well preserved soldiers and horses and areas where they are all broken up.  Some areas they are working on fixing them, putting them together like puzzle pieces.  There were several signs explaining what we were looking at (ha! No information in English, bah!) and the immensity was overwhelming.  There also used to be carriages too but they had made those of wood and they had either burned or rotted since then.  We walked all around Pit One and went onto Pit Two and Three.  We spent a few hours, it was so fascinating.  Then we went into the museum and found that the entire area we were in was basically covered in finds.  The emperor needed EVERYTHING he had while alive in his afterlife, so they created an entire village for him, gardens, stables, soldiers, bakeries, etc, etc.  They even buried a few horses live.  It was very fascinating and I think I will need to read more up on it when I have time.

One thing I have noticed while in China is inconsistent numbering.  This definitely isn't Germany where they are as precise as possible.  You will read one sign and it will say there are this many soldiers in the pit, and another sign will say there are this many (a different number).  The Forbidden City said there are 8,700 rooms on the recording and the sign would say there are over 9,000 rooms.  Ah well.

As we headed back to the line of buses waiting to take us back to the city, we ran into our original group again.  They were snacking on a type of roll with meat and vegetables in it that a lady was selling from a cart in the parking lot.  They told us to try it, it was like KFC (hee hee).  Stephanie told us we needed to be careful because it was meat but we braved it.  She opened the steamed bun which already had some veggies in it, put in a spoonful of some shredded pork and handed it to us in a type of paper pocket.  It was very good (and none of us got sick).  We were followed by a stray dog and I shared some scraps with him.  We have been noticing lots of stray dogs in China but many look well-kept, so I'm not sure if they are truly strays or just wander during the days.  And none of them seem aggressive.  As I tossed some scraps to him, he just gingerly approached it and took it gently.  He then continued to follow us at a safe distance and I think he honestly looked sad when we got on the bus.

Some vendors approached us as we were boarding the bus with baskets of pomegranates.  There were also many vendors on the side of the road, about every 1/10th of a mile with many more pomegranates.  I guess they are the big thing this time of year.  Of course there is danger pulling over to buy them, there are signs warning of getting hit while trying to pull over.

As we drove through some countryside, and then closer to the city, I observed what we were passing.  There were still fruits, individually wrapped in plastic bags, on the trees. Lots of stray dogs wandering around.  People working right on the street or sidewalk: using a sewing machine, repairing bikes, cutting hair, shining shoes.  We passed lots of walled in courtyards, both old and new.  If you got a glance in some of the older gates, you could see big piles of debris.  It looks like they are doing a lot of destruction and rebuilding. 

Again, I notice the extra employees needed on the bus, this time there is a driver and fare collector.  This bus trip cost us 7RMB each for each way for the hour ride to the Terracotta Museum.  Luckily, just about every time we have taken a bus, we have gotten the back seat which has 5 seats across the entire back, and we can stretch our legs into the aisle.  The other seats are way too close together for us tall Western giants.

When we got back to the station, it was CRAZY busy.  It was now a Friday night and a lot of people were probably off work for a week and heading home for the Chinese or Lunar New Year next weekend.  I suggested we grab the first taxi we could get, go to the hostel for our luggage and head to the airport and then worry about dinner, but S said we had plenty of time and didn't want airport food again.  So we stopped into a noodle place that she likes and we had some great dinner, but I am really getting tired of noodles!!  We ate quickly and headed out to get a taxi and realized that we would have to walk a distance away from the crazy bus station area to get better luck, and it was starting to drizzle.  Well, taxi after taxi passed us, no one would stop.  S was getting frustrated as we walked and walked, flagging down every taxi we could see and having them pass us over and over again.  We were approached by pedicabs and motorcyclists, but there were three of us, and we wanted to get there alive.  And obviously, they couldn't get us all the way to the apartment.  We debated taking a pedicab to the hostel and then seeing if they would call us a taxi but decided against it.

As the time ticked by, S thought they were being picky and not picking up us laowai but then we noticed they were driving by the locals too.  One or two stopped and when Stephanie told them where we wanted to go, they said no and drove away, we don't know why.  So I said, the next one we get, we just jump in and don't give them a chance to refuse us.  A few minutes later, we approached a taxi pulled over on the side of the road. We watched a guy poke his head in and talk to the driver, but whatever he said the driver refused. We decided to ask if he would take us to the airport. As S was talking in the window to the driver, a Chinese woman practically pushed S out of the way to get in the front seat but S wouldn't let her, she was quicker.  After telling the driver what we wanted, he wanted to negotiate a price, some more discussion between S and the driver, and we agreed on 120RMB (instead of the estimated 100RMB) and off we went.  I told S I was so grateful we finally got a cab and one that was willing to wait at the hostel while we get our luggage, that I was willing to give him more.  S said no way, we don't want to encourage them to take advantage of people, especially laowai.  I went along with her wishes of course but I was so grateful to be off my feet and to get to the airport on time.

When we got to the hostel, B and S jumped out to get our luggage.  I stayed to make sure the taxi wouldn't leave, but he hadn't gotten paid yet so it was probably a safe bet he wouldn't have left anyway.  Like I said before, our hostel was right up against the wall and the street was very narrow even though it was two-way.  While we waited, the taxi had to move several times to get out of the way of traffic. 

Eventually, we were on our way, one of the craziest scariest taxi drives ever.  I'll explain Chinese driving below.  We made it in time for our flight which was delayed 50 minutes, so we had time to relax and have the most expensive coffee and tea ever.  We all ordered our usuals (Mocha, Caramel Mochiatto, Milk Tea) and they were each about 68RMB.  Only my tea was a decent size and tasted good, B and S got major gypped in size and taste.  Never again!!  Because we paid so much, we decided to stay at the comfortable table until our flight was ready to board.

Our flight to Shanghai was about 2 hours.  S wanted us to take the Maglev (fast train) but it was closed for the night.  We decided on a taxi (rather than multiple subway stops and then a taxi for the last leg) and even got the school guard to open the gate for us so the taxi could drive us all the way onto campus, to S's apartment building.  Normally we have to walk through the gated campus to get to S's apartment.

We knew that we were leaving early tomorrow morning for a 2 day 1 night trip to Lucy's hometown of Hangzhou, so we needed to wash enough clothes for that trip, take showers and quickly check emails.  Then we all collapsed and set our alarm for early morning to catch the 9:30AM train.

Chinese driving:  As you may know, this is my second trip to China, B's first and S has been living here for the last 1 ½ years in addition to several trips previous to that.  Now, with my observations, Stephanie's help and my new book, I understand Chinese driving.  As I told people after my first experiences here, there seems to be no rules.  There are the occasional stop lights but no real stop signs, yield signs, etc.  Here is the reasoning and how it all works.

American's have Right Of Way rules, lots of them.  Both where signs regulate movement and where there are no signs.

Chinese have no Right Of Way rules.  Whoever is in that space first has the right of way.  And it works for them.  That means when you are at an intersection, whoever is in that space first, gets it.  Whether it is a large truck or bus, car, bike, motorcycle, pedestrian, anything.  You obviously are taking a chance going into the traffic flow, but that is the only way you will get anywhere.  This is very apparent in the very large, busy areas.  If you were to wait for a clearing to pull out, or someone to give you the chance to pull out, it will never happen.  But if you do pull out right in front of someone, they will slow down and not hit you.  No middle fingers, no bad attitudes, no horn blowing.  The only time there is horn blowing is more of a warning that you shouldn't walk out in front of a speeding bus, not because you did but because you shouldn't.  I've never heard any one grumble, yell, swear or be upset while dealing with the traffic.  Amazing!

Also, everyone will do anything they can to get where they want.  If that means crossing the double line (into oncoming traffic) to pass someone, they do it.  The oncoming traffic will just slow down or swerve out of your way.  If it means the taxi goes down the bike lane, it will.  If it means squeezing between 2 vehicles without an inch to spare on either side even if you aren't in a real lane, it will.  We've gasped a few times and sucked in our guts to help, but we haven't hit a thing.  And we've only seen 2 accidents so far and we've been in very large, busy cities at very busy times. 

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