Make it a grande!

Day 48
Xi’an, China

The Beijing train station could very well be the busiest in the world. After we arrived there last night, we checked the departure board and saw that our overnight sleeper train to Xi’an at 9:36 p.m. was one of about 100 leaving within the next 90 minutes. The station was swarming with thousands and thousands of Chinese, hustling to tracks, eating noodles, squatting in the waiting lounges and using a variety of methods to lug around their belongings — including a Pee Wee Herman-esque bindle, the first time I’ve ever seen one used!

A couple of weeks ago in Greece with my Dad, we had a very serious urging for some Chinese food. Having traveled now for almost 50 days, I’ve found that no matter what country I’m in, after several days of its cuisine — no matter how good — it’s easy to get sick of it. Back home, we eat a variety of ethnic foods: Mexican on Monday or Tex-Mex on Thursday. We’ll have a Greek salad for lunch or a Turkish kebab for dinner. The point is, each meal is different.

Here in China, as in Morocco, Spain, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and Egypt, every meal is local — which, in its repetitiveness, takes a toll on foreigners like me. It’s the reason we needed sesame chicken in Santorini, and why McDonald’s, seldom visited while I’m in the States, has become something of a homing beacon for me. Last night at the train station, the Golden Arches caught my eye, and it was time for a (really) spicy chicken sandwich and medium fries. Delicious.

After some pushing and shoving with the locals, we boarded our train. In Egypt, the sleeper cars slept two. In Europe, the berths accommodated four. In the same cars, China manages to squeeze in six. It’s unlikely that they considered tourists or Westerners when designing them. Here’s the view from my middle bunk, as well as what the tiny gauntlet of a hallway looked like.

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The ride down was surprisingly smooth, and while the beds were typical Chinese rocks, it was hard not to also sleep like one. We were awoken this morning by the train attendant who abruptly tapped us on the leg before ripping our blankets off. Welcome to Xi’an!

After a shower and some down time at the Hna Hotel, we took an orientation walk through this city of about 8 million, the capital of Shanxi Province, and once China’s trading base for the Silk Road. Our tour — which took us to the still-standing city walls as well as the bell and drum towers — soon had several unexpected followers. You see, the Chinese people of Xi’an have had very limited exposure to Westerners, so when they see us walking down the street with our backpacks, sunglasses, hats and cameras, they often stop what they are doing and stare at us. Some of the more adventurous even come over to the group and listen in (although they don’t speak a word of English).

We next visited the Xi’an Museum and old Muslim quarter, which after some aggressive bargaining, netted me some cool souvenirs, including two ox-bone carvings. The day’s highlight, however, came on our way home, when a familiar green serpent-lady cast a spell and lured me in for a delicious iced vanilla latte and plate of sandwiches — my first in several weeks.

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Comments

  1. “including a Pee Wee Herman-esque bindle, the first time I’ve ever seen one used!”

    WOW. I always wondered about who actually ever used one of those, since in the movies runaways often seem to have them.

    I’m a loner Dottie, a rebel.

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