(Barely) A day in Xian

Xian Great Mosque

Our day in Xian, apparently, did not go as planned. The whole night after we arrived from Urumqi, Az was down with high fever – literally shivering under thick blanket, and his body was burning. He was vomitting several times since the flight. It was the worst I have ever seen him. One can imagine how panic I could be, for us in a foreign land far away from family, with our sim card not able to call or send sms to outside China, I was praying hard that things would just be better than worse. The medicines we brought from home came as a savior, although, it seemed only  as a little, tiny impact. I was almost considering to ask hotel people to bring us to hospital, but it’s not gonna be easy. The least I could do was to cool him down with damp towels from time to time.

We did not leave the hotel room early in the morning – unlike usually during travel – and although the fever has gone less, thankfully. While I was still optimistic that things should be okay and we can make do with the remaining time sight seeing Xian, but for barely a day and we hadn’t started early, then the visit Terracotta Warriors has been removed from the list. Is there anyone else who actually visits Xian but NOT see the Terracotta Warriors? >.<

We stayed in Super 8 Hotel in the center of Xian, even I can say in the center inside the city wall, so the main landmarks were actually very near by walking distance. The weather was nice, but coming from Xinjiang, it seems the environment suddenly changed, totally! Xian is full of tourist coming to see touristy sights and shopping touristy souvenirs. Not our type of place, but hey, we’re here! Az was still not in the mood to walk at first, and we stopped a few times to let him rest.

The Drum tower. Well, Drum Tower and Bell Tower are located not far from each other and I still cannot tell which is which, but thats not important, and we only had a look from afar. Going inside there probably requires admission tickets.

Some sights. Full of hotels and shopping arcades. I know Xian has lots of historic attractions but when we’re really here, it’s hardly a place we can actually enjoy. Maybe we’re already used to charming, tourist-free, quiet little Kashgar. I dont know if it could have been different if I had put Xian in the beginning of our China trip (which I did in earlier itinerary drafts), we could have probably not care much but joined those tourists being impressed with this city!

And they have McDonalds! It might be boring but I liked it that we can replace drink in a meal set with a coffee. Just in the center as well we found a Tourist Information Center, where we walked in to ask a city map (and we got one for free).

The only highlight of Xian for us may be The Great Mosque of Xian. Within the touristy area, small paths between bustling shops and crowded souvenir stalls somehow can lead you to the hidden wall of the mosque.

The Xian mosque is one of the oldest mosques in China, founded in year 742. The architecture is Chinese (like the Hui mosques in Urumqi) and of course, Muslims in Xian are predominantly Hui ethnics. It was Zuhur prayer time when we’re there, so we decided to do jamaah prayer. As usual, the facilities inside mosque seem to be reserved for men only. We couldnt find rest room or ablution for women at first but asking a student there (he comes from Inner Mongolia) the women’s place should be in different building outside the mosque area. When I reached the place, it turns out most women just do the prayers in the that building, but after wudu’, I returned back to the mosque main hall with Az.

The main prayer hall. At first I decided to wait for Az outside (when I thought only men can enter the mosque during jamaah prayers), but as soon as Azan (the call for prayer) was announced, more and more people came filling the mosque. Some elder men gave a sign that I could actually enter, at the right corner which seems to be unofficial place for women praying. It’s only divided by curtain from the outside, but it’s better than no place at all.

And the moments come when a few Hui women (I guess around 4 of them) were with me preparing for the prayer. They seemed so surprised looking at me and I tried to introduce myself to them with whatever language and sign language I could think of. They were smiling from ear to ear with a super-impressed face all times as if OVERWHELMINGLY HAPPY of seeing me, making myself rather blushing and awkward and at the same time asking to myself “what happens with them?? Aren’t they used to meet other foreigners coming to pray here before?”. Anyways. And after prayers done, when I want to say goodbye, not only they hugged me (expected) but also kissed me in the cheek few times! I felt like an adorable small baby ^_^ And they kept smiling even when I was leaving the prayer area.

Inside the main prayer hall, we entered here after everyone has left. See the wall? They’re beautifully carved with THE WHOLE SCRIPTS in Quran! If you have time, maybe you can sit and trace all 30 juzu’ written in here. It’s amazing.

Seeing the crowds coming for jamaah prayer, I can’t help wondering if those Muslims really live near here, coz all we can see here shops and tourists and business area rather than a neighborhood. Nevertheless, there are significant number of Muslims being part of the tourist industry here, selling souvenirs for example. We found a restaurant at the Muslim quarter having lamb kebab!! They’re a little expensive compared to what we had in Xinjiang, but what the hey, it’s such a feeling like you have sadly accepted that you won’t be getting it again (after leaving Xinjiang), but before you knew it, it surprisingly came to you! ;)

As we have a few hours left until our train tonight, we took a bus going to train station just to see the city from bus (as Az was already tired walking). Nothing much to be impressed with the city view, except the fact that this whole area is surrounded by the huge wall. Then we’re back to have dinner, do our last shopping and collect luggage at hotel.

This should be our last train in China! :) Az was still feeling unwell when we were waiting at the departure lounge, and totally not in mood. I went to buy a few cup noodles for our food in train. And while we’re sitting at the bench this man was watching me giving a head massage to Az, and probably acknowledging that Az was sick, he came towards saying something in Chinese, then left, then came back again bringing something at his hands – 2 packets of something look like seeds. He asked Az to swallow them and giving a sign as if it’s some herbal medicine for head ache. It’s funny yet touching to know some stranger we dont even know in some foreign land would be so nice to us!

Well, heading (back) to Chengdu, finally!

Our CS host is a TV star! And goodbye Xinjiang!

We woke up to our last day in Xinjiang, having Mischa cooked manta for us for breakfast. Had to pack thoroughly because we’re heading to a place 3 hours away by flight and apparently all instant noodles we had bought earlier from campus shop didnt have any space in our luggage no matter how much we wanted to keep them (they’re SUPER TASTY! And more importantly, Halal) and we decided to leave them for Mischa. That also includes our instant Tesco chicken curry (in picture) we brought all the way from home. The label “Kari Ayam Dengan Ubi Kentang” could have been the first Malay phrase ever attempted by Mischa, and it was not bad! (we were already impressed by his excellent English, and learning that he could read something in another foreign language perfectly didnt really surprise us). Anyhow.

And we had to tidy up the room! Thanks Mischa for the cozy beds! When all was ready and we had some more time to spend, it’s time to *force* Mischa to really show us the TV program (he had talked about earlier during dinner with Hasnat, I guess I didnt quite mention in previous post but nevermind) which he was in! And it was a MATCH-MAKING show, for goodness’ sake!! :D  Soooooo.. this video is rather long but I promise it’s the most thrilling 7 minutes we found out about Mischa! If you have time please watch this so that you know that we have stayed at a house belongs to a TV star! :P WATCH THIS!

 

Cool, huh? And yes, that very program had been aired in Malaysia as well, although I couldnt remember what it’s called. Despite Mischa not making it until end of stage where he could have dated one of these girls, we gasped in surprise that this man was doing this show! And I bet it’s the girls’ loss for voting him out! No wonder he said he’s been receiving thousands of emails since then!

 

Then.. time for a proper farewell! Mischa played Kazakh ukulele-like instrument called DOMBRA. And after writing some postcards to mail, we carried our huge luggage walking down to catch taxi.

I had earlier contacted with a CSer from Singapore, namely Luna, who’s supposed to arrive in Urumqi today from Singapore, and we’re planning to have lunch with her before we depart for Xian. Although at this point of time we still havent heard anything or sms from her, and even Mischa made a call to a hostel where she could probably stay, just to know she has arrived and let her know our plan for having lunch at Kazakh restaurant by Mischa’s recommendation.

Staying a few days inside the campus brought me back to the university days I had, campus area is always a peaceful place to actually live in, no traffics, quiet, and most of time having groceries (and kebab stalls!) within walking distance. I’m gonna miss this place!

We went to post office by the street to mail my postcards!! I think I have spent almost 100 yuan on stamps! China stamps are expensive! (or, we’re used to cheap postage of Malaysia)

Since this is actually the only time we get to have a walk with Mischa, we were pretty much talking about everything we come across the streets. We were so lucky to stay with Mischa as he’s a truly Xinjiang man who’s so passionate to share every single thing about his homeland of culture mixpot.

After a while we realized we have walked quite far and Mischa offered to carry BOTH of our luggage. He’s a big man! We entered the Uyghur alley where we had been with Nazar before searching for shoes. And from afar there’s also Hui Mosque.

Again, passing by the cinema, with Titanic 3D poster showing, why not posing for a shot too? The Uyghur way perhaps? :)

Finally, we arrived at the Kazakh restaurant, located in a building actually. Mischa made an order for us as we had no idea what to expect. This is horse meat in slice. The restaurant, according to Mischa, is the place where Kazakh people come to meet friends and enjoy their ethnic food. And we noticed that some female folk in another table were looking at us, or precisely, at Mischa, coz he was a newly-talked TV star, remember?? :D I love that soup with noodle! And Az joined Mischa to try this camel’s milk. But I did not. And we are still waiting for a call from Luna, although by this time it seems hopeless to have her join our lunch here.

After lunch we took taxi heading to airport, and only when we were in taxi, we received sms from Luna! =,= it turned out because of difference network and roaming the sms was delivered hours late, and to our disappointment, had to forget the idea of meeting with her and wish her the best in exlporing Xinjiang!

It was when we were waiting to board, Az started feeling dizzy, and quickly gained to fever, and the 3 hours flight seemed like hell to him. We suspect it’s because of camel’s milk he drank earlier (which the only thing I did not try, thankfully!). Rest assured, arriving Xian by night didnt help much with his condition that we could not go around searching for cheap hostel, rather followed one of the hotel staff (that waited at the bus stop in center of Xian) to a hotel in back street (after I told her our budget), and brought us to this Super 8 hotel, with a room at 260 yuan per night. It was the most expensive room we had throughout our China journey, but I simply didnt have time to search for another when Az was having a high fever! Now I started worrying our stay in Xian would not be as smooth as we had planned…

Riding (73 hours) trains in China

Luckily it was not 73 hours in one go (otherwise I cannot imagine how horrible the long-trains syndrome would affect us). 73 hours in 4 trains, and still, they’re considered long-journey trains (21 + 22 + 16 + 14 hours). It was rather a good decision to switch trains in Lanzhou, although it’s not our place to even stay for a day, otherwise the only available direct Chengdu – Urumqi is 47 hours train.

Unlike Indian trains, we cannot book China train online. At least not by ourselves. Had to seek help from our CouchSurfing friend Derek (who earlier visited us in KL, and also hosted us in Chengdu) to book for us since the online booking is only available in Chinese. Still, we had to collect the actual ticket (in picture hold by Az) in the train station, therefore it’s still so much hassle, especially in the stations full of long queues, there’s no sign in English and if we’re lucky, there will be (only) one person who can speak English among the train officers.

We choose hard-sleeper class for our trains, and when after boarding, an officer would come to collect the tickets, give us cards with our berth number (and random pictures) to keep all the way during the journey. Right before we get off, the officer would turn up again to collect back the cards in exchange of our train tickets. We still dont know why this system is practiced.

Hard-sleeper coach has 3 bunk beds like this so 6 persons share a common area. Most of time we got one top bed and one bottom bed. It’s good as we can still sit together at the bottom bed during the day, and either of us would climb up to top bed for sleeping at night.

People who has middle bed usually sits at the bench in the aisle, or sometimes people in bottom bunk invite them to sit at their place for a while. Within a few hours, everyone seems to be comfortable to each other and talk and eat together. Although they can’t speak English, it’s so cool that they’re still speaking to us in Chinese and most of time we’ll reply with sign languages.

They usually bring several instant noodles (in big paper bowl!) as their breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the journey. As for us, we did pack some Tesco ready-to-eat food and sardines, Maggi mee, 3-in-1 Nescafe and Milo for our only means of food in the train.

There’s a restaurant if you like, but we werent sure if food is Halal and we could only buy plain rice from there to eat with our food. By the 3rd day of train, we managed to finish most of the food and turn our heavy luggage much lighter :)

The views from Chengdu to Lanzhou. Traveling by train spanning thousands kilometers does amaze us of how huge is the land of China!

Sometimes train would stop at a station where there will be 5-10 minutes break, so we had a chance to quickly jump out and get some fresh air while stretching our muscles.

And maybe, buy some breads and biscuits from the platform stalls before continuing the journey for another ten hours. Although, the breads aren’t really good.

Left picture: The full view of 3 bunk beds in hard-sleeper coach. Right: View from top bunk, showing the aisle in the train. There’s a space up there to put your luggage.

Now, this is our only soft-sleeper train! We had to buy the tickets during last minute when our expected Kuqa-Turpan train was cancelled due to sand storm, and the next Kuqa-Urumqi train only had soft-sleeper tickets available. I will put long and complete story later in the travelogue. Although very expensive, we had to admit that it was really neat, clean and comfortable, in a private lockable cabin. Well, it depends with whom you’re sharing the cabin with :) We were lucky  to have the whole cabin for ourselves for a few hours before old couple who sit in the bottom beds boarded in.

And this train (Kuqa-Urumqi) is double decker! :D I guess we wouldnt have taken this train if it was not because of the earlier train canceled (that we got really cranky about!). I cannot say the soft-sleeper and double decker train can pay off the time wasted in dusty Kuqa and missing the chance to visit Turpan, but at least, I guess by this time we’re already cooled-off :)

And this is our last train Xian to Chengdu, in the end of the whole trip before flying home. Note that were left off with our Crocs for the whole second week of trip when I made a biggest mistake for leaving our shoes in sleeper bus in Kuqa =.= And Az started blaming me all the way until we return home. Okaylah I know it’s my mistake, but now I already replaced your shoes, and let’s not talk about the forgotten shoes ever again, okay?