Saturday, September 22, 2007

Of Camels and Cotton


Dunhuang Day 1

10:40am Arrive
11:00am Hotel - Broken
12:00pm Lunch
1-5pm Mogao Grottos
5:30-9pm Camels
9-11pm Night Market
11-1am Hallway Chess

We got off the train at about 10:40 am. I hate riding on overnight trains. It's the most unpleasant experience ever. Hot, cramed, dirty, loud, smelly. It blows.

We got to the hotel around 11, and were told we had an hour to shower etc. (Important stuff, since no one had been able to shower since before climbing the sweaty flaming stairs of death). However, upon arriving at our rooms, we realized that about half of us had no water whatsoever, and those that did had freezing cold water only. These problems were not fixed unti 11:50, eliminating the nice shower possibility. Nothing spells relaxation like a 3 minute shower. In addition, our toilet was incapable of flusing and was backing up for no reason (we hadn't even used it). They kept telling us that this was normal for that toilet, and didn't fix it until midnight. Basically, the hotel was miserable, and I wouldn't reccomend it.

In the afternoon we went to the Mogao Grottos, a series of caves filled with Buddhist art and sculpture dating back to around year 0, athough most of the art was from the 14th century. It was all pretty spectacular. We weren't allowed to bring cameras in (they were incredibly strict about it) so I bought a pack of postcards. But you should google image this place. It's wicked cool.

Before they allowed us to tour the grottos, Ai Laoshi told us he had a "special treat" prepared. This turned out to be a 1 hour and 15 minute speech (in Chinese and translated by Ai) by the head of the research institute on the history and preservation of the grottos. This was at times interesting, but mostly excruciating, and if you looked around you could see that most of the students were sleeping.

After the grottos, we stopped at the hotel for a few seconds to change, and then went to the edge of the desert to ride camels. It was awesome! The dunes were just like in the movies. I'll post some pictures. We rode up to the top of one on our camels, and watched the sunset. At the top we paid to ride a slide part way down, which was expensive but pretty cool (although very sand intensive). Then we rode the camels back down adn over to an oasis called Moon Lake. It was dark by then, so most people didn't venture out to the lake, but Sean, Drue and I did. It wasn't really worth the trek, but walking barefoot in the desert sand was pretty incredible.

When we got back we went out to dinner (and I had the best ma la doufu ever) and then to the night market. The night market was the classiest market we've been to yet. I bought some apricot and xiangfei fruit. Xiangfei fruit is really sweet (I think it might actually be a flower), you just have to get past the fact that it's called xiangfei. We met up with Lila, Saskia, John, Kim and Dan in the Laduzi Market (which is what I've pet named the weird cafeteria/food stall area) and walked back with them. When we got back I complained about our toilet again, and while I waited for them to fix it a bunch of us hung out in the hallway and played Chinese chess - much to the amusement and excitement of every Chinese person who walked by. I think I might buy a set here and attempt to master the game. The pieces are much more fun than normal chess - there's a cannon that can only capture by jumping peices, and an elephant that is the only piece that can't cross the river because he's too fat (except for the pieces that can't leave the castle - they obviously can't cross the river either).


Dunhuang Day 2

11:30 Wake Up (so late!)
12:00 Checkout
12:30 Western Lunch
2-3 Wangba
3:30 naan and bus
4-5 cotton picking
5-6:30 Dinner/B2 anger
7:20 train
8-12 hearts

We were free till 3:30 in the afternoon, which everyone was pretty bitter about, since once again, B trip proves to be better. However, I somehow managed to sleep till 11:30, which is so late. Usually I like sleeping in, but this was extreme, especially for a trip that I should be awake for so I can experience everything.

After we checkout out of the hotel, a ton of us went out for a Western stye brunch. It was fabulous. I had 咖啡, 法试面包, and 面包跟米饭 - coffee, french toast, and toast with honey. 15 kuai worth of satisfaction.

After lunch, Terra, Savanah and I went to a wangba - internet bar. 2 kuai and hour seems to be the going rate throughout China. I was able to catch up on some email, which was wicked nice.

At 3:30 we went cotton picking. I'm not sure how they expected us to do that without overwhelming amounts of slavery jokes. The bus broke into a "swing low/follow the dipping gourd" medley on the way there. Our tour guide LOVED it. No one had the heart to explain American slavery and cotton picking to her.

Cotton picking was not as hard as I had expected. Don't get me wrong - it was backbreaking work and I can't imagine doing it all day, but it did not hurt to pick. I had expected prickles galore, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a very soft experience. I kept a handful of the cotton we picked, and I intend to research the process that goes into making cloth. I'd also ike to look up how many bags slaves in the states were required to pick, since I now have some perspective. It took us about 30-40 minutes to fill one in a team of three.

After cotton picking we met up with B2 for dinner and the rivary resumed. Then we rushed to the train station - time was pretty cramped and I've never eaten so much so fast in my life. I think that's what resulted in my horrific stomach cramps later that night which was more miserable than it should have been since I was on the stupid train. This train was a bit different than the other. All the bunks had much more headroom (although this didn't matter much to me, since I had a bottom bunk this time and lived like a queen), and the bathrooms were a bit nicer. It was still a fairly cramped and unpleasant experience though, and this train was really rocky. I learned how to play hearts on the train and had a wicked long game. It lasted like, 3 hours. I got second place, which I figure was fairly respectable, but I fully intend to beat my score (47) next time. I'm now addicted. [[note: a few days later I did beat this score, my best is now 10]].

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