Friday, October 2, 2009

Lanzhou Beef Noodles

Today is my second day in Lanzhou - no one else is awake yet and we still don't have return tickets to Shanghai, a fact which makes me insanely nervous. But regardless, here's a past two days recap.

Wednesday morning we walked, waited and pushed our way through the rain to the Shanghai rail station to catch our 8:15 train. Getting out tickets was the world's biggest fiasco, so we had no idea how long the train would be, and I can't believe how incredibly fortunate we were to all be in the same berth. We had originally tried to use a travel agency, because it's so hard to get tickets for Golden Week and that way you can reserve in advance. The day after the tickets were supposed to be delivered I called the agency and asked why they hadn't delivered them yet. They simply responded "the tickets never came, good luck!" Gee, thanks. Obviously by then every single ticket to anywhere was sold out. We got super super super lucky with a last minute cancellation that just happened to come up as we were in the middle of a nightmarish freakout at the ticket counter.

It turned out to be a 30 hour train - we pulled into Lanzhou at 1:30 on the 1st. Spent our time with cards, stories, MASH, Lemons, and making up random shit to do. And of course endless naps. From which I woke up to this:

Got to Lanzhou and tried - AND FAILED - to ret return tickets. Am now dying of nervousness. Then we checked into the shadiest hostel ever. Apparently it's a Chinese-only targeted hostel, which is clearly true. We are the only foreigners here and quite obviously a curiosity. The inside is a courtyard filled with plants and a fake river that ends in a grotto of goldfish. The river - since it doesn't flow - is a bit stagnant. Our beds are literally just the wooden planks. There are a few amusing sheets of newspaper between the bottom sheets and the wood. I've slept on worse, sure, but the whole atmosphere of this place is kind of creepy. The hostel owner is also incredibly unhelpful and the bathrooms are straight China. There is only one shower for the whole place, and it's located on top of the toilet that the entire hostel shares.

Then we went for a long walk around Lanzhou. We started out along the Yellow river and came up to the Zhongshan Bridge - built in 1907 by German/American engineers. It was the first east/west cooperative building project, which is pretty neat. Then we walked south through some Uigher alleys, snacking along the way on naan and sweet potato (my loyal readers know how I feel about snacking my way through travel). Eventually we had dinner at a Xinjiang restaurant which I thought was a bit overpriced and Chineseified but the others all said it was excellent, so I guess it was a success.

Lanzhou's pedestrian street is pretty hoppin at night, and people here are super friendly. We saw a bridal dance and fashion show, and went to a couple markets. There was an (probably illegal) puppy market on the street, so adorable. I need one. Then we went to a "German Brewery" and had the grossest most watered down beer ever - FAIL. If you're ever in Lanzhou, avoid the German Breweries. They may have servers in leiderhosen, but there are two beer choices - light and dark - and there is chao mein on the menu. Silly.

After returning to the hostel to discover out new roommate - an 80 year old man - we set out to discover a bar for the night. WE ended up at ILKBAR where beers are crazy cheap compared to East China (approx 10rmb). We also met an English Teacher with pretty awful English who was celebrating his birthday. People in Lanzhou are all so friendly, and so thrilled to practice their English and welcome us to town.

Also, I bought a silly cowboy hat.

After a nice, hot, uncomfortable night back a the hostel, we spend the next morning sleeping in. We went to lunch at a much tastier Xinjiang restaurant along the Uigher alley. Then we went to he gondola that takes you up to the top of the hill on the other side of the Yellow River. I'm a sucker for cheesy Chinese transportation (see various entries on the Shanghai tourist tunnel). The hills were covered in temples and pagodas, which we didn't really make it to. One of the bluffs had a really nice view of the city and it was covered with picnic tables, so we grabbed some beers and sat for a while. We had some nice discussions with other picnickers and discovered a cozy couch which awkwardly turned out to be a literal hole of poop.

When we rode down, Ben, Jose and Charlie ent in search of massages they never found, and Anna, Gareth and I went in search of a teahouse we never found. We did find a pretty cool looking antiques market though and wandered it a bit. Our cab driver on the way back was thrilled to meet Obama, and enjoyed listing off all the other Americans he had ever heard of.

Back at the hostel I said goodbye to the little boy who I had befriended this morning while everyone was sleeping. We acted out scenes from Monkey and he taught me his kung fu skills. It was pretty long and tearful. I do feel a bit bad that I won't be returning and that I don't even know his name, but I'm over it - he was a bit clingy.


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