24 March to 15 April 2012
Having had two recently successful trips to China (Yunnan last November and Shanghai up to Mongolia a few years back) has made us rather blasé about travel in the Middle Kingdom.

This trip started well thanks to Air Asia (the Asian equivalent of Easy Jet) and a bargain £10 flight from Bangkok to Chongqing but someone must have decided that was too good a deal and that we needed to be ‘punished’ and punish us they did…..

From Chongqing we headed to Chengdu in Sichuan province (famous for its hot-pot) with the aim of heading up to Lanzhou via Tibetan Sichuan but we went eight hours on the bus to a place called Songpan only to be turned around and sent back to Chengdu the next day. The Chinese authorities are always getting their knickers in a twist about Tibet and we knew that Tibet proper was, at that time, closed to foreigners due to the anniversary of some demo or the like but we didn’t know that they would also close off all the fringe areas as well so we wasted a number of valuable days seeing bugger all, sitting on buses and ending up in the same place we effectively started in.

After a bit of swearing and a few beers to calm us down (well me) we flew to Xian (at considerable expense) and started making our way up the Hexi Corridor to Urumqi stopping off along the way.

So far the trip has probably been the worst I/we have ever done (*). Kirsty is reluctant to use such a word, I on the other hand have no hesitation. It’s been miserable and cloudy on days we go to see things, lovely and sunny on days that we have sat on buses or trains. A lack of hostels (meaning horrible Chinese hotels instead), delays, boring scenery (not at all what we expected), snow, wind, decidedly average sites, expensive entrances (topping the £40 mark on one day) and shocking (I want to use a much stronger word but this is a child-friendly blog) food that has left in the verge of starvation all weigh in to justify the above statement.

The local bread with grilled meat is tasty enough, if not a bit repetitive but sometimes we have to resort to this …

Chicken Feet Tianshui ChinaA little snack of chicken feet anybody?

And more often than not, this …

Local Breads Tianshui ChinaLocal Breads in Tianshui Market

And the worst of it? The more we invest (financially) in this trip and the further west we head, the further away from civilisation we get! Urumqi is BFI, right in the middle of nowhere and getting back to somewhere ‘normal’ will either involve an expensive flight or a very long train journey. It’s no contest as to which one it will be, that’s for sure.

And any ‘fondness’ I may have developed on recent trips (see Shanghai to Datong entry for example) for the Chinese has long since been flushed down the proverbial can. All I can say is that they must have ‘re-discovered’ smoking, shouting, spitting, pushing and an inability to learn English in this part of the world – Beijingers and Shanghaiers they ain’t (think North East England vs London and the Home Counties) and for first time in ages I have had a couple of good head to head arguments with them, mainly about smoking and pushing (so at least something good has come out of this trip!).

So there you have it. Sorry for the rant but that’s me done on the China front. Kirsty never says never but I don’t want to come back. I have been several times and seen some great things but have decided that the speed of the industrial development and the Chinese tourists’ hunger for all things tacky that I have spoken about in previous blogs will soon make a visit here pointless. For example, the fort at Jiayuguan, an iconic piece of Silk Route folklore, used to sit out in the middle of the desert but now it is practically in the town itself and, having paid your £16 to get in, you have the option to dress up like Marco Polo, ride a camel, look around the gift shop or walk on a section of Great Wall that was reconstructed (built) in 1987. Of course you could always look around the fort????

An example of how this journey couldn’t get any worse. As I sit on the train writing this blog, I have one bloke sitting in front of me kicking out on a regular basis and another next to me twitching his leg in that really annoying manner that drives you insane and I can do sod all about it – I tried giving the evils, tutting and even telling him (in English of course) to stop it. All to no avail but indicative of how ‘well’ this trip has gone.

Urumqi ChinaIt doesn’t look that much of a disaster does it?!

Here’s hoping our luck changes in Central Asia……

PS getting on and off a train in China reminds me of the opening scene from ‘Enemy at the Gate’.

Additional Observations

  1. Why leave the toilet door open when taking a number two even though it has one?
  2. Why use the urinal next to mine even though all the others are free?
  3. Why eat food that smells like the rotten insides of a dead cow in confined spaces such as a bus or hotel lobby?
  4. Why have irritating ring tones that they (the Chinese) take ages to answer? When they finally answer they shout (and I mean shout) a very loud ‘Wey!’ and then proceed to let anyone in a 10 mile radius know their business.
  5. Why don’t I speak Mandarin? The Chinese love a good barney and one can flare up at any moment. Often the argument will start between one or two people whilst others limber up on the side line ready to jump in once they feel confident and because of the old ‘not loosing face’ the arguments go on for ages. It makes for great entertainment and it is the main reason that I wished I spoke Mandarin.

Note from Kirsty: yes we all know Mark is prone to a bit of exaggeration so just to show it wasn’t ALL a COMPLETE disaster, here’s a slide show of some of the highlights … Click on to the first photo to activate it and if you’re using a touch screen you can swipe through the images.

And more China images can be found here.



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