Hello world! Alex here.
Last week’s post is here if you’ve haven’t read it. Go on, this post won’t run away.
Talking about posting, uploading photos to this website is immensely difficult, with uploads failing frequently. As a substitute for my time in the gym (it’s week 11 now, and the gym is closed), I’ll be doing 25 pushups for every time an upload fails, so you’ll see how many pushups it took to upload all the photos for each section.
Anyway, it’s week 9, and it’s a really special week because it’s recess week. With one week of supposedly no work (this turns out to be a lie), the prospect of traveling to other parts of China becomes irresistable to us students. Travel we did, as I joined a band of brave adventurers to travel to the southwestern end of China – to the province of (obviously) Sichuan.
Now, Sichuan is named as such because of the four rivers that course through the region, and it’s a really big place. On its western end it sits upon the eastern fringe of the Tibetan Plateau, with the Qionglai Mountain Range lurking in the same area, while the eastern sides being a bit more subtropical and warmer (and closer to sea level). Food wise, it’s got plenty of wonderful dishes to its name – Sichuan Mala is legendary, and indeed you’ll find these insidious peppercorns (or at least a hint of it) in plenty of meals. Suffice to say, it’s a very interesting place with a lot to see and eat. Introductions aside, let’s start this long tale of a week in Sichuan.
Buckle up, because it’s going to be a really long ride. Just like our train ride to Sichuan.
Chapter One: 14 Hours
Our journey begins on 30th June – technically part of the previous week, but for all intents and purposes, belongs to this week. I was awake by 4, all ready to go, and we’d all be meeting in the hostel lobby at 4.45am in the morning. (It was bright by then. Hurray summer.) Joining me on this trip were a few intrepid souls -Chen Ran as the trip’s mastermind and Dan as the
absolute madman mountain climber, along with Zile, Joshua, Frank, Yuan Long, Junjie, Chris, May, Benjamin, Clarissa (we just call her Sasa tho) , Timo and I as parasites burdens stowaways. We had little choice but to start this journey early, as the train ride to Sichuan would take a solid 14 hours, with us arriving at around 10pm at night. Strolling out of school with filled bags – on the verge of bursting from everything we’ve crammed into them – we made our way to the bus station just out side of school. It was at this point that the NSmen started having flashbacks.
Boarding the bus, we made a beeline for the back, quickly filling up the seats with bodies and baggage. It’d be an hour long ride before we’d reach the Hangzhoudong (East Hangzhou) train station, so people began to nod off in the feeble air-conditioning of the bus. Reaching the train station, we quickly realized we set off a wee bit early – we were an hour ahead of schedule, and we had some quite a bit of time before the train rolled into the station. Early as it was, there was already a massive crowd at the ticketing counters – a crowd we’d have to fight to collect our tickets (just kidding, people mostly queued. Mostly.). Queuing was largely uneventful – we split ourselves across several lines, and would flow over to whoever was the first to arrive, collecting all 13 tickets in one fell swoop (Be like water, my friend). There was a man who tried to cut the queue in my line – he had made some sort of error in his ticket purchase, and need to make an exchange soon, given that his train was supposedly boarding soon. The ticketing staff, and the queue gave him no quarter, with the staff insisting he’d have to queue to be served (I quite agreed with this). He proceeded to make his way down the line, asking people to exchange his ticket for him – and I watched with mild irritation (I was quite sleep deprived and extra grouchy from having to wake up at 4am) as he eventually made his way to me. Putting on my strongest American accent, I professed to know no Chinese and couldn’t help him. In retrospect, perhaps I could have afforded to acquiesce, but I simply did not like the way he went about it.
Pretty sure my karma points went down by at least 5.
Anyway, after scouting for some breakfast (PSA: don’t buy fast food while in China. Terribad 0/10 would not order again), we eventually boarded the train – a D-series train, but distinctly different from the one that plied the Hangzhou-Shanghai route. It didn’t seem as nice: the seats, the airconditioning and the general feel. I thought it wasn’t too bad, because it was still a D-series train. I thought wrong.
I made my way in, and headed to my seat, and as I glanced about the seats to make note of my neighbours, I saw the great enemy of long-haul trips: Children. This was going to be a long 14 hours. As the train pulled out of the station, we bid Hangzhou goodbye, as the urban jungle gave way to plains. I nodded off, trying to make up for the sleep I had lost.
It didn’t take long before I was awoken once more – a child in the seat behind me deemed it fitting to use my chair as a punching bag. The noise of the train was frequently punctuated by the piercing laughter of unrestrained children, using the aisle as some sort of relay track. Luckily, I was sufficiently sleep deprived to nod off once more, and this cycle of arousal and drifting back to sleep repeated several times.
Now that I was no longer sleepy enough to ignore the wails of the feral munchkins, I had to find something else to occupy my time. The latter half of my ride was occupied by periods of pretty good reading (I was finishing up Henry Kissinger’s On China, which I had left on the backburner for a really long time), and moments of brief 4G access. In those moments, we’d finally have access to the rest of the world, and also more light novel chapters for me to binge on. The scenery also helped alleviate some of the boredom – mountains sure are pretty.
Towards the end of the ride, the children and their parents eventually disappeared from the ride – a new bunch of passengers, mostly young adults, filtered into the seats. The train was at peace once more, and my blood pressure proceeded to decline to normal levels. Wonderful.
We finally reached Chengdudong (East Chengdu) station in the latter half of 10 o’clock. I believe we all breathed a sigh of relief being released from the prison of our carriage (I certainly did). As we made our way out, the first thing we did was to purchase our return tickets – a wise move, in retrospect.
After a brief debacle trying to find taxis – the first drivers we approached weren’t keen on taking us on because our trip was too short, and the subsequent drivers took that as hints to us being undesirable customers in some way – we finally made our way to our hostel, aptly named Xiayizhan Chengdu (Next Stop: Chengdu).
Oh, and we had supper. Dan had come to Sichuan before, and he had some very wonderful suggestions as to what to waimai (deliver/order) in.
Pushup count: 200. (Why, internet, why?!)
For my sanity, I’ll be truncating this post rrrright here. I’ll split up the posts so that they’re not too lengthy – this post alone is 1300+ words. So stick around for more of Alex’s inane rambling.