I took my first overnight train from Xi’an to Xining. It was not as bad as I thought it would be. I was fortunate to have a bottom bed in a soft sleeper car. My cabin-mates were nice, did not try to speak to me, but did try to give me cookies. It appeared they were all together. The (one I assumed was the) father had the bottom bunk opposite me. He coughed nonstop all night which kept waking me up. But other than that, not bad at all.
I make it out of the train station. I attempt to walk down the steps. There is a ramp on the right side of the steps, intending for you to roll your luggage down it as you walk down the steps. I could not figure out how to use it. Neither could the woman in front of me. Unlike me though, she kept trying. This was holding up everyone. Except that this is China so by “holding up everyone” I mean “making everyone smash into me to get me to go, but I couldn’t because she wasn’t.” Next thing I know, I am pushed really hard, I still don’t want to knock the woman in front of me down, so I try to steady myself and end up falling backwards. No one stops, they all keep continuing down the steps. Sigh.
It is only 8:00 am and I have planned to store my luggage, pick up my train ticket for tomorrow and go to the Ta’er Monastery. To get here, you need to take a local bus from the train station, to a shuttle bus to the monastery. Well I am outside and I do not see an actual station. Before I could even get my bearings, I am immediately bum rushed by a bunch of taxi drivers offering me rides. I say “no” about fifty times, this does not stop them from being in my face. It is very difficult to deal with this. I had a full wall of men in front of me yelling “TAXI” in my face. So many, I could not see past them. I cannot look to the right because when I try to, they all follow my head and stand and block me this way. I look to the left, same thing. It is overwhelming and makes it impossible to actually SEE ANYTHING or to get your bearings.
One of them tells me that I am at the West train station and that I cannot get to my hotel cheaply from here, no buses go near there, etc. I consider what he is saying and once again, second guess myself and once again, fall victim to someone taking advantage of me because I am a foreigner. I consider that maybe those “bus to the shuttle” directions are from the wrong train station and I am screwed. FINE. I take a car to my hostel. It was $50 yuan = $8.10 USD.
As we are driving forever, I think maybe I was too harsh and maybe the guy was not ripping me off. This was indeed a long drive and the ride was pretty cheap.
Then we get to my hostel and there are buses EVERYHWHERE so I now know he lied to me. Bonus: taking a cab back cost me $25 Yuan – half the price. I keep trying to console myself with “it is not a big deal, it’s only $8.10” but I have been doing that way too much on this trip and I vow to be a victim no more.
I stayed at Qinghai Heng Yu International Youth Hostel. Booked via Agoda, it cost me $31.79 for a private room. I was able to check in even though it was only 9:00 am. I don’ t know if they wanted to, but they did not speak English at all and I don’t speak (I am not even sure what language is spoken in Xining – Mandarin or Tibetan?) so after looking a bit perplexed by my arrival, they gave me a room key.
I was so excited when I saw the courtyard:
WOW! What a beautiful hang out area. This place rules!
Then I get to my room. It was bi-polar. Enormous television, my own private water cooler. But the room was gross and very stained. The bathroom had that awful smell as if seven elephants were allowed to poop under the drain in floor. The bed was just a box spring with a mattress pad. But who cares? I am in China!
My hotel offers tours to see golden rape flowers. I originally thought this was horribly translated English but it turns out that Canola flowers are called “rape flowers’ in China. I am not sure why I think this makes it not horribly translated English. Hmm.
My plans were to shower, take a nap and go see Xining. That did not quite work out. Showering I thought was going to be a real treat since there was an actual shower curtain and for once, I would not soak the entire bathroom when taking a shower. But the bar for the curtain curved up many inches so the curtain would not stay closed, because it couldn’t, because gravity kept pulling it down into a wad in the center of the bar.
Nap time. I set my alarm and it went off for an hour and a half before I actually woke up.
I went out to get some food and discovered that there is no place at all near my hotel with cold drinks. Everything is sold on the counter, warm. Even milk tea and milk coffee. This is weird.
I spot an ATM and make what I hope is my last withdrawl and then ended up really hoping it was not my last one since I forgot to get a receipt. You need the ATM receipt to show when you change your Yuan back into USD before leaving China. So hopefully I end up spending it all organically and don’t find myeself shopping in an overpriced (for China, underpriced for United States) airport just to get rid of it.
I get back to my room with some bread and warm drinks. Then I decide I don’t want to go out and see Xining. I really wanted to go to the Ta’er Monastery and it is now too late. The rest of the things to see here were just things I was going to see since I was already here. So I spent the late afternoon sorting pictures as much as I could with my netbook constantly malfunctioning. I tried to download some podcasts to listen to on my 24 hour train ride tomorrow, fail all over the place. All three USB ports do not register anything inserted to them any longer, this is new. They all worked yesterday. I have never in my life owned any electronic item that did not malfunction. I am clearly cursed.
It is also worth noting that every time I tried to leave my room, it took me about ten minutes to get the door unlocked. Same with getting back into my room. They key was an actual metal key and kept turning but the lock would stay locked. It got to the point that when I would go between my room and the courtyard, I would just leave it unlocked.
Outside my room is a swing that people like to sit on. It squeaks so bad and it is a few inches from my window. Of course it is. I finally went out to glare at the couple who had been swinging on it for a good half hour and that actually worked. They got up and went inside. I was again woken up by it at 6:30 am.
Check out is at 11:00, my train is at 3:00. I wanted to hang out in the pretty courtyard and use the internet but the whole “You don’t speak English and I only speak English” thing got in the way of me asking if this was okay, so off to the train I go!
I got to the train station no problem, thanks to having my destination printed out in (again, I have no idea what language. The nice lady who was my train ticket broker sent me the print out to hand to a cab driver.)
From there, my story continues here. Read all about my mental meltdown while surrounded by stunning scenery, aboard the train to Lhasa.