Without Maggie and her Mandarin skills, I would not have been able to experience a tenth of what I have these past two weeks in China. Am indebted to her as well for her knowledge of how to get around and the sometimes quirky ways things work here in China.
For instance, towels do not always automatically come with your guesthouse room, you sometimes have to ask for them. Napkins during meals too. If in a small place, you’ll get a roll of toilet paper. Midlevel places will bring you a pocket package of tissues. High-end restaurants, of course, have napkins at the place settings, but we’re not visiting any of those.
For our trip to Kashgar, we had to book three flights—Lijiang to Chongqing to Urumqi to Kashgar—separately (with a stopover in Lanzhou too). Which means collect bags and recheck in, with each flight leg, because each flight is also on a separate airline. We left last night at 10:30; we arrive tonight at 10:30. And you thought 24-hour trips happened only with bus or train travel…
In most restaurants, as soon as you’re shown to your seat, the waitperson stands there at the ready for your order, before you’ve even had a chance to open the menu. This can cause you to order in a hurry, without accurately reading the menu, and result in getting a dish you didn’t think you had requested—such as chicken feet instead of sautéed chicken.
And the Chinese tourists love to have their picture taken with random Westerners. I was corralled into shots with three different men at Tiger Leaping Gorge; Maggie was grabbed by a group of women in the old city of Lijiang. I love it.
Overnight in Chongqing
We spent the night on the outskirts of Chongqing near the airport for our stopover between here and Urumqi. The area was edgy, dirty and interesting, in a lurid sort of way, and we both like it just for that reason.
The guesthouses we wanted to stay in were full so a woman at the airport booked us into a business hotel nearby with a ride to and from the airport included—for Y110 (about $16). Our drive pulled into a parking garage beneath an office building in what appears to be an outdoor mall, complete with McDonalds and Walmart. A young woman in a sweatsuit met us and took us to the fifth floor. We walked past several wedding photography businesses to get to our room, which is small but has air-con, floor-to-ceiling windows, hot water and a basket full of condoms, “men sex oil” and other goodies.
We ate dinner at the “restaurant” on the street corner from two street vendors—sticks of pork meat, tofu skin, bean-filled bread)—and sat at little tables on tiny stools on the sidewalk. Little kids (presumedly of the two cooks) ran around in the street and had sword fights with chop sticks (it was 1 a.m. at this point). Dirt and garbage was strewn around the area. Our neighboring tables included security guards, three friends, a couple and a group of very drunk men. The food was good though and we both slept well.
The coffee shop on the third flood is a riot—rattan swings for seats in one section, suspended from the ceiling by chains covered in pink flowers. The other chairs are all love seats. There is a grand piano in the middle of the room on top of an elevated plexiglass floor beneath which there is a fake flower bed. We ordered club sandwiches off the menu. They couldn’t make them. So we opted for scrambled eggs and tomatoes with chives, a staple. On our table was a little yellow egg-shaped machine that for a Y1 coin tells your fortune, based on your astrological sign. Since Maggie and I are both Libras, we needed just one. It basically was a cartoon saying we’d have a foot massage. Can’t argue with fate.
The next 10 days will be interesting as we head into Xinjiang province tonight. No idea whether we’ll have Internet access at all as we’re getting conflicting reports. Some say there is none still, following the communication crackdown after last month’s riots in the region. Others say access is coming back but is still limited. We’ve also been told by a contact in Beijing whose uncle is a police chief in the region that some hotels are not allowed to accept Western travelers, so we have to plan much more in advance than we usually do.
But it’s all good. Am really looking forward to hitting the camel market in Kashgar tomorrow morning. Traveling along the ancient silk road has been a dream trip of mine for years.