A better afternoon in Nanchang and first impressions of Lanzhou
So, it's early afternoon in Nanchang and after the ticket fiasco Rob, Beth, Cat and I are all in pretty foul moods. Some research has told us that a pizza hut exists somewhere in this city and so we decided that the only thing that could improve our moods is a pizza. In hindsight, it was fairly unlikely that walking aimlessly down any street would lead us straight to a pizza hut but the hours of stress queuing hadn't done much for our senses. So we wandered about for a bit until we resorted to rubbish drawings of a pizza on a sheet of paper which we showed to everyone we met. For some reason they all seemed to think we were a bit weird. Finally, two lads understood and wrote pizza hut in mandarin which we showed to a taxi driver who took us to wanda plaza. We didn't find a pizza hut but we found a papa johns which just as good and there I think I had my first meal without rice for a month. Papa johns was a bit like a zoo, it had lots of big windows and many Chinese people walking past who were all staring in at the white people in the restaurant; bar the man asleep and dribbling on a table behind us there weren't many Chinese. We smiled at a table of weird looking Europeans who looked like they'd come straight from the 60's and were seated next to some foreign uni students who made up many nationalities of which I can only remember the american because he succeeded in getting his voice heard the most. They were also pretty odd. Anyway, we spent a while in there eating proper western pizza and smiling at the other foreigners; solidarity.
We were baffled by the 'surfing shop' next to papa johns; we're hundreds of miles from the coast and even if we were closer I haven't ever heard of the Chinese being big surfers. No idea what idiot thought they'd make a bomb selling surfing equipment in the capital city of a landlocked province but needless to say the place was shut down. I got excited by the prospect of an English book shop which was actually a Chinese book shop with a few shelves of English books in. Still spent quite a while in there although I was gutted they didn't have lord of the rings. There were shelves of English books, unfortunately they were all the same books just printed by different companies. All of them were classics as well but I still bought a few to get through the insane train journeys. Of all the books they could be selling we were pretty surprised to find that 'animal farm' and '1984' featured the most on the shelves. I contented myself with 5 books and left a happy man. After then deciding we'd had enough for one day we thought we'd check out the imax cinema; it actually has English films! Woman in black was the only one we could see in English (with Chinese subtitles) at that time so we watched that - me and beth were not impressed to discover they had cut at least two bits out of it. The bit where the girl in the burning basement throws the gas lamp at her feet was gone and at the end it finishes with harry potter (can't remember his actual name…) standing up and saying hello. Not impressed. Also not too impressed with Chinese cinema etiquette; people wander about during the film, hold full conversations, take phone calls, text and we could even here someone's qq (Chinese social networking site) going off at regular intervals. Afterwards, we made our way back to the station where we met ned and matt waiting for us in kfc which was next door to mcdonalds; the two of them had spent a good few hours eating an impressive amount of fast food.
After a good catch up and exchanging teaching stories we ventured to the station where I retrieved my bags and avoided the toilets. My night ended lying on another hard sleeper bed on the train at about midnight with my luggage safely stowed because I ran ahead to grab prime positions; turns out that wasn't really necessary because this carriage layout was slightly different but ah well. Mrs mung had sorted something out well because the four of us had the bottom two and the middle two bunks so we had our own cosy little space! I don't think the two tubby men that had to clamber up to the top bunks were best pleased but we were happy. We intended to lie in the next day but some genius decided that awful music should be played from about 7 onwards. This meant we were wide awake and ready to sample the joys that a 32 hour train journey offers. After retrieving matt and ned from two compartments down and fetching ella and Nicole from 4 carriages down we camped down in our English area and spent the day reading, drawing, chatting, making fun of each other, dozing, watching the dictator on rob's laptop until it died, writing letters, eating and annoying each other some more. After another night of rubbish sleep, crammed into a bed where my bergen took up as much space as me (to prevent thieves) we woke in the morning to the beautiful sight of Lanzhou's countryside! Well, that's what we were hoping for. Instead we rolled into Lanzhou and spent half an hour trundling through the city's outskirts and feeling our spirits sink lower and lower as we admired the depressingly miserable views of one of the bleakest, dirtiest and dreary landscapes I've ever had the misfortune to wake up to. The drizzling rain didn't help and we almost got excited when we saw a small river winding itself through a valley. Unfortunately the valley was the same murky brown colour as the disgustingly polluted river and so we sunk into despairing thoughts as we arrived. When we did, the meeting place was again set as kfc and we met other volunteers before finding taxis to take us to the university. Rob failed in his partner duty and got into a different taxi to me - this was absolutely fine until my taxi dropped me, matt, pete and henry off at a different entrance to the uni. None of us knew where we were meant to go, we'd been told to go to the uni so naturally we expected a welcoming party complete with fireworks and brass bands. Instead we trekked around the campus and my phone calls to rob requesting help from my partner bore no fruit. You should all know he's the most useless person with direction ever and couldn't help me because he was on the loo. We did make it to the hotel we were supposed to be at eventually because the four of us walked into a random office building and walked into a random second floor office saying 'lost' in Chinese. For some reason the man didn't seem to abashed by 4 lads walked into his office and mispronouncing 'lost' repeatedly. He was actually was able to help us and we found the hotel! Kyle (one of the volunteers in Lanzhou) appeared to show us around because obviously he knew the area while the other Lanzhou boy decided to stay in bed until mid-afternoon. He took us to vanguard shopping centre where we marvelled at such rarities as cheese and vodka then I went off to browse book shops, guitar shops and kfc haha. That evening we went to a restaurant for a meal (it was only halfway through when we realised we'd left pete behind who then turned up in his hotel room flip flops because his partner had the room key with him!) and then found a proper bar across from our hotel. Needless to say, we had a fun night and in the morning I was somehow one of the first up and at breakfast. Bright eyed and bushy tailed I was also one of the only ones that could stomach the strange array of foods before us but soon after we boarded buses for the 'High School attached to the North West Normal University' (the Chinese love catchy names). No sooner had me and Naomi settled down for a long journey, complete with dual ipod headphones, we had arrived and were whisked straight to an important looking conference room. A lot of important looking people filed in and regaled us with some pretty long speeches which were translated to us. Halfway through this a lot of Chinese kids filed in to the tables behind us and later these were revealed to be our host students for the week. We were also presented with Chinese tea sets which, although a lovely present, didn't seem to be too practical consider the 40 hours we had to travel home on various modes of transport followed up by the fact my actual home is 8000 miles away… I'm sure they could have thought of something sturdier. However, somehow my box of delicate china has survived being carted across china and I intend to try and post it to England soon.
Our Chinese students were waiting and as soon as my kid told me his English name was 'Alien' I knew we'd get on just fine. In fact he corrected me that it's Alion but since he couldn't explain what that means I stuck to Alien. It turns out I was right and he was pretty cool. He's 16 with extremely good English and similar ideas on life as me. He lived on the 17th floor of a really nice apartment close to the Yellow River - I could see it out of my bedroom window!
Anyway, more on Alion and our stay in Lanzhou next time…