Time is dwindling down so fast - only 6 more days until we get to Rostock, where Benny and Tannis and Hajji will be waiting! This trip has been in the works since before we moved to Korea last May, so the fact that there is only a week left until we get her is super unreal. But first, the rest of China.
From the sacred mountain of Huangshan, we took an overnight bus to Wuhan - that got us in, not in the morning, but at 2am! - and spent the day in that wretched, defeated city of 10 million, before catching a flight to Xi'an.
Xi'an was the tops, really. The wall around the old city is, I guess like a lot of city walls, only Chinese, and for some reason this makes it really nice. We spent two days there, and did the typical stuff - well, the typical one thing there is to do in Xi'an: see the Terracotta Warriors. We took a city bus , helped along the way by a curious little angel of a man who was so happy to point us in the direction of the bus, (we saw him on the street the next day too and he wanted to help us again, told us where the bank was, and completely didn't recognize us from the day before), and got to the site, buzzing with tourists. We were told that the farmer who discovered the Warriors back in 1974 still works at the site, posing for pictures and signing autographs for people like Bill Clinton - I think he probably hates everything made out of terracotta.
...but not us - we love terracotta.
The area itself is divided into three really big and impressive pits, all with remnants of this massive clay army in them. Some parts even look like they've been in battle, having been smashed and toppled by the busty beams that were meant to protect them, but collapsed since they were interred over 2,200 years ago. The whole place is pretty amazing though, even with the masses of people with their digital cameras constantly snapping.
From Xi'an, we took a bus to a tiny little city called Pingyao - Ren's favourite. Pingyao is the oldest, most well-maintained walled city in all of China, with the walls dating back to 1370. It was the financial centre of China in the Qing Dynasty, but ironically has no banks there today. We had two nights there in an amazing hostel with smelly toilets, and spent our days wandering through the old, old streets, lined with houses and storefronts that all retain their centuries-old appearance. The whole town feels like it must have done a few hundred years ago, (minus the tuktuks and souvenirs), and is probably the only urban or semi-urban place in the whole country that reminds visitors of what they thought they were going to see when they came to China.
A bicycle in the streets of Pingyao.
After a slow chugger train, and then a high-speed whizzer, we arrived in Beijing on the 3rd. Again, we did the touristy things - rode bikes, (like you see Chinese people doing on TV), saw the Forbidden City and climbed the Great Wall.
Beijing was really great though, and it was most pleasant doing it with Ren's folks, Karyn and Victor. But our time there was so short, only two nights and we had to hop another train, this one heading North to Ulaan Baatar.
Ren on the platform in Beijing.
The 30 hours on the train into Mongolia were a cinch, and before we knew it we were stepping off into the dusty, sunny streets of the capital. Whisked away to a guesthouse whose fame claim is that it has, on its roof, a few gers to stay in. A ger is the traditional Mongolian dwelling, like an elaborate circular teepee. I had fanciful dreams in the ger, two nights in a row...now I think that nomads are sexy pervs.
The city itself is a dustbowl with little going on...except we did see a daytime dustup in the streets from our elevated seat at a restaurant where we felt like safe little white people. We had been noticing a bunch of guys walking around the town with bandaged hands, and we were wondering what it was all about, when across the street a group of 25 Mongolians were getting their blood up. There were slaps, and kicks, and punches, and running kicks and running punches, and it lasted a real solid 15 minutes before the coppers showed and hauled away the main monster...in 10 minutes, he was back though and swinging again! It was a famous ending to our time in UB, and let us finally figure out what all those bandages were for.
The best part of Mongolia though, was the day we spent out in the countryside. We hired a guy to drive us out to a national park, and we had lunch at his friend's house, (goat yogourt and yak butter), and saw breathtaking landscapes and really great wildlife, like yaks and camels and hawks galore.
It was also in UB that Lauren and I picked up our Trans-Mongolian train tickets...but again, I'm late for a plane, and have to run away right now, so the next time I write, it'll be all about that magic train ride West.