Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Back to Xi'an!

Waiting Room 8 at Beijing West Railway Station.  A sea of humanity waiting to board the train to Xi'an!

Today, I made my third trip back to Xi'an and like my first trip here, I arrived by train though this time it was by high speed train from Beijing.

We started our morning with a really simple breakfast at a restaurant in our hutong.  Today was a first for me.  I had millet porridge.  Basically a few grains of the seed in a cup of water.  This is really poor, poor, poor man's food. Like Cantonese rice porridge, the millet just serves as a base for toppings.  Mine was just a bit of preserved vegetable.


And they had yao ja gway which I had to have some of.  The others also added a tray of dumplings and a few tea eggs to our table.  Tea eggs are very common breakfast food in northern parts of China.  I suspect I'll be eating a lot of these in the days to come.  They are nothing more than hardboiled eggs that have had their shells slightly cracked and they are soaked in an herbal tea.  Done well, they take on the subtle taste of the tea.  Otherwise, they just taste like the hardboiled egg that they are.


After breakfast, we headed back to the apartment aka Edwin's place which we have decided is so stylishly appointed that Yim, SK and I would all like to hire Edwin to redo our own homes.

I had bought us seats on the 2:00pm highspeed train to Xi'an.  Best site for booking Chinese hotels and buying plane and rail tickets is ctrip.com - China's version of Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak.  I got us 2nd class tickets for the 4:20 minute ride. The only thing is that the tickets were not e-tickets which meant that we had to pick them up at the station.  One thing I know now, after having taken several train journeys in China, is that you never know what to expect in terms of the train station.  They all seem to operate slightly differently so I wanted to make sure we left well ahead of time to get the tickets.  Like 3 hours ahead of time.  So we left the apartment at 11:00a.


There are several train stations in Beijing and for the most part, they service destinations by direction.  Meaning if you are traveling west, like we were, your train would likely depart from Beijing West (aka Beijing Shi) station.  This might not be the case in other cities so it's obviously best to check exactly which station you are departing from.

From our apartment, we dragged ourselves and our luggage out to the main road.  There was a part of me that said we should just take the metro, that that would not only be the easiest method of getting us to the station but the fastest and traffic in Beijing is notoriously horrible.  But for some reason, I suggested we go by taxi instead and no one objected.  So we stood and we waited and one occupied taxi after another passed us by.  After several attempts to flag a taxi down, we decided to give it shot from the other side of the road....I don't really know why we thought that and still no one suggested the metro considering the station was just a block away.  So, we took the flyover.....me dragging my suitcase and wheeled backpack up and down the steps.  No fun.  I am already regretting bringing that wheeled backpack with me.  It has been more trouble than it really has been worth.  And....where is Bro to help me with my luggage?  Just asking!

In any case, we got to the other side of a road and we noticed a gas station where taxi drivers were pulling in to refill their tanks.  We saw one driver who looked to be cleaning his car and he rudely waved us off.  Perhaps he thought we were going to the airport and he couldn't be bothered with having to drive the long distance in this bad traffic?  In any case, we patiently waited and eventually a taxi pulled in and I sent Bro and Yim off together as it was not possible to put all four of us and our luggage into a single vehicle.  Since Bro can send me text messages, we can at least keep in contact with each other.

It took a few more minutes of waiting before SK and I managed to flag down a taxi.  With a nice taxi driver to boot....at least he did not scowl at us like the other guy had.  Sheesh....no need to be so rude.  Really.

Looking on the map, the station didn't seem to be located that far away from Andingmen Station but according to Google Maps, it would be at least a 30 minute ride.  Thank God, we left the apartment early.

Our driver drove down a ramp which led to a lower level entrance of the station.  Of course, since Bro and Yim got at least a 10 minute head start, I expected to see them waiting for us but they were nowhere in sight.  SK and I made our way into the station and then up the escalator.  We walked towards a large hall that was just a sea of people and luggage.  Yim was wearing her red winter jacket so even in the mob, I would've been able to spot her but no sign of the two of them.

SK and I found ourselves standing in front of the Information Desk with the signs to the metro behind that.  A set of escalators led up to another level.  I texted Bro to tell him we were at the station, standing by the Information Desk, near the entrance to the metro.   It took a while for him to reply back but when he did, he indicated that they were at the station as well but were not allowed to enter because they did not have tickets.  Huh??  I replied back that we got in without tickets and that we had arrived via an entrance below ground level.  Perhaps they could find that entrance.  No word back.  We went back and forth several times via text.  He even sent me a photo of the entrance they were at.  Looked nothing like what we entered in through.  Since SK and I were at a fixed landmark, we just stood where we were and hoped that Bro and Yim would eventually find us.  After about 20 minutes, I got a text message to turn around and look up.  When I did, I saw a person in a red jacket waving back at me.  They had found us!

We were all very relieved to see each other and despite the delay, we still have more than enough time to catch the train.  But as I walked towards the escalator, I had to say to myself that I need to follow my instincts.  Should've just taken the metro.  Might have not been so easy for me with my clunky luggage situation caused by the wheeled back pack and the ride might not have been any shorter in terms of time but at least we would all have been together.

Okay, with all that behind us, the next step was to get our tickets.  This task proved to be a lot easier than I had expected.  The signage inside the train stations are all in English and Chinese so we just followed the signs to the ticket counter. I knew we had to show our passports so I had the other 3 give me theirs and walked up to the counter with my voucher and handed it, along with all our passports, to the woman behind the counter.  One by one, she logged in our information and in a matter of a few minutes, I got our tickets.  We never exchanged a single word.  Yay!!  For all my fears and concerns about getting our tickets, this turned out to be a very simple and straightforward task.

Now.....I could finally breathe a big sigh of relief.  The only thing left to do was to find our departure gate and that turned out to be the challenge because all the departure boards only displayed information in Chinese.  Of course, we did have the train number to go by so that's what we looked for.  Our train would be leaving from Waiting Room 8.  In China, I think the older stations have separate waiting rooms while the newer ones, like Hongqiao station in Shanghai only have departure gates off the main hall.  In any case, we had more than an hour before departure time so we decided to grab lunch here and also do a bit of shopping.  First, it was lunch in the food court.  I was still full from my breakfast so I held the table while the others ordered their meals.

Next, it was on to get some roast ducks.  For days now, I have been talking about bringing a couple of roast ducks with us in case we need to supplement our meals in Xinjiang.  I'll be honest, I am expecting food in Xinjiang to be very similar to what I had when I was traveling through Central Asia and the food was not all that good.  You can packaged roast ducks in many places in Beijing.  Yesterday, Yim and I checked out a couple of places selling them and we found out that they have a month shelf life and don't require any refrigeration so they are perfect to take along.  We probably should've gotten the ducks somewhere in town but Yim is familiar with this station as she just so happened to take the exact same train to Xi'an in October 2016. It was on that trip that we had our reunion in Xi'an!

We found a couple of stores selling the ducks and eventually on two of them which went into Yim's suitcase.  So kind of her to pack them 😁

We walked into a sea of humanity in Waiting Room 8 at Beijing West Railway station.  It was shoulder to shoulder people but in that sea were actually lines of people.  Surely, it cannot be that people in China are actually queuing up??  Sorry for the sarcasm.

As expected,  the lines started to move as we all began the boarding process.  By now, Bro and SK were veterans of the high speed trains in China.  They got the carriage number and seat number thing down!  Our train left on time.  We all just kicked back and did our own thing for the 4 hour and 20 minute ride to Xi'an.

Though the train is capable of moving along at a speed of 350km per hour, our train did not hover much above 305.  That's still pretty fast!


Incredibly, I had 4G LTE cell service when we were at the station in Beijing and I maintained throughout the ride to Xi'an.  I was able to easily post the above photo and the video below to Facebook and even do a bit of texting!   All this without needing Wifi.  You would never be able to do this on ANY train in the US.  China is so much more advanced when it comes to their trains and public transportation in general.

The ride on a high speed train is exceptionally smooth though the scenery is not much to be admired.


It was an easy arrival in to Xi'an.  This is our last high speed train ride.  I will miss this experience.  It's such comfortable and convenient way to travel in China!


As we headed for the queue for a taxi, we were intercepted by a man who offered to take all four of us to our hotel for 100 yuan.  I had done the research on getting to our hotel from the train station and again, it would've been easy for us to just take the train but again, I decided on a taxi and no one objected....I think because they just didn't know better.  In any case, on the map, the station did not look like it was located all that far from the hotel so I turned the man down despite his sales pitch that we would have to pay more for taxi.  Of course, I wasn't thinking about the fact that it would likely be that we would have to take two taxis which is what we ended up doing.  Again, we split up with Yim and Bro taking the first taxi and SK and I following them.  Fortunately, I had printed out the hotel voucher in Chinese so we could easily show the information to the drivers.

I had booked us into the Eastern House Boutique Hotel which is located inside the old city walls and very close to restaurants and shops.  Seemed like a very well located hotel and a fairly new one too I just hoped the place would be nice.

Bro and Yim arrived just a few minutes ahead of us but for some reason, they got charged about 10 yuan less than SK and I were.  Hmmm.....it has not been a lucky day for us as far as taxis have gone.  Oh well.

One foot inside the lobby and I knew our home for the next few days would be a very nice one.  Eastern House is definitely very upscale and fashionable....lobby wise and room wise.

We all settled into our rooms before heading out for dinner.  It was nice to see a bit of Xi'an before calling it a day.   On previous trips to Xi'an, I had not really walked out on the streets after dark so this was my first time to see the place at night.  It's nothing short of being a very modern, upscale city.  Lots of shops and restaurants and night lights and zillions of people out and about.  I've always said that Xi'an is one of my favorite cities in China and seeing it tonight only reaffirmed that sentiment.  I think if I were to live in China, I would live in Xi'an.  The weather tonight was also perfect for a walk.  As I told Bro, this is my third visit back to Xi'an and the weather has always been nice....even when I was here in July 2009.  It's always cool with and pretty much zero humidity.  Of course, I think the smog is an issue though I have already noticed that I have not seen a single tuk-tuk on the roads.  When Yim and I were here in 2016, they were zipping around the streets.  Tonight, not a single one in sight!

We just walked near our hotel, with our eyes open for a place to grab a quick bite.  We eventually settled on, of all places, what looked like a fast food Chinese place.  McDonald's but for Xi'an classics.  Like McDonald's there's a menu board behind the register.  I just took photos of what Bro and I wanted and pointed to them to place our orders.  Hey, it looks stupid to do but it works!

This Chinese modern, fast food restaurant was clean and modern.

Of course, I had to have my sandwich aka roujiamo which I think was filled with pork and not lamb which would be more typically if I was buying this sandwich in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an.   For 9 yuan, less than $1.50, it hit the spot! The other three had different types of noodle soups.  I'm quite impressed with Bro these days - he can take spicy food better than I had expected.  I was a bit worried that he would not be able to handle the spicy food in Xi'an or Xinjiang but from what I've seen so far, he'll do just fine!


I didn't bring my big camera with me tonight so I didn't take too many photos which was a bit of a shame because the city is all lit up.  Even the street lights are pretty to look at because they have red lanterns hanging off of them.  I will have to capture the night sights tomorrow night.  Of all things though, I had to take a photo of this refrigerated case of drinks.  Why?  Because it's situated right on the sidewalk, outside the store.  The doors to the case are not locked and no one steals the drinks.  Do this in downtown Washington DC and the entire case would be empty before the night was over!  Guaranteed!


China has really upped its drinks game too.  From 2009 when I could only get Coca Cola and the occasional odd Chinese herbal drink to now.....the variety of what comes in a bottle is mind boggling!


As luck we have it, we happened upon a place serving Korean desserts.  Hello bingsu!  We decided to share one.  Matcha with red bean and mochi.  A classic!  I didn't want to tell the other three but since I only had that wee little sandwich, I could've devoured this entire dessert all by myself.  I would've have easily packed on a few thousand calories but I could've done it!  So good.


After dinner, we just headed back to our rooms and called it a night. Tomorrow we'll explore the city and I'll be the tour guide.  I've crammed in a full day of sightseeing but I doubt we'll get through it all so we'll just cover what we can.  After all, we are on vacation and since this is really a family trip, it's more important that we spend quality time together than focusing just on sightseeing.

I am thrilled to be back in Xi'an and even more thrilled that I get to share in the experience with Bro, Yim, and SK!

Goodnight from Xi'an!