After a wild ride from the airport with a cowboy cabdriver at 120 kph or 74 mph-- flying through tolls on a toll pass and weaving past laden trucks and pokey cars-- we stop unexpectedly in the middle of the expressway for a red light manned by police. Cost 159Y or $25.99. In the morning, it's still dark at 7AM. Sunrise in Xi'an isn't until 7:32. Today will be clear high 14 C and low -1C (57F 30F). Breakfast in the hotel dining room is 18Y $2.94. It's buffet style with lots of the usual choices plus coffee. Thumbing through Google news while chewing on fried bread. Horrible events everywhere: train wreck in New York and an elderly American under house arrest in Pyongyang.
Going out in the afternoon, I find a darling boutique Amass, picking up some cute, warm clothes for winter: a fuzzy fur jacket, two sweaters, skirt, scarf and longies the girls tell me will keep me warm in Pyongyang. Coming around a long block, I find a large, new shopping mall in the final stages of completion. Some vendors have already moved in, including Pizza Hut where I get something to eat at tea time: mushroom crab soup and Japanese salad, raw veggies being something my stomach has been craving.
More news for international travelers
I booked my flight from Xi'an XIY to Beijing PEK myself using the Ctrip online travel agency. It's only for travel within China. I can use my US VISA card with no problem mei wenti to get an e-ticket. They have an English language chat available to discuss details like seat assignment. The confirmation is sent to your email. Slick. Of course, you need a Chinese phone to complete the order process.
The next day, I add another 100Y to my shouji at the China Mobil office. Next to it is a Samsung store where I spend an hour learning how to use my phone, get my data plan GPS working so I can walk around and get connectivity. I download a Chinese/English dictionary that lets me type into a window in English and get it translated below in Chinese characters. Also get Skype app loaded on the mobile.
The young servers, fuwuyuan, at Pizza Hut recognize me from yesterday and greet me like a friend. They give me the same booth I had yesterday, looking down at the busy street below behind woven shades against the late sun. My individual, xiao, pizza 39Y $6.37 today has a lemony sauce with smoked salmon, faux crab, squid, tiny mushrooms, green pepper and light cheese.
The internet is burning up with stories about DPRK-- the American man and Russian sanctions. My tour guide is quoted in the Wall Street Journal. There's a live interview with Gordon Chang on Fox News, but I can't get it. The last time in China, I got used to people calling me a movie star. Today is the first time a woman asked for my autograph in the xisho jian, lavatory!
After a couple days relaxing and enjoying myself, it's time to make progress on my blog posts. I rise early, cleaning up my inbox before breakfast. While engrossed in describing the Sino Vietnam war, struggling with Wikipedia over what looks like a
pretty poor article, everything freezes. It looks like a serious wifi blackout. I try shutting down, hoping the open files got saved in a buffer, and decide to venture outside. The front desk had told me where to find an anmo clinic nearby. Stepping out of the room, it's pitch black in the hall. Green safety lights wink occasionally at floor level. Staff are walking with flashlight. Pretty serious, I think. Best to leave for a few hours.
At the anmo clinic I get a two-hour, head to foot, whole body and everything in between plus foot exfoliation for only 98Y! $16.02. Next door, I stop at a sketchy coffee house. It's upstairs, a little dim, but the booth overlooking the street is luxurious and well appointed with ceramic pieces in a see-through etagere between the next booth where a darling child is playing by himself,
peeking at me and jumping on the couch. A group of men are playing mah jong in a room out of my sight. I can hear the pieces clicking, the men talking and smell the cigarette smoke. I'm the only customer at this early hour of 1PM. The tiny cup of Blue Mountain coffee is delicious with cream and sugar, 40Y $6.54. Although Blue Mountain coffee is Jamaican, I'll bet these beans are grown in Hainan.
Lunch is almost next door to the hotel, tony and upscale, they are catering to wealthy patrons living in the new apartments nearby. The interior design and furnishings are soothing, taupe, textured walls, black and white art photos of waterlilies. Small dining enclosures with few tables. Light green floor to ceiling drapes pulled back with a flounce, potted plants on the sill overlooking the street. Modern lights hang down like wasted lily blossoms with a golden glow, 50s retro, contemporary style.
At tea time, there are few customers, just one other woman and a man sitting by themselves like I am. Curious looks, we smile and murmur ni hau to each other across the space separating us. The man gets a phone call and is joined by an attractive woman.
Everyone seems to approve of my menu, nodding and smiling as the fuwuyuan takes my order for dofu with black cloud ear mushroom, green pepper, slivered giner seasoned wei la, slightly spicy. Mi fan, rice. Corn egg soup, absolutely delicious. My helpful phrase Wo bu chi rou, I don't eat meat, works to get the vegetarian choices. 33Y $5.39. The couple is noodling in the corner. I'm sitting in my booth listening to mp3 player and playing sudoku.
When I return to the hotel, through revolving doors into the Van Gogh themed lobby, I'm relieved the power is back on and there aren't police waiting for me :)
My second anmo appointment is two hours long, this time a little more elaborate, for 188Y $30.70. Andy, the anmoshi, knows my body's needs. He rubs a series of tinctures and creams on my feet. Drops of something go onto pads pressed onto my knees and lower back. We watch an old Russian Get Smart (anyone out there old enough to remember that one?), a Jackie Chan re-run and an antique kung fu movie in rotation.
When I return to the hotel, I don't want to interrupt the fuwuyuan cleaning my room, so I head out again, walking in a different direction, and discover my Bank of Construction, passing a welter of small businesses: quick photo, dentist, print shop, bakery, fruit stall, police, bank, hair salon and tailor. Across the street
the primary school is letting out soon. People are waiting to pick up their children and walk them home.
I'm greeted at the door of the tony restaurant.
Two servers wait as sentinels on either side.
Only one man is there before me, smoking, for my early supper. Tonight I have sweet and sour, whole fish, braised bok choy and mifan 68Y $11.11. Now there are three at the door waiting. Another man comes in. They bring me small dishes of condiments: beans and marinated peppers. Two more men enter. They set a brazier on the table and light it, setting a miniature wok of veggies on it to stay warm. Teak chopsticks come out of a sterilizer cabinet. By 6PM more people dribble in.
The man is on his second cigarette, ignoring the dish of veggies, cai, in front of him, peering out the dark window, waiting for someone, paging through his messages on his shouji. Vaguely familiar piano music accompanies our solitary musings.
Please notice in my images of street vendors, these are prospering entrepreneurs, not beggars. They are wearing new, warm clothes and have smiles on their faces. The mood is mellow on the street, no arguing for position or guarding turf. They fit into the fabric of the
neighborhood. On Saturday it's a big market day with double or triple the activity. The quality of the fruit, flowers, dishes, clothing is excellent as they ply their wares to the middle class residents here.
I'm sad to leave the city, now I've made friends up and down the street who greet me with a familiar smile. But it's time for me to catch another taxi Wo yao qu jichang; wo yao qu Beijing. After waiting five minutes, I get a cab and another hour I'm at the terminal and checking in. My e ticket in my shouji is shown to the check in counter, they take my bags with no additional fees, and I'm on my way to the capital city.
Hou tou jian