Friday, October 14, 2005

Prior to leaving

Well, I actually made it back from my backpacking trip alive. I suppose I have a lot to tell everyone so I will probably separate the whole trip into a few posts.Ngee Siew and I weren't sure whether we were going on our trip until last Friday, yet we were supposed to leave on Saturday! The problem in China is that you can only book a train from one line to another. What I mean is, if you want to travel from Yantai to Jinan, and from Jinan to Chongqing, you can only buy the first ticket in Yantai. The second must be bought in Jinan when you get there and you have no guarantee that there will be any tickets left (especially during National Holiday... 1.3 billion Chinese and they are ALL traveling). The other alternative, which is what we ended up doing, is to buy your tickets through an agent who arranges it all through the mail. We had tickets to Jinan, but we didn't know until Friday whether we had them for Chongqing or not. Obviously, we did end up getting them.

Chinese trains have four ticket classes: standing-room, hard-seat, hard-sleeper, and soft-sleeper. Despite everyone's warning, we opted for the hard-sleeper option. A hard-sleeper has six beds to a compartment (bunks of three) and no door, while a soft-sleeper has four and a door (supposedly the beds are a little more comfortable also). I am pleased to report that contrary to everyone's warnings, the hard-sleeper was very comfortable and I cannot see the point in spending the extra money for a soft-sleeper.

Ok, so... back to the beginning of the trip. Friday after work, Ngee Siew and I stopped by the ticket agent and picked up the tickets. I went and had dinner (probably at the Korean since that seems to be where I always eat) and then headed down to Havana, the favorite local pub for westerners. Since everyone was leaving for a week, Havana was packed with people wanting to get once last night of partying in with their friends before dispersing on whatever adventure they had chose for the week. Needless to say, it was a great night out and I think everyone felt like hell the next morning.

Saturday I spent lying around the house playing my new addiction, Civilizations III (which I purchased online from a Scandanavian video game company, Dad). In the game, you start an ancient civilization off in the year 4000 BC and bring them right through to the 23rd century, managing their economics, foreign policy, invention, war, trade... it really is a great game. I would suggest anyone who likes that type of game to buy it, but I'd wait for Civ 4 to come out in a few months.

Saturday evening I was meeting with a group of people to try out a new restaurant in town. You know, sometimes I have to smack myself... there I was on a Saturday night, eating dinner at a Brazilian BBQ in China, with an American, a Welshman, an Aussie, a Kiwi, a Malaysian, a Frenchman, two Brits, and quite a few Chinese. The dinner was quite good, although the service was poor. You pay 35 RMB (about $4.50) for all you can eat BBQ. They bring large hunks of meat on a skewar to the table and carve it right onto your plate. The lamb was excellent, and so were the chicken wings. The beef was mediocre although I discovered much to my surprise that I really like cow tounge. Speaking of trying new foods, I have heard there is a restaurant in town that sells BBQ
camel hump... I have made it a point to track it down to try.

After dinner, Ngee Siew and I had to high-tail it to the train station. Our train was leaving at 10:55pm and would arrive in Jinan the next morning around 6:30am. On the way to the station we stopped by a store and bought a few bottles of red wine, idea being that if the train was miserable we could at least have some fun on it. Fortunatly the train was quite nice and we did not need to drink the wine (we did drink it, I just meant that we didn't HAVE to drink it). Haha.

I had a bunk next to a younger Chinese couple who spoke some English. They were taking their 13-month old son to Jinan to have a large birthmark removed from the child's face with laser surgery. The husband spoke more English than the wife and I stayed up for quite a while chatting with him until some of the other passenger's complained that we were keeping them awake... oops. After securing my bag and finishing my wine, I feel asleep to the clickety-clack of the Chinese railroad.