Friday, April 30, 2010

Chengdu – Arrival, Rest Day

We were woken up at 5:30 AM for our 6:30 AM disembarkation at the end of the line for our boat, Chongqing. We had discussed doing a little sightseeing in Chongqing before heading off to Chengdu, but it was raining pretty hard when we got off the boat, so we decided we might as well get started on our 4-hour train ride. Walked up to the bus station and asked around for the train station. Nobody understood, but when we pulled out the guidebook and pointed to the Chinese characters for it, a guy wrote some characters on Josh's hand, and the number of the bus for us to get on. It matched the bus number Lonely Planet suggested. He then pointed out where we could catch a taxi, but we declined. One of his buddies who didn't seem to have anything better to do, walked us over to the bus stop (across the street), and we also verified with someone else waiting there that we were in the right place. The friend waited until we got on the right bus before returning to whatever he was doing, though we didn't realize this until we saw him crossing back after we were on our bus. How sweet. We've been really impressed at how helpful everyone is here, and we have yet to have someone ask for money for helping us find our way around (asking for a tip for directions wasn't ubiquitous by any means in India, but if someone went the extra mile for you like this, you could pretty much count on them expecting to get paid, even if you didn't need any help finding where you were going).

As we were getting on the bus, we tried to show the characters for the train station to the bus driver to verify we were going to the right place, but he didn't seem to understand. After a while, we asked another passenger about the train station in the same way. He tried to tell us something we totally didn't understand. At first we thought we were supposed to get off, but he gestured us back into our seats, then spoke to the bus driver, I guess telling him where we were trying to go. Another passenger then showed us the word “terminus” on his cell phone, presumably a machine translation of the word for the end of the bus line. Sure enough, a little later we got to the train station (which had a big sign in English), and everyone on the bus got off.

On the way up to the station we passed a really great recycling bin. It had two different receptacles: one for “Recycled” items and the other for “Organism.” Awesome. We should have recycling bins in public places in the US for “Organism,” and not just to be funny.

We purchased “standing” tickets for the 8 AM 2-hour bullet train to Chengdu (what a nice surprise: Lonely Planet only knew about the 4-hour train or 6-hour bus), but were seated by a conductor shortly after the train left the station. Several other standing passengers, but not all, were given seats.

We are on the train as I write this. This is a really nice train, probably the nicest train either of us has been on in our entire lives. The scenery is lovely too; mostly rice paddies and ducks (because if you are growing rice, ducks rather than chickens, are the fowl to raise). There are also terraced hills of wheat. We are speeding by it though, and we are constantly going through tunnels that make our ears pop!

From Chengdu

From Chengdu

From Chengdu

From Chengdu


While we got into Chengdu early in the day and checked into our hostel (The Loft) before lunch, we ended up taking a rest day: napping in the afternoon and watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and Up in the evening in the hostel's very nice DVD room.

We didn't know when we booked it via email from our boat (the internet access on the Kindle is so useful), but The Loft is a Hostelling International Hostel. Josh's membership had lapsed, so we bought him a new membership for 50 Yuan ($8, much cheaper, I think, than a membership purchased State-side), while Mary has lifetime membership already (thanks Mom!). This is our first Hostelling International hostel of the trip. Actually, it's also our second hostel of the trip, as hostels are almost non-existent everywhere else we've been. However, they are really big in China. According to Lonely Planet, if you want budget accommodations, your best bet is hostels, which typically are geared toward international travelers and generally English is spoken, and the Hostelling International hostels are the best of those. At the next step up to midrange accommodations are Chinese guesthouses, which are typically geared toward Chinese travelers, and may lack English signs or English speaking staff. Top end are, of course, international many-starred hotels.

Anyway, our hostel experiences on this trip have been very good so far. Prior to this trip, the only hostel Josh and I have stayed in together was one in the Cotswolds in England, which we rejected at first because all their double and twin rooms were taken, then went back when we found that all the affordable double and twin rooms in the whole town were taken. That night we stayed in separate men's and women's dormitories, which is kind of annoying especially since we don't tend to pack for staying in separate rooms. Here it seems that while there are sometimes segregated dorms (especially women-only dorms), there are normally also mixed-gender dorms, which is what we have in Chengdu (doubles and twins were full), which makes the whole dormitory accommodation experience much nicer traveling as a mixed-gender couple.

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