I’m writing in Hong Kong today in a small gap between papers and exams about the trip from over 4 months ago. Time definitely flies and I’m picking up writing again because I’ve looked at the website today and just realized how interested I am at the stuff that I’ve already forgotten. So before I forget more, I will record it.
I pick up the story from the night in Namco. The first night went by ok. No one got murdered. I made a few photographer friends while there and decided to get up early in the morning to photograph the sunrise and little did I know that this is the start of a long curse I will suffer (hint, it has something to do with photographing the sunrise). I got up, my bedsheet was wet because the container box – house we lived in was leaking. So to top the beautiful morning off… there was no sunrise (visible). My 广东 (Guangdong) friend was feeling like shit. He wasn’t that much better off the day before and this high altitude reactions definitely kicks in with age. And he somehow convinced me that there’s nothing left to see here and that I should leave with him… The shitty thing about travelling in group. Well, I did. A richer photographer was doing his express one-day-a-city travel of the west in his SUV and was nice enough to bring us to 当雄 (Dangxiong) for the train. My Guangdong friend didn’t like him and calls him 大款 (big shot) for traveling with too much style. Too bad I didn’t get to horse ride with one of horses whose owner literally followed us the day before for an hour relentlessly trying to get us to ride her horse without saying anything convincing but by just repeating the same thing over and over for an hour. p.s. her skin was pretty badly burnt just from the UV for living at such a high altitude.
At 唐古拉 (Tang Gu La) mountain at 5200m above sea, the train unexpectedly stopped and it wasn’t until 2 hours later did the train continue moving. Passengers were completely uninformed during the period and it was only until the day after that I found out through newspapers on my mobile phone that we suffered 3 level 5 earthquakes and were very near the epicenter.
Then my subsequent trip to 兰州 (Lanzhou) was completely unplanned and unexpected. I knew nothing of the city previously and only got off there because the train ride would be too long otherwise. And since 兰州 was the first “big” city have I have yet stayed at by myself, I stayed for way longer than I should have since the following cities are all better and because by objective standards, 兰州 is a pretty poor and shitty city for China.
But my first impression was definitely nice. It has some really nice pedestrian streets and public squares. Even the superstores are big like Walmart but have 4 floors. It’s also among the areas in China that has the highest concentration of Muslims. And they definitely have some very impressive mosques. And it also happens to be the only place I’ve ever been kicked out of a religious building for visiting respectfully. In an interesting conversation I had with a hawker in the Islamic section of the city, I asked him why is he not attending one of the 5 daily prayers taking place right now, as his faith requires. He answers, if he does, no one will be watching his shop and making money. The stereotype seem to apply in most of China where the Hui minority (who are Muslims) are more adept at making money. Even when I was in Tibet, I was hearing speculations of an underlying Tibetan protocol during the March unrests where forgive my bluntness they wanted to oust the Han and kill the Hui since they are taking their business away. We first stayed in a really shitty place since my 广东 friend, who’s still with me, have a different mentality than northerners do when it comes to traveling. While we think during travels and while away from home, one should care less about money and more about taking care of themselves, who are in more vulnerable states, by eating well and resting in nice places where for him, it’s about spending as little as possible. In the end, we paid roughly 30RMB a day each.
Here in 兰州 I was first exposed to the Chinese “Internet Bars” (one of the reason I ended up staying in 兰州 for longer than I planned) with tons of impressively priced deals for playing computers overnight and excellent service to keep you comfortable and fed, it became only a rarity for customers to leave in the middle of the night. For roughly 25 cents an hour, the internet bars are always full with kids served with powerfully geared computers, extremely fast internet and a vast amount of software, games and movies (all illegal of course).