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Friday, October 5, 2012

Out for Air

It's been a while since I last posted some info on what I've been up to. Apologies to those that were waiting. The first half of the last couple weeks was a little too routine to post anything significant, and the last half was too hectic and busy to find time to post anything. The reason for that is, we all had a week off of school for the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival and the Chinese National Holiday. Since this is the only holiday we get during the semester, myself and a few friends made it our mission to travel somewhere far away from our increasingly comfortable life in Beijing. We ended up going to ZhangJiaJie, and stopping by several places along the way including ChangSha, Mao Zhedong's hometown, and Phoenix Old Town. We traveled with a tour group, for several reasons. Though I'm always looking to get away from big tourist crowds, this holiday is a nationwide event that puts billions of people on the move all at once. It's tradition that during the national holiday everybody returns to their hometowns to see their family. The sheer volume of people that travel during this week makes train and plane tickets very hard to come by, and finding hotel accommodations are equally as challenging. With these things in mind we set out with a tour group.

It turned out to be a great time, and we were able to befriend several of the chinese families that were in our group. Usually they were the ones that could speak some english, as they would often help us translate information throughout the day to get around. Among the ones I became friendliest with was a man whose english name was Rambo, and his wife and son. There is also an english speaking Chinese student named Angel whose father is a goofy demeanor government officer. Many Chinese use the holiday period to do some touring of their own. Seeing foreigners on vacation, at least in our experience, was a rarity.

I'm sitting in my hotel room now and my return train trip is in several hours. It will be over 20 hours of travel time straight to Beijing. Here something of a walk through of the trip, and looking back now I'm regretful of missing some pictures of a few things, but I'll do my best to fill you in with words.

The hard sleeper train we took to ChangSha

Our den. My bed was the highest bunk on the right.

The train ride was 15 hours long. We passed the time playing cards, eating snacks almost constantly, a little bit of homework, reading... We made friends with the group of Chinese people in the den next to us. We shared food at dinner time and eventually they were feeding me as much of their rice liquor as I dared to take.

Upon arrival and meeting up with the group, the first stop was Mao Zhedong's hometown and the school he attended. There were more effigies of the famous leader than I could count, he was literally everywhere.

A bust of the young Mao Zhedong, over 40 meters high and 80 meters wide

After getting a fair share of nationalism, we heading out for what would become my favorite leg of the trip, The Phoenix Old Town. On the way there the massive amounts of traffic going in and out of the city caused a huge traffic jam. It was bad enough that the tour guide decided it would be more effective for everyone to just grab their luggage and walk the remaining several miles to the hotel. It was raining. But my saying that visiting this place was my favorite part of the trip wasn’t sarcasm. The city was everything I would hope from a hub of preserved Chinese culture and architecture. It had a very unique character, the native people often spoke their own dialect of Chinese making them completely unintelligible unless they wanted to be understood, and the architecture and design of the town was unreal. Unfortunately we were only there for a very short time, but if I ever get the chance I’ll be back.

Ill finish this post soon, but as of now I'm getting kicked out of the hotel and I have to get moving towards the train station. Expect this to be finished within 48 hours. The best is yet to come!

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