The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Sunday, July 24, 2005

From Beijing to TongliaoCity

July 16, 2005

Our second day of touring Beijing brought us first to the Summer Palace, which is one of the more beautiful attractions, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the better part of the Palace itself was under renovation, so we really weren’t able to do much more than walk the grounds surrounding. It’s an experience unto itself, so it was worthwhile, but I couldn’t help remembering the first time I visited, when I had Jane as my tour guide, and I think we must have spent upwards of 3 or 4 hours there for all the information she had to tell us. Oh well, like I said, it’s worthwhile to see nonetheless. Plus, I spotted a Diet Coke for the first time since arriving in China at one of the vendors there, so I pounced. Unfortunately for me, it was mostly frozen and gave me a lovely carbonated shower when I tried to open it. Just thought I’d leave you with that little image.

We also visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City that morning. Interestingly, when we asked Mark, the tour guide of doom and badness, about Tiananmen Square and the infamous events that took place there, he said, “I can’t talk about that.” We were like, oh come on just tell us what you know. But he refused – apparently it’s actually forbidden to speak of. I hadn’t remembered that of my last visit to Beijing, but I guess it’s pretty telling of the political climate here.

During our walk through the Forbidden City, I was actually just as glad not to have a tour guide shouting at us the whole time, because to be honest I was more interested in getting to know my colleagues at that point, so it was nice to chat with them.

From the Forbidden City, we all went to the train station to start our 14-hour journey towards Tongliao City. Not the big shiny pretty train station in the middle of Beijing, mind you, but the dumpy ghetto one you’d never find if you weren’t brought there. We sure were nervous when we saw it…basically just an open plaza with hundreds of people squatting and waiting for their trains. We boarded our car, which was the sleeping one with bunks stacked 3 high on each side of the partitions. No privacy, no room, just a place to stretch out. We were wondering how we’d ever get through 14 hours of it, but believe me, it was nooooooo problem at all…

Due to the heat, we stripped down to as little clothing as was still decent and, being the intrepid young travelers we are, a source of beer was located immediately, and we kept going basically nonstop until 10 pm, when the train calls lights out. It made for some interesting conversation, especially when Zheng Loban woke up from his nap and (bare-chested, looking like a dirty sketchy old man) began drinking his liquor of choice, which he taught us to call baijiu (vs. beer, which is pijiu). He offered us all a taste, and since we wouldn’t dream of being impolite guests, we all sampled it. I’m pretty sure it tastes like what I’d imagine licking a city street would taste like. But if it takes effect faster than your average booze, we’ll have to give it credit for efficiency’s sake.

July 17, 2005

All things considered, I slept pretty well through the night, only waking up when the train stopped. I guess the alcohol might have had a little something to do with that. At 5 am we arrived in Tongliao City, where we were greeted by a handful of the school’s security guards and their bus, which on the inside looked more like a rock star’s tour bus than anything else. Between that and the karaoke equipment (tv screen included), we gathered that this bus did more than get people from point A to point B.

10 minutes later, we were out of the bustle of the city and out in the flat, green countryside on the approach to the school. It’s basically a straight shot on one road in and out of the city. The school is very new looking and sprawls over what I have a feeling is only a fraction of the land that is part of it’s property. In a couple more years, it’ll probably be a different picture. Between the city and the school, like I said, is mostly flat and green, with a lot of farming going on. Mule-drawn carts and bicycles accompany the occasional cars traveling that one street.

Our apartments, though dirty and fine specimens of typical bad Chinese craftsmanship (sorry to generalize, but it’s true), are really nice and comfortable, with the exception of the beds…well, just my bed mostly…which feel little better than the floor. The other kids seem to have gotten foam mattress pads on theirs, but no such luck for me. I’ve slept well so far, believe it or not, but even so, both sides of my hips are bruised just from sleeping on my side and turning over. So that’s a project I’ll be working on fixing…

My roommates (Courtney and Emma) and I worked on buying some essentials and freshening the place up for most of the day. Hard to believe that a year-old apartment needs freshening, but the floors and surfaces here seem to attract dirt and dust with a magnetic force unknown to man. By the end of the day, we had a (sort of) clean, livable apartment, and a few well-earned showers. After a journey from Beijing and a day full of moving in, it seems that one does not so much fall asleep as crash headfirst with a force measurable only by Richter scale.


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