Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, October 29, 2007

Before we came to China we were forewarned about the staring. Our first stop in Hohhot threw us in at the deep-end. We were the only guests at the only guesthouse for foreigners, didn't see another Western face in our time there, but did see a number of Chinese people nearly falling off their bikes as they strained to observe us for another second. When we bought apples from a street seller, a crowd of people ran across the road to eagerly question us and the bewildered vendor. The attention from the locals continued in Pingyau, Xi'an and Chengdu and we almost feel like minor celebrities with the amount of "hello's" that get shouted in our direction. Even at the terracotta warriors, an archaeological site that attracts 5000 tourists a day, 2 young Chinese women ran over asking to have their photo taken with us. Every day we catch people trying to get close enough to us so someone can catch them on film with the Westerner-  I'm convinced its Kerry's blond hair.

Although it might sound a slightly uncomfortable, they are just curious and it actually makes us feel welcome and safe. While attempting to catch a bus in Chengdu a girl offered to help and insisted on paying my fare then staying on the bus to make sure I didn't get lost. Unfortunately when we got off she had no idea where we were and became clearly upset and embarrassed with what had happened. We had exhausted the limited English she knew so i decided to walk aimlessly hoping to find a landmark i might recognise or someone who could speak English. Football has been the thing i have missed most about being away so i was delighted to find a 30,000 seater football stadium with fans milling around wearing Sheffield United shirts. Surely not. On closer inspection i was at the home of the Chengdu Blades, whose badge was an exact replica of Sheffield United's, and were formed in 2006. Have some ambition! They based their name and badge on a team that in 2006 had just finished 7seasons languishing in Division 1 with a cocky mouthy twat called Warnock as a manager. Unbelievably, 3 open top buses roared as the blades were celebrating something. I heard some noise and made my way to a side street where around 1000 fans in red had taken over and were marching past timid looking soldiers and police chanting "Chengdu oo...aa" and "Chendu wu a woogady woo" (something like that anyway). Like Europe, football was interlinked with politics and flags bearing Che Guevara and Chairman Mao indicated their socialist element. I joined the crowd and spent an hour marching around the streets until we reached the main square where the supporters proudly unraveled their Blades flag and posed so I could take a photo. By this point the police were beginning to take a bigger interest so i decided to leave, my passion for football reignited.

Chengdu was a cosmopolitan place that was more Western in style than other places we had been. That night we met a Chinese girl, Luna, who spoke perfect English and invited us to a party in a park on the outskirts of the city. We jumped in a taxi and were dropped by the side of a road in the middle of nowhere and Luna led us down 300m of a pitch black path to a small hexagonal building surrounded by Forest. The party had just begun and around 150 people were running around intoxicated with a healthy mix of uncontrollable enthusiasm and confused bewilderment. It reminded me a bit of some thing called FaTdOg back home, there were even some little dogs running around the venue raving away dressed in peculiar Halloween fancy dress. At first the DJs played a depressing mix of 90's up beat hiphop and shockingly mixed US house but at 1am the "Doctor" arrived on the decks. We have no idea what is name was but he wore a black suit with white shirt and black tie and covered his nose and mouth with a white NHS style mask. His hair was in a slick parting and he wore the biggest specsaver jamjar glasses you could imagine. He was the furthest anyone could ever look from being a DJ but he banged out 2hours of live techno mixed on his laptop. By 3am the randomness had kicked in and a few of us spent half an hour trying to sail away in a swan boat and then half an hour sat on top of some Chinese military tanks. My memory is pretty hazy but the night ended with Kerry being sick outside the hostel and me doing an army role through the front door at 5am.

Xi'an seems to sum up how everything in China is a mix between the sublime and the ridiculous. Its the ancient capital and has enough culture to keep you there for a month but the smog is so severe we never had a view of the sky: On some days visibility was only about 500m. Worryingly I searched for China's and the Worlds most polluted cities and Xi'an was nowhere to be seen. Its also home to the incredible terracotta army which look amazing but also makes you realise that China's legendary emperor was a complete mentalist. He had the 8000 strong lifesize army buried with him to protect him when he died?! Protect him from what!

Pingyao is a tiny perfectly preserved town from the ming dynasty 600years ago where everywhere looks like a set from a classic Chinese film like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Unlike the walled cities of Eastern Europe, the exterior and interior of houses in Pingyau remained as they were hundreds of years ago. This made it pleasing on the eye but revolting on the nose as the sewage system had obviously not been modified. It is a standard stop on the tourist route through China so was predictably full of random brik a brak you think is amazing until you buy and realise its a piece of shit. It was where Chinese's people incessant and persistent attempts to sell you some kind of crap was most evident. They really are the worlds most ardent traders; before you even walk in a shop they shout "I give you special price."

Although Xi'an, Pingyao and Chengdu are heavily tourist-ed places we have had a pretty amazing time and have fallen in love with most things Chinese; the tea, the people, the Chinglish, the buildings, decoration, and especially the food. Food here is nothing like the takeaways in England and is often so spicy you can hardly breathe. We went for Chinese hotpot, hoping for a resemblance to a classic Lancashire style dish, but were given a huge pan of eye watering chilli oil in which you cook various vegetables and meat yourself. At first it was embarrassing to choke, sneeze, go red faced and cry, so substantially. Then we looked around the room and every single Chinese person looked in just as bad a state. Unfortunately i went to the toilet and then had to leave the restaurant prematurely because my fingers had been covered in this oil and a terrible burning sensation had developed down below.

Hopefully will put some pictures up in the next week. We've just set off on the Sichuan-Tibet highway into the Eastern Himalayas on a route only opened to foreigners 6 years ago. The aim is to go West to a Tibetan town called Litang at 4,014m above sea level and then head south towards Tiger Leaping Gorge. If I haven't been converted to live a life as a monk by the Tibetans i will update you soon.
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