Sent in a Coffin to Changsha

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

I'd been on a sleeper bus in Thailand and I'd like to say that it was a really nice experience, so I had high hopes for this one. Oh my, it wasn't too comfortable. The bus had three rows of bunk beds, effectively an extra row of beds down the middle of the aisle. I had a top bunk while David and Nicola were on the bottom. I'd have probably been more comfortable in a Coffin, or perhaps Saddam's little fox hole. I'm 5 feet 11 inches with reasonably broad shoulders, I reckoned that the bed was just 2 inches too short and 2 inches too narrow. I ended up measuring the dimensions of my cell with my body parts since I didn't have a tape measure handy on me. The distance between bed and ceiling was 2*'wrist to elbow'. Bed Width = 'Ankle to knee', which by coincidence was also equal to 'width of torso' + 'width of one arm'. Not only this but I had to share my bed with my small bag full of crap that I didn't need, I didn't know it'd be so small. And the last insult was the vent inches from my head blowing cold air at me, I couldn't even close it. I had to lie there with the blanket over my head since this is something that I just can't stand. I think that these buses are made Chinese size without any thought to tourists.

I eventually did get to sleep at some point after midnight, this was punctured at 5AM with David shaking me awake, "We're in Changsha", What? Where am I? The bus didn't terminate at Changsha and thanks to the fact that David has the same build as me he was awake when half the people got off the bus. He said to the bus driver "Changsha?" and he nodded his head, this was 2 seconds before I was awoken.

Changsha is a horrible place to travel to, there are no hostels listed in my favourite and we were dropped off in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We were half asleep and surrounded by taxi drivers in the dark all wanting to rip us off when the bus pulled out of the station. After too much discussion we walked off, my Guardian Angle made us walk in the direction of the bus station staff room. We pointed to our map in the hope that they could tell us where we were, they couldn't. I don't think that this is something the Chinese are taught in school, we've not come across any that can read maps. They always give it a good go, examining every inch of the map but they invariably give up and shake their head. In the end we pointed to the central train station perhaps suggesting that we were in the bus station around the corner, not so apparently. They told us to get on a bus that was about to depart, so we got on for the hell of it, we were on a magical mystery tour. Thankfully for us the bus did in fact end up at the train station. This is where we found some fantastic accomodation. I'll mention it here in case any other poor punter is looking for a room in Changsha, If you're in the square outside the train station stand facing it and look to the far left into the corner. Just past the platform exit is the station hotel (I don't know what it's called as it's in Chinese), we got a triple room for 158 Yuan, and it's the best room with the best shower (and an ok toilet) that we've been in the whole of China. OK - advert over.

Changsha is a really cool place as well, the people are even MORE starey, their eyes follow you everywhere. Just today we were in a small local restaurant, a table of four guys just sat there and watched David eat a bowl of rice. They just stared. It was a bit of a small local place so I'd be surprised if they'd ever had a foriegner in there before.

On our first day has the usual little walk around this time ending up in Martyr's Park. There were loads of old men there flying their kites, so we went off and bought one as well, we had serious trouble getting it up and all these old men were laughing at us saying 'tie shall', which translates into 'Too Small', they were having a go at our kite! Fair enough really as it cost us about 70 pence and it was crap.

After the excitement of this we ended up in the fair! It was brilliant, we went on loads of rides including a pirate ship that went upside down. This may not sound that exciting but when you consider that the ride probably wasn't accompanied with the usual German Engineering and Maintenance program you'd probably worry a little too. I went on a log flume for the first time in my life, what's taken me so long? Next up was a couple of shots on the Dogems. We reckoned that the Chinese translation of this would probably be 'Personal Vehicle Drive, no horn give carefulness'. On our way out of the fair we came across a climbing wall, the star attraction of this was the fact that they had China's 6th best female rock climber there, wow. I gave David a race up to the top of the wall and I won't mention who was first up, no really, I'm not going to say who won. The fair was brilliant.

We were still in the park when we left and we walked around a bit more. It was now about 10 at night, boiling hot still and there were heaps of locals in the park. I tell you, the Chinese built a great wall, but they're probably better at building parks and then using them. This appears to be one of their favourite pastimes.

We also visited the Hunan Provincial Museum beside the park. Our guide books said that this was a sad run down building, but it must have had a serious makeover as the building was superb. The main thrust of this museum is to display a number of artifacts exscavated from a series of tombs just outside of Changsha, mostly pottery, silk, manuscripts, dull stuff like that. In the basement though things get a little more macabre. One of the tombs contained a 2200 year old mummy of an ancient queen. The body was so well preserved that the scientist that discovered here were able to perform an autopsy to discover her cause of death (heart attack) and numerous other facts about her. These included the facinating fact that she had 138.5 (yes .5) melon seeds in her stomach, suggesting that she'd eaten a melon not long before passing away.

Many of her internal organs were in display cabinets in the cellar; spleen, heart, intestine, in fact all the stuff that I'd had in that soup in Beijing. In the very center though was her body, she's now preserved in juice in a small perspex box, you're able to look down this little pit at her, the detail that you see is quite remarkable and she's been presented rather well. Shame we weren't allowed to take any photos.

So that pretty much concludes Changsha. We've had enough of the big places in China for a while and we're off to climb a holy mountain at Heng Shan next, were catching an early bus there again to make sure we have enough time there. So till next time, have fun and don't have nightmares about the old melon eating corpse of Changsha.
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