Day 33

Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We had an 11.30am train to catch from Luoyang to Kaifeng. We'd checked out of the hostel on two previous occasions only to check back in as plans changed - but this time we meant it. Breakfast was supermarket-bought noodles and we found our way to the train. It was a four hour journey but we still opted for sleeper accommodation as the seats really are a challenge. We were all looking forward to Kaifeng as we'd heard it was a more chilled out location where we could spend a few days chewing the cud.

At 3.30pm we arrived and the girls went straight into the ticket office to buy onward tickets to Shanghai. We will be splitting up after Kaifeng, as the girls go East and Steve and I go South. While Steve and I waited outside we got chatting to a young Chinese man from Beijing, his English was good and as we were chatting I became conscious of a growing number of locals crowding round to take a look at us. I later learned that Kaifeng, population 4 million, has only 5000 non-chinese tourists per year. That's a crazy statistic meaning on any day this fairly large city only has 20 or so westerners! So, more staring from locals ahead no doubt. The girls appeared out of the ticket office with a middle age Chinese man in tow. They hadn't got any luck with Shanghai tickets and the man was trying to offer a solution. He explained in good English that they would have better luck going first to Zhengzhou and trying from there. The girls were annoyed with this setback because they are only travelling for 2 months and wasted days are damaging to their itinerary.

The Chinese man turned out to be a rickshaw peddler and offered to take us to our hotel. Despite our polite refusals he persevered with us and was soon finding another rickshaw to help carry us as those things can only take two at a time. We conceded as the price was fair and he was beginning to charm us. His rickshaw was man-powered so he got the girls on his and us weightier blokes were ushered onto a motorised rickshaw with a fittingly weightier rickshaw driver. The ride really was fun, the chatty Chinese man would should back to us in the other rickshaw little bits of information about the places we were passing. He was proud to tell us that we were his 248th foreign customers, and as we continued I wondered whether that was a good or a bad thing. Once we disembarked he offered to take us on a walking tour of the city which we again tried to politely refuse but I had the feeling that tomorrow that's exactly what we'd be doing.

The low amount of tourists mean accommodation is also scant. Our hotel (not hostel) was more basic than any hostel we'd stayed in before. While the reception is clean, the staff struggle hard with English. The rooms were pretty awful and the shower room is a pit of mouldy shower mats and two pipes coming out of the walls as showers!

We headed out to find food and stopped at a large restaurant that we later found out specialises in dumplings and snack foods. The menu was exclusively in Chinese with no pictures so we got out guide books out and started pointed at dishes from our "popular Chinese dishes" list. Since this was a speciality restaurant we got refusals for basic requests like Coca-Cola and even rice! Eventually we got sorted, and agreed that a bout of heavy drinking this evening might be in order.

My visa for China is one month and we still have a lot of China to see. I'd read that the Public Security Beaureu in Kaifeng were pretty relaxed about visa extensions so went into their office to enquire. I was dealt with by a very pretty young female police officer and all I needed to do was bring some photocopies back with 160 yuan in the morning and the process would take about 30 minutes to get another month added on.

The thing with Chinese drinking culture is that there is no drinking culture. Chinese might drink alcohol with their food but when the food is gone they get up and leave. We haven't found anything resembling a bar since Xi'an. While Steve hit the internet Cafe. Kasja, Malin and I went out for booze. All we managed was to sit in a smelly little restaurant though and ordered some local beer. After the beers were ordered we were given food menus, we'd already eaten so we declined. After a while the chef came out to have a look at us and probably wanted to know why we didn't order food. Again we felt like a little crowd of staff was growing but ordered more beers regardless. Chuckles went around the room but after the day we'd had we didn't care. I felt like it was time to teach a bit of culture than to learn someone elses!

Kaifeng seemed like a bit of a wrong turn for us, and the girls had decided to go back to Zhengzhou in the morning to try their luck with Shanghai tickets. Steve and I would probably take the walking tour with Jason (the Chinese man's English name) and head to Zhengzhou the day after.

We bought some beers and headed back to our dingy hotel room. The Hotel by the way is the Dajintai Hotel - not recommended, but it's pretty much your only choice in Kaifeng.
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