Day 34

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

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What a difference a day makes! As I write this my thoughts about Kaifeng have changed largely thanks to Jason, our tour guide.

We got dressed and headed down to our free-of-charge breakfast at 8.30am. Jason was already outside and we remembered that we had only half heartedly refused him as he dropped us off at the hotel yesterday. He told us where we should take breakfast - actually a restaurant next door and said he would wait for us. The restaurant was offering a buffet selection of unappetizing slop so after handing over our vouchers we left without eating or drinking anything. Jason was laughing and pointed us next door to another restaurant which turned out to be closed. We crossed the road and headed into an American type restaurant with American Cappucino or something on the sign outside.

What we went through next was hilarious. We ordered coffee and toast since the English menu was overpriced and didn't look like it had been used in months. We saw the waitress searching through some drawers to find it. Anyway, coffee and toast should be no problem in an American Diner. As we sat and waited you couldn't help looking over at the bar where two waiters were frantically rushing round with bits of bread. I saw one bit of bread being buttered while being held up to the light which was amusing and worrying at the same time. 30 minutes without any sign of toast or coffee we were getting slightly annoyed, the buttered bread seemed to have found its way to the bin and they were working on something new. The first thing to arrive was a square piece of lightly toasted bread about 1.5 inches thick. It hadn't been cut, it was more like it had been scored into 9 smaller squares and had a thin layer of peanut butter on the top. I grabbed at one corner and took the first bite, it was not as bad as I had thought and the others started to tuck in. Peanut butter is dry at the best of times, and 40 minutes in the coffee still hadn't arrived so my mouth was starting seal shut. That said the coffees were ok and as we were trying to pay our bill the mysterious fourth piece of toast arrived and we sat back down.

Outside Jason was waiting faithfully and I still had to break the news to him that I needed at least another half hour at the PSB to get my visa extension. That was ok though because he could take the girls to the train station in that time and meet us back around 11.30am at the hotel. I said goodbye to the girls for the second time but sensed that this might be it for good since they really were going west to Shanghai and I really was going South. It was a sad to say goodbye to Malin and Kasja because we'd shared a cabin on the Trans-Siberian, a Ger in Mongolia, and everything since. But, hellos and good byes are all part of travelling.

The PSB visa visit went smoothly (despite the pretty police girl not being anywhere to be seen) and I now have another month in China should I need it. Back at the hotel Jason, Steve and I set off for our walking tour a full three hours later than Jason would have hoped. First stop was a Taoist temple, followed by a walk up a vegetable market to a nearby lake and mansion and then to the Guild Hall. The Guild Hall was built around 700 years ago to act as a meeting place between the Hall's out of town owners and local business men. It was a place of hospitality so there is an opera stage, and grand rooms for eating and drinking. It's full of symbolism usually pointing to prosperity and fertility (of men, not crops).

I felt the city opening up finally and beginning to think that maybe the girls had left too soon. Jason took us into a small Muslim noodle restaurant - the sort that looks far too scary to go in normally. We ate at a greasy table but the food was really good. We even got to see the noodles being made from dough before being thrown into boiling water. As we ate we explained to Jason that we wanted to head South to either Wuhan or Yicheng. He said this would be difficult and offered to take us to a specialist ticket office a bus ride away. Once inside Jason took over and bagged us tickets to Yicheng on an overnight train the following evening. That was a relief. The tickets cost 362 yuan, and between us Steve and I had 366.5 yuan, an amazing stroke of luck! So if Jason was to be paid for his days work he needed to find us an ATM!

Next we went to the Imperial Street and two large lakes. Jason explained one the two lakes was associated with the Yang family - a family revered in China for its heroism and fairness in governance. The other lake was associated with another family who were the opposite. The head of the family was responsible for murdering the Yang leader. As a result that lake is now dirty and no people swim in it, the Yang lake however is clean and has bathers in most days including today.

Lastly we went to the Yang family mansion, and learnt more about this famous Chinese family. The Yang leader had 80 sons all of whom died fighting various just causes. Such was the families dedication that the wives of all 80 sons fought on as widows and claimed several further victories.

As we walked it was funny how many other rickshaw drivers were saying hello to Jason, all no doubt jealous of his good grasp of English and the extra trade he must get because of it. Jason keeps a small notebook with some of his previous 248 customers testimonials in. Steve and I were happy to add our own to the pages. Jason had the three of us photographed and took my cameras memory card to a nearby Kodak place. He stuck the photo in and we wrote our recommendations!

This and other blog sites only has a few entries on Kaifeng, and I read them all before arriving so if anyone does the same and wants a good honest tour around Kaifeng, Jason can be found most mornings outside the Dajintai Hotel.
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