26 February 2009


The train from Xi'an to Shanghai is 16 hours long. 16. Hours. Long. That is a very long time. On top of that our train was delayed out of Xi'an for a reason completely unknown to me. When we finally boarded it was to our shock, surprise, and mild horror that we realized we were not in the same compartment. We asked the train guy (what's the word?) if we could be together but said positively no. So into her compartment went Lauren and into mine went I...trepidatiously. My bad feeling upon entering the compartment was soon confirmed by my new bunk mates.

I have never in my life heard such snoring.

The both of them! It was completely outrageous and I’m still not even sure the sounds they were making were human! I slept not all during the night and was sorrier than ever that my mp3 player had given up the ghost on me the day before we left for China. A few times when it was at its worst I banged the metal ash tray against the metal water carafe. That would stop the snoring for a few blessed seconds. One of the guys woke up enough to start yelling at me (in Chinese) and I yelled back for all I was worth in some pretty foul Chinglish (foul because of the words not the lack of ability). I had no idea how to say ‘snore’ in Chinese and really wish I had (it’s dahan btw). At one point I actually pulled out my little camera and turned it to film so I record the horrific noises they were making to show Lauren. I sadly lost the recording and have not even the words to describe what it was like. The best I could do would be to say that it was what I imagine the inhuman growls of sinus blocked netherworld dwellers sound like. We finally arrived in Shanghai though and my erstwhile bunkmates were relegated to amusing anecdote glory while we concentrated on this newest, and last, city of our tour.

Shanghai was fantastic. It was so completely modern and immense in a way that was barely comprehensible. If we thought that Beijing was roughly the size of three New York Cities then Shanghai was easily ten. Our hostel was very nice. The Shanghai City Central hostel is the largest hostel in Shanghai and while the private rooms were utilitarian, they were clean, the television had the channel that played our favorite Bruce Lee soap opera, internet was free, the restaurant/social area were nice, and there was a free shuttle service each morning to a few different sights in the city. On that first day we found the metro close to our hostel and headed to the large pedestrian shopping area. It was warmer in Shanghai than had been Xi’an but still was chilly by the time we finally arrived in the pedestrian area. It was still chilly enough though that I was regretting my bare arms and was taking some good-natured ribbing from the girls at the bubble tea stand where Lauren and I stopped for zhenzhu nai cha.

The pedestrian area was so large that it was flanked by two different metro stations and had a little mini train running back and forth. I was thrilled to discover that it even had a Costa, which is my second favorite coffee chain. Naturally we have none f this British chain in the United States so usually I only get to enjoy their macchiatos while in Belgrade. I do wish they would set up shop here though; maybe give Starbucks a run for their money. But I digress…

We managed on that first night to find one of the pearl markets. There are pearls everywhere in China but I’d been holding out until Shanghai knowing that these would be the best deals. One of the few good things Frommer’s did was to list this market under its section on shopping. And ironically, the construction going on in the building made it easier to find as the fa├žade was covered in a drop cloth with big ads for each store inside. We got to the right level and were confronted with booth upon booth and store upon store with pearls. I was a little overwhelmed at first, especially as the bling that accompanied many of the pearls was a bit intimidating. I walked around a bit ignoring the various hawkers until I saw, all the way in the back of one of the stores, trays and trays of color. Color!! That was exactly what I wanted in my pearls. I wasn’t really caring for shape or size or even matching (especially since I wasn’t planning on spending enough money to insist on matching); but I wanted color. People who know me know that I am not a fan of pearls…I kind of think they’re boring. However a few years ago I discovered why. The American pearl market sucks. I have no idea who decides these things or how often the research is done, but apparently American buyers are only interested in the whites, greys, pinks, and blacks; although I have seen a bit of brown sneaking in. This color limitation is such a sad thing because pearls come in all colors of the rainbow and even a few in between! Reds, oranges, yellows, golds, silvers, purples, blues, greens, coppers, and colors that look like oil slicks (you know, the pretty multi-colored effect, not the sad killing the environment part). I’d been pretty much left along by the sales staff, which is a bit of a miracle in this country, until I started really examining some of the trays. I struck up a conversation with one of the sales girls (in Chinese, thank you) and after a few minutes asked how much X strand of pearls cost. She looked at them, looked at me, looked at them again and said, “For you, $4.00.” Ok, I thought, let’s shop.

In the end, between Lauren’s and my purchases I felt kind of like a pirate with booty. We had, I think, 5 bracelets, 2 double strand necklaces, and maybe 20 single strand necklaces. And not a one of them was white, ivory, pink, grey, or black.

No comments: