Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Shanghai airport. Swimming through a swift current of a uniform sea of black shiny hair - through customs, baggage claim, forms and checks. I wonder, for the dozenth time, whether I'll possibly locate Kate in this massive airport...and what I'll do if I don't. I glance up from my passport and see, to my delight, a familiar head of cascading curls smiling and standing about a head taller than the rest of the crowd. KATE!

A tearful, gleeful reunion commences, parenthesized by Kate's warnings about China's lacking fondness for public displays of affection. No matter - she doesn't seem to care, so I don't either.

To the youth hostel we go, then off to see the well-lit (neon blue and yellow spotlights in every direction!) city-scape of Shanghai with cool green tea and icecream in hand. The city is deserted at 11:30 at night - both of us are surprised by this fact. I am more surprised by how safe I feel. We are stared at, certainly - the only foreigners on the street - but all stares are friendly and all interactions either humorous or harmless, Kate says. A nice change.

No real time to investigate Shanghai, as we board the 40-hour train to Chengdu at 8am the next morning. Instant noodles, Poky (amazing little swizzle stick things covered in chocolate), and other assorted snacks in hand, we enter car #3 and find beds #7 and #8...the top a mini cabin of 6 beds. Kate's massive suitcase garners stares and a few giggles. How will it fit on top? How will we sleep? How, first off, will we possibly climb up to those top bunks without making our cabin mates severely uncomfortable? (why did i wear a SKIRT?!?!)...all is solved eventually...and we spend the next 37 hours catching up on one anothers' lives, making friends with the staff in the dining car, learning numbers and tones (my first Chinese lesson, which sent our new-found staff-friends into hysterics), and watching five of China's provinces flash by.

Rice paddies, mountains, temples, families on bicylces, water buffalo and calf. It all slipped by our train windows to my amazement and delight. We are in a very beautiful country. I can't wait to explore...

Spent last night in the Dragon Town Youth Hostel in Chengdu, (finally off the train! my back says thank you), which is absolutely our best find in China yet. Tucked in a back alley (really, really well-tucked.), this four-story Ting Dynasty building combines antique Chinese furniture with a spunky, english-speaking staff, world travelers, and a screen projecting some action flic I've never seen. Outside, the alley comes to life at night with glowing red lanterns, Chinese beer, tiny bamboo tables and spicy kabobs. Yes!

Today...meeting with our Ecologia cohorts in the Philharmonic Hotel...Kate and I are toying with the idea of trying to ditch the more expensive adult quarters at night in favor of returning to Dragon Town Hostel... we've already made several friends...and besides, in a few days the Swedes will return from their trip to Tibet and we'll most certainly need to get the low-down on that. (Perhaps in preparation for a journey of our own?)

(more to come on what exactly i'm doing in china in later entries. love to home!)