Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Captives in Zhangjiajie

Water fights while rafting on an artificial white water course, south of the Park

Me, the next day, sipping green tea aboard the train to Yishang (see next post)

We thought we had been captured by the Communists for a while. After many semi-intelligible conversations with our tour guide, his boss, hotel desk people etc., over a period of 5 hours yesterday, we found out that they hadn't bought our train tickets, and none were available for today. (But we could sign up for another tour today--right!) Combing the Internet we found that we could only fly from here to Shanghai or Beijing and then to Yichang and the Yangzte river cruise. Not very direct, very expensive, and probably not available with the national holiday approaching. But after only 5 more hours of similar phone calls and conversations this morning, we have in hand two tickets for tomorrow's train—very cheap at only $5 each for 6 hours of travel. Bad news is that the very cheap seats were the only ones available—foreigners never travel that way as the cars are not air conditioned, the toilet is a hole in the floor where you can see the tracks and you are packed in like sardines. I can't wait.

We don't yet have the cruise tickets either. We had wanted to wait until the last minute to get a lower price—but didn't realize how much the national holiday next week would impact this week. So I am writing this while waiting for an answer from a China travel agency working on that issue. The first tickets they wanted to sell me were a good buy on an American owned cruise line--but the agency didn't realize we were Americans. Americans have to pay $75 more each than Europeans. That is the cruise line's policy—I intend to write them to complain. So much for buying American.

For some more little tidbits, the oranges here all have green skins, orange insides, and no seeds, and they are delicious. The hotels we have been staying in all have central room-controlled electricity. You put your room card key in a slot in the room and the power comes on. In the nicest hotels you get two keys and that way you can leave the air conditioning on while away. In the Chinese hotels you are only allowed one keycard. The room lights are all controlled by switches in the headboard of the bed or the nightstand. Some are master switches, some only dim, some turn off a certain circuit, others one light, most are not labeled. So even turning on and off the lights is an adventure every time. Mark calls it the "command and control center." Vicki

PS. 5 PM. We now have the cruise tickets and confirmation, so life is good, assuming the train runs on time. We visited the main Bank of China office here this afternoon and exchanged dollars for yuans without difficulty. Apparently it was largely a matter of finding the main bank. We walked the mile or so back to the hotel, observing much of everyday life on this main street. Zhangjiajie is definitely off the beaten track for US tourists, and so here one can see a bit of China as it is, not dressed up either by government or touts. People stare at us, of course, but there is also an unending stream of "hellos," "how are you's," and "enjoy your stay." We passed by an elementary schoolyard. The kids saw us, initially backed off, then run up to squeal "hellos." Downtown Zhangjiajie is a no-horn zone--so the traffic signs say--of course no one pays the slightest attention! Mark

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