Sunday, July 5: Yan’An, China
8:15 We have to be on the truck in 15 minutes so there’s just enough time grab a steamed bun from one of the street vendors outside tne hotel. I point at one bun that looks like it might contain pork in barbecue sauce. It turns out to contain pork, minus the barbecue sauce. That’s okay but I’m a little surprised to find no evidence of it having been cooked. I look around and see a dozen locals happily eating their raw pork mush in barely warm dough so I follow suit. I guess I’ll know within a few hours if this was a smart move.
9:00 We’re headed to the city of Xian where we will spend four nights in a 5-star hotel. We don’t go to see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors until our final day in Xi’an so there will be plenty of time to explore the city of 8.5 million. The city proper is home to 5.5 million but another 3 million live in the rapidly growing suburbs.
13:30 We attempt to break the World Record for the most Western-sized people in one tuk tuk. We manage to get two on the back bumper and seven inside, plus the driver, for a total of 10 on a vehicle that would normally hold three at most.
15:00 I don’t know about the others but I’ve been looking forward to four nights in a 5-star hotel for a long time. Hotel Jian Guo turns out to be pretty damn nice. The lobby could use a make-over but the rooms, beds, and especially the bathrooms are first rate. There’s a buffet restaurant off the lobby that serves Western-style meals, a lounge with a view of a massive coy pond, pool, fitness centre, and decent wi-fi. What more could anyone ask for?
23:00. I won’t make a habit of it but apparently I can eat raw pork mush without complications.
Monday, July 6: Xi’an, China
7:50 I head to the lobby to say goodbye to Claire, the Chinese tour guide that I met in Mongolia. She started that trip as a passenger but left us a week into the trip so that she could resume her tour-guide duties with Dragoman in China. This will be the 14th time she has covered the ground between Xi’an and Beijing and I get the sense that she’s less than thrilled about it. Still, she’s much more upbeat than when we last said goodbye. That was in a snowstorm in Mongolia when she climbed on the back of a motorcycle for a 150 km ride to the nearest bus station.
16:00 I’m back at the hotel, having made it as far as Walmart and Starbucks. An afternoon nap followed by a second hot shower, drinks in the lobby bar and a buffet dinner are next on the agenda. This hotel isn’t up to 5-star standards in North America but I’d give it a solid 3 or maybe even 4 stars. It’s no Shangri La or Four Seasons but it’s on par with the better Vegas properties. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about ‘blowing’ a day in Xi’an since the next three months will be more about out-houses, squat toilets, cold showers, and musty tents than Queen beds, nice linens, duvets, hot showers, flat screen TVs and fresh squeezed orange juice for breakfast.