First stop: Xining!
Here are some facts to get us started:
- Capital of Qinghai province and biggest city on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
- Population: 2 million
- Elevation: 2300m (7500ft)
Before heading to Xining, I made a pit stop in Beijing to visit a friend.I left Tianjin the night before Amber, which ended up being somewhat disastrous. It landed me with the most expensive taxi ride EVAAAAAAA. 200 rmb, bitches. This is what happens when you miss the last subway north across the whole city and have to take an illegal taxi in a huge rainstorm, and the driver has no fucking idea where he’s going, and you, a foreigner, have to use Baidu Maps to tell him how to get to your friend’s place. Yeah… never doing that again.
The next day, I retraced my steps (but in the subway, thank goodness) to the Beijing West railroad station to meet Amber. Due to our characteristic procrastination in buying train tickets, we ended up having to buy not one, but TWO tickets to get to Xining! Oh boy.
The first tickets, hard sleepers to Xi’an, were glorious as always. I got some mad feels as we walked into the Xi’an train station… I had begun my foray into Chinese culture the year before in Xi’an, and it was strange to walk into the station at 4am and see the city wall again. Also, this girl’s hair was epic.
Our train from Xi’an to Xining was less thrilling. Despite my earlier vow to never buy hard seat tickets again (in case you forgot), there we were. The train ride began in optimism…
… and ended in blissful, metaphorical tears once we finally reached Xining and no longer had to climb over twenty people to get to the bathroom.
Despite my poor judgement in when to get off the bus and terrible directions from the hostel’s website, we eventually found our way to Lete Hostel. It was a decent place, for the record. Also, there was a spectacular supposedly Iranian restaurant down the road.
- For serious the best Halal food I had in China.
- The next day, we commenced the touristy tomfoolery… in jeans. And jackets! In the middle of summer!! It was gloriously cool. The fact that we got headaches all the time from the elevation was secondary.
- We got some tasty drinks and cinnamon buns (YES!!!!) at Amdo Cafe…
- … then set out to explore the Muslim Quarter. Seriously awesome stuff, with tons of fresh fruit, bakeries, rock candy, whole slabs of cow laying around, and chickens being butchered right before your eyes. Did I mention that the bird flu began out here? Hm.
- While I felt somewhat like a nuisance there, the Dongguan Mosque was a really unique experience. I know the rest of China also has Muslim communities, but it was refreshing to see such a large, tightly-knit group.
Another market down the road was mostly food items, where we were thankfully introduced to one of the best things in the world 麻辣汤 (hot/spicy soup thing). It’s basically the same thing as 麻辣香锅, which I have previously praised, but it’s possibly… even better? Hard to say. It’s more soupy, has noodles, and is so, so good. Don’t be alarmed, this photo is the pre-mixed version. And it’s not nearly as spicy as it looks.
Being the adventure-fiends we were, Amber and I decided to go check out the South Mountain park in town, because trees. After living in Tianjin for nine months, we were very ready for some nature. Despite getting on the wrong bus again (I was having a hard time deciphering Xining’s bus system, for some reason), we finally found the park and climbed up a bunch of stairs to… something quite unexpected.
The miniature Asian city park was obvs in disrepair, but the other miniature reincarnations of famous natural sites were better preserved. We tried climbing one of the rock formations, but a legion of guards with megaphones yelled us down.
We also watched a couple of monks play basketball, got hopelessly lost, and ran out of breath a lot.
Exhausted, we half-heartedly attempted to go out with some Swiss guys to the bar, but ended up just listening to a girl spurn a clueless boy’s advances in the hostel before we called it a night.