While bored on my way back from Shanghai to another city, I realised something, I never posted my review of my trip to Yinchuan City and Ningxia. With that in mind, this is the slightly doctored, honest appraisal of my trip (a summary which I published elsewhere and led to a feud between me and a group of other people). I think that some bits were previously published, but I may as well put up the whole thing
Before I talk about the trip, or anything else, I’d like to disclose something. I never wanted to come on the trip. If I hadn’t spent $1200 on these cultural tours and activities, frankly I don’t know if I’d have left the house, I’m a terrible tourist, so this description isn’t indicative of what China is like, more so my slanted, sports-depraved view.
So, Day One, actually scratch that, to understand my first day on the trip, you have to analyse my previous night. I’m pretty much a loner in Beijing, I keep to myself and only have a few close friends, and enjoy my own company and the presence of my laptop. However with a 7AM flight, with the requirement to catch a 4:30AM bus to the airport, I chose to pull an all-nighter. This had its inevitable consequences, namely crawling into my bedroom around 2.30AM having had a . This left two hours for me to pack my things, have a shower and ensure a successful trip to the airport.
I actually had a checklist of the things I wanted packed, so let’s go through this step by step. Two towels (just in case the hotel didn’t provide complimentary ones), check. A pair of tracksuit pants (check). Next thing I remembered was a phone call at 4.40AM. That and my roommate and my best mate banging on the door telling me to wake up or respond. I’d passed out on the luggage, and was still drunk, hungover, and panicked (in a way no Blue Jays slump could ever provide). Over the next 35 seconds, I’d shoved all of my chargers and cash into a bag, and took my unfinished luggage to the bus. Not only had I passed out on a piece of luggage, but my luggage contained two towels, and a pair of tracksuit pants.
Turned out I’d kept everyone waiting, the people I went out with had no such issues waking up (or more specifically staying aware), and to top it all off, the only clothes I had for a one week journey was the clothes I was wearing (so the clothes I wore to the club that morning). It wasn’t the greatest start to the trip, and it wouldn’t get much better. Turns out in my haste I’d accidently picked up breakfast, with some fruit in my bag. Being well and truly pissed at the airport, I dropped my breakfast (an apple) on the ground in the airport terminal. I then decided against getting airport KFC for breakfast, thinking I didn’t have time. Again the wrong move. At least this would be the low point of the entire trip (at least Day One) right? Wrong (although this was related to Baseball)
The seat configuration for the flight meant that we would probably be talking to total strangers. As was the case for me, however seeing that total stranger was Iris (the girlfriend of my roommate), it wasn’t all bad. It’s interesting talking to people you otherwise wouldn’t other than to say hi, bye and how’s your day. For 90 minutes I had a very interesting chat about China and I actually learnt a fair few things about China and other things (plus she helped me get breakfast and orange juice, which is always great for a hungry and hungover individual).
So, the first place we went to was the Shuidonggou Paleolithic cultural sites. As the terrible tourist I am, I spent the first hour watching baseball, quietly watching my team blow another game as everyone else went sightseeing. In general the place was pretty boring, although the boat ride was cool. But there was one highlight which I may remember for the rest of my life. That event was paying thirty kuai (ended up being 100 because I forgot to grab the change) to use a sniper rifle and shoot at targets. I think the group of seven of us who decided to play these carnival games (which included but wasn’t limited to shooting a crossbow loaded with ball bearings, a target cannon filled with tennis balls).
After lunch we went to the Western Xia mausoleums, it was good and I took a lot of pictures. Checking in at the hotel afterwards was momentous, a victory for those wanting to stay in a hotel with a decent shower. The room was nice and neat, with basic amenities provided, and the food at dinner tasted great, if you ask me, a very successful day.
As for the second day, I was sick so I stayed home. At least that is what I told our tour guide. In reality, I pulled a sickie in order to shop for some clothes and to tour a city I’d never been to on my own. Frankly it was awesome, I had KFC for lunch while the other students on the tour went looking at rock paintings. Then I walked around this foreign city enjoying myself while the others were on a two hour bus ride back. I then played all innocent and got away with it. PERFECT.
At night, against the wishes of our chaperone and handler for the trip, a couple of us began the process of exploring the nightlife of Yinchuan, you know being a Friday night. Honest review, there’s little to do, but the people who do come out, they are nuts. We settled upon a shisha bar that was offensively cheap, and proceeded to compete in a drinking competition with a few locals. I went home around 3AM for an early start in the morning, as for the others, they staggered back around 6AM, without sleep and with a trashed room (which wasn’t self-inflicted) to boot.
I felt like shit for the third day of the trip, which was probably my favourite day of the trip (although shooting a sniper rifle was better). Through the day, I went bungee jumping while terrified, I also went camel riding and ate pretty poor food. The bus rides were long but the day was worth it. On an inconvenient note, I was informed of the presence of free wifi upon the bus, only after I’d used all of my internet data while in China. So, thanks for telling us in advance of this facility being available in advance. Upon landing in the new hotel, we found out that said hotel actually had a decent internet connection. So rather than go out and get drunk, I decided to talk to my roommate for probably the first time since I arrived on this trip (note my roommate on this trip was my actual roommate back in Beijing). We watched soccer while others got drunk, I wish I’d done both, but shit happens I guess.
Not getting drunk had its benefits on the final day of the trip, particularly as we set out upon another bus trip, this time to some place that was a cultural site. It was fun, not particularly because of the place (my phone had no storage), but because of the wonderful explanations Tex and Michael gave towards each of the sites. Ringing the ‘Liberty Bell’ was fun, as was the chance to understand more about ‘’The Who’s” recent visit to the site. After lunch, the boat ride and chance to view the temples and sites there was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed being there, and the view was beautiful. We got back to Yinchuan at night, then I went shopping and again watched soccer with my roommate.
Explaining the differences between Beijing and Yinchuan is relatively simple, for starters, Yinchuan is a lot less developed. Some people described the place as more poverty-stricken, yet I saw the opposite, I saw a place free from a lot more material features, an insight into a China where Western culture and Western prices are not prominent (despite the KFC). China need not be reflected in Beijing, a city of 30 million people is not reflective of an entire nation. There was no metro station, which was surprising to me, the food was a lot different, reflecting more of a traditional cuisine.
From the hearsay of others, they didn’t explore Yinchuan outside of the walk between Pizza Hut and the Bossen Hotel. For myself, Yinchuan was a marketplace, one where you can buy a pair of pants without a zipper for 50 kuai and not notice, where you can buy business shirts to last for the next 2 years, where as opposed to ripping off foreigners and taking advantage of them, they tell you a universal price. I loved Yinchuan City, and being free of all of the crap that Beijing throws at foreigners, particularly Asian foreigners that don’t speak Mandarin. People here were in my eyes, a lot more friendly and accommodating, which made the presence of armed guards intimidating. Like, I know the Chinese Government is sensitive towards minorities, and would want to put any rebellion immediately, but doing things like this are counter-intuitive, the population, or at least myself would be more riled up at the prospect of having the central government send armed soldiers to pacify the population, then they would with autonomous rule or even being treated like just another state. This isn’t Xinjiang, there isn’t a history of independent rule or massive cultural differences, so if a rebellion happens here one day, I’ll think back to the moment when I saw armed guards repress the population, and realise that being heavy-handed eventually has its costs.
To finish with, I’ll compare ‘markets’ in Beijing compared to actual markets in Yinchuan. Firstly, I never liked the silk market, not because I don’t love being argumentative while negotiating, rather because you feel like an object, just a money sign to them. This obviously sounds stupid when you consider the objective is the same as in Yinchuan, they want to sell to you just as much as the Beijing market proprietors. In Yinchuan though, you aren’t getting a mark-up of 2000%, they treat you the same as a Chinese person, they offered me the same price as the three Chinese people next to me. If they figure out you are a foreigner, the response is the same, if anything more cooperative, and the amount of photos I took with sellers after a sale was astounding. I came here with no shirts and no pants, I left with nine shirts, two pairs of pants (one without a zip) and four pairs of truly unique underwear.
For the bit I have to talk about, the One Belt One Road policy, I think that in a region like Ningxia, an emphasis upon upgrading existing facilities and promoting economic growth by coordinating business through Ningxia will be a tremendous benefit for the region. As a poorer region within China, the chance to benefit tangibly through the policy is attractive, and shows the benefits the policy can have towards the people living there. I just hope it isn’t at the expense of the small town charm I felt when I was there.
Now, for my bit of the proceedings, my complaints (and beforehand I’d like to thank the tour guide for her apologies, it was much appreciated in my book) are detailed, and will be explained below in dot points (is nearly a straight take-out from my review)
- The food, this is our own fault (or at least mine), I may be an asshole, but in general, saying the food is great but complaining about it is at best hypocritical and at worst unacceptable. I hated the food and will be bulking up in Beijing the only way I know how (Tuesday night Pasta at Lakers). 3/10, but this isn’t the tour guides fault, this is mine.
- The decision to go rock painting and allow nearly no time to explore the city, this once isn’t applicable to me, but rock painting was going to be a bad idea from the start (we aren’t arts students, we’re business students)
- The Bossen Hotel wifi, WTF
- The fact that 150 kuai somehow went missing from Justine giving my money to the tour guide to buy tickets, to the tickets being given (minus one ticket that cost 150 kuai, insert grasp of faux shock)
- The people who trashed a hotel room (not mine), you fuckers should meet with me to sort it out. You mess with my mates, you mess with me. *
- The lack of sport, I had to put my baseball blog on hold for 5 days, and the one day I was able to watch, I think I woke Daniel up (emphasis upon I think).
I thoroughly enjoyed this week, and this was an experience I am glad I didn’t miss. Coming to Ningxia gave me the opportunity to do things I never could have done before, and allowed me to experience places I never would have even considered
* as it turned out, they never met up, it was only three weeks later that I found it who it was. I openly called them out, and as they failed to answer or answer their door when I confronted them, I named and shamed them in a rant-filled post. Only then would they respond.