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Two down!!

Xi’an to Changsha to Shaoshan to Changsha

Dinners in Xi’an were great (besides the fact that the waitress stands next to you the entire time you are deciding what to order, which in our case was usually about 20 minutes). The menu included crab shaped like box, double duck pear, bubble oil cake, wood frog, bull frog, soft shell turtle, abalone, shark’s fin, etc. These days I eat more in one meal than our entire time in Mongolia. The five pounds lost has become five pounds gained.

Caught another train, 5 hours, from Xi’an to Changsha. We try to plan a day or two in advance and sometimes it will take us hours to do simple things like book a hotel and figure out how to get from place A to place B. Did I mention this adventure is stressful? Here’s how my mind works:


Yep. Like that.

If you don’t have a place written in Chinese it will cause chaos with cab drivers and ticket counters. Some of the time Trip Advisor has a button that will convert the hotel to in-country language. Sometimes we have to use Chinese Google and cut and paste a string that looks like an address and cross our fingers. We are constantly on Mapsme and Apple maps making sure we are heading in the right direction. Mapsme is crowd sourced and is only right about half the time. In Changsha Rick is very stressed because our cab driver has taken us in the wrong direction when we are trying to get to the Crowne Hotel. Cab driver points upwards. We are right outside, hotel name written on building.

We’d picked a more expensive hotel in Changsha (although not by western standards) because we thought they could help us with directions to Shaoshan (about 90 minutes from Changsha), second on the list of the big three – Mao’s birthplace! They were useless and told us to take a taxi to the South Bus Station, different from the South Rail Station, different from the South High-speed Rail Station. We are sick of cabs so we try the Metro to the West Bus station to Shaoshan. Finding the right bus took seven tries, but we are successful and end in one piece in Shaoshan. However at that bus station we are confused. Shaoshan was listed as a ‘village’ in Lonely Planet, but in China a village seems to mean anything less than a million people. So, we cannot walk to our ultimate destination. A nice man helpfully points us onto another bus, for a fee. We get on and then I am fuming mad. We have accidentally bought ourselves a five hour guided tour entirely in Mandarin. Did I mention I don’t speak any Mandarin? The tour guide spoke without pause, changing language once to inform us ‘if there’s anything you don’t understand, just ask me’. Are you implying there might be one single thing that we do understand? Apparently we have even being saying ‘thank you’ incorrectly, calling people ‘big sister’ or ‘stinky cat whiskers’ or something. She tells us the tour takes an entire day and is guaranteed to include lots of enriching propaganda. Trapped, trapped, trapped in tour bus land!! All I want to do is get to Mao’s birthplace, take a photo, and leave. Yes, I am a terrible tourist. I care nothing about the journey. Just the destination, food, and massages. I am an insensitive (although equal opportunity) cultural wasteland.


The tour takes us to another bus station where we have to catch a bus to the first point of interest: lunch.

Lunch usually is a significant point of interest for me but in this case we were more concerned about getting as far away from the tour group as possible. Our tour guide lady was very regimented and told us we had to come to lunch, but we ran off in the other direction despite her steely reprimands and fist shaking. We found Mao’s birthplace, along with dozens of other tourists. I’d read that in peak season the lines were an hour long, but we just walked right in. We read loads of delightful stuff about Mao. How he helped his village people, what a great selfless guy he was, how he made China the great country it is today. I believe they forgot to mention the 70 million deaths he was responsible for – the Cultural Revolution that banished culture and deemed that anyone who opposed him be killed, the Great Leap Forward that left millions of people dead from starvation, the Long March.

Click, click. Photos done, indoctrination done. And, oops, as we’ve lost our tour bus, how do we get to bus number 3 to bus number 2 to bus number 1 to the Metro? We wander, agony in the heat, for a couple of miles, when we see a turquoise bus. Bus number 3 was turquoise – follow that bus! Rats, we cannot run as fast as buses. Another turquoise bus drives by. Miraculous, it stops. A lady yells at me for buying ice cream, but we get to bus number 2 to bus number 1 to the Metro to the hotel. Yay! A real sense of satisfaction here, because there was virtually nothing online to explain how to do all of this. Another puzzle solved!


Changsha is a vibrant city. It is the opposite of me: the people are young, fashionable, hip, and can walk across 4 lanes of speeding traffic without screaming. “Run behind that man with the baby Rick, no one will drive over a man with a baby”. There are hundreds of restaurants, blocks and blocks lit up like Times Square, street food and power cuts. We did not get to eat scorpion yet, but had squid on a stick, huge shrimp in soy sauce that we pulled the shells off, and balls of fried sugar. Rick still can’t figure out how to buy a lime.

We attempt dim sum for dinner, nothing like dim sum at home. The giant room is filled with screaming, hectic staff. We get a huge plate of snails, sticky rice, some egg thing, chicken skewers with cartilage, beef on a stick, and mango (maybe) juice. We think we got the westerner price again. This serves us right – last night we found a Starbucks and Beard Papa’s cream puffs and our resolve to not eat western food the whole trip completely crumbled.

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