Back in the Swing of Things

If at some point in the future, I am given the opportunity to go back to Lanzhou, I think that I will politely decline.  Perhaps I was in a bad mood last night, but the “most polluted city in the world” did not leave me with pleasant memories.  The air gave me an asthma flair-up, and the night market was a complete disappointment.  However, I only spent one night there, and today was a great day.

I’m now in Zhangye (pronounced Jong-yeh), a much smaller city of about 300,000 people.  I took the train here this morning, and passed through some incredible landscape, including a section with towering snow-capped peaks in the distance, and rugged desert in the foreground.  Unfortunately, snapping photos out the window of a moving train does not yield good results, so you’ll have to use some imagination, and just believe me when I tell you that it was amazing.  While yesterday’s train was full of sleeper coaches, today’s only had Amtrak-style cars.  My car turned into a raucous get-together by the end of the trip.  There were kids running around, and climbing all over the seats, five different cell phones blasting Chinese pop music at full blast (competing with the traditional vocal music that was blasted over the loudspeakers), and even conductors who walked up and down the train trying to sell random goods (belts, toys, towels, and assorted other items).  I was also somewhat of an attraction and conversation piece in the crowded aisles.  Staring out the window when I could I was able to see my first camel of the trip (didn’t have the camera out), and caught a glimpse of the Great Wall (although as you’ll see in the image below, it didn’t look so great).

The weather upon arrival in Zhangye was absolutely perfect.  It’s dry here, and I’m able to sleep with the window open.  It’s the first time since arriving in China that I’ve felt smog-free.  I’m looking forward to getting out into the countryside to enjoy more of the weather tomorrow.  I’m planning on hiking around a Buddhist monastery that was built into the side of a cliff.  Then, I’ll spend one more night here before heading to jiayuguan, which is the next oasis along the Silk Road.  Marco Polo spent a year in Zhangye, but it looks like I’ll be out of here after two nights.

Here are a bunch of photos from the last two days (apologies for the blurry out-the-window shots):

Xi’an to Lanzhou:

The busy corridor in the sleeper coach to Lanzhou

The lush greenery outside the train window

A transition towards a more arid climate

Lanzhou to Zhangye:

My only glimpse of the Yellow River, although it looks more brown to me.

I made a few friends on the train today. This little lady was the youngest of them.

A happy camper on the train today, and not just because she made a new friend. She just got a new ball! It was sold to her parents by one of the infomercial conductors.

This fellow sat in the seat in front of me, and kept turning around to stare at the foreigner. At one point, he engaged me in a long one-sided conversation about the meaning of life, although i understood absolutely nothing of what he said, which didn't seem to bother him. He also had fun pulling the blond hair on my arm.

The Gobi looms near.

Believe it or not, this is the Great Wall of China, although it looks more like the Just OK Wall to me. That mound-like object is one of the guard towers. On the western fringes of the wall, they built it with rammed earth, and never got around to reinforcing it during the Ming period like they did with the more famous sections. I'll see more of this as I travel again on Saturday.


The Great Buddha Temple. Inside is a giant reclining Buddha, 140-feet long. He looks like he might be napping, but his eyes are slightly open, as though he's in deep thought. You'll have to take my word for it, though, since no photography is allowed inside.

The only Buddha that I was able to photograph. This one's on the side of the temple.

The huge stupa at the temple complex.

Supposedly, Kublai Khan was born in the Great Buddha Temple.

Evidently, China never had the great polychromy debate that raged in Europe in the 19th Century.

My dinner. I asked the waitress what she would recommend, and I wonder if she recommended this because it's what westerners always order there. It looked good, but every other dish at the restaurant looked better. The tablecloths were greener on the other tables, too.

A snack. I don't know what the one on the left was, but it tasted pretty good. The little rollups were delicious. They were stuffed with cilantro and other greens. I don't know what the wrapper was, though. I'm assuming it was rice-based, but it didn't really have that consistency. Both were cooked over coals on the street, and were covered in a glorious mix of spices.

8 thoughts on “Back in the Swing of Things

  1. Tad,

    These pictures are fantastic! It looks like you are having an amazing experience. The pictures of the chilren are priceless!

    I love checking in and reading about your adventures!

    Sarah R

  2. Looks like you’ve finally gotten to a bit of a break in the pollution. It’s amazing that a town that Langzhou didn’t have much by way of internet connection and yet Zhangye does. I did figure you’d stand out a little as a westerner, but not quite to the point of having your hair pulled out. That must have been pleasant!

    The pictures you’re taking and the stuff you’re writing is great. Fred and I have been looking forward to your posts everyday, competing over who gets to read them first. Back on the home front, you’re not missing too much. It’s been hot as Hades here in Baltimore, 103 degrees today. It will really help me empathize with your plight when you hit the desert temperatures.


  3. Maybe its better that I was not able to meet up with you Tad, I can only imagine the state in which my stomach would be in after some of those unidentified meals. Although I have to say, they look very tasty…

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