Cheng Chin Yuen

Monday, September 25, 2006

13th Sept - Huang Shan to Tun Xi

The next morning, we took the ‘Hei Che’ or Black Car (actually a van) back to Tun Xi where we hoped to catch a Train to Yong Ding to see the Hakka earthen round-houses. Our van went up and down Tang Kou three times before finally getting on with the journey after we voiced some displeasure.

The good thing about these illegal operators is that they generally cater to the poorer folk and have an effective network of budget accommodation and transport options. The van dropped us off at the train station and there was an auntie waiting for us with accurate information about the trains and a clean 30 yuan room for us to use till our train at 9.40pm.

Xi An Jie in Tun Xi seems to be a cultured place with loads of calligraphy shops and tea houses selling about 20 varieties of tea ranging from 16 to 40 yuan per 100 grams. The tea in Huang Shan is supposed to be good so I bought the most expensive for my mum. Some of the box packaging here are really elaborate and are used for tea gifts. The other specialities here are pastries baked in a tandoor-styled oven and chestnuts which are roasted in an impressive row of noisy machines in the shops. It has been a while since I have eaten chestnuts and Karen and I competed in trying to peel the perfect chestnut. It evolved to who-could-eat-more after a while.

The owner at our lunch place guessed instantly that we were from Malaysia and we got our 100th ‘Singapore is a very good country’. We have our foreign affairs department and our TCS drama serials to thank for our fame. His little daughter with very adult mannerisms was very happy with her new pair of jeans and had to report the 2 jiao (S$0.04) she was taking form the drawer for an exercise book before hopping on her bicycle for school.

The side alleys along Xi An Jie are a treat of old buildings and old people. Majong was in session at one public toilet on the small landing between the two sides. Some of the buildings on the main street here have large carved wooden panels used to decorate the shop’s façade. This is something we have not noticed before in the other historic towns.

Back at our guesthouse, auntie dearest was quite enthusiastic about us having dinner at her small eatery. She promised us a discount and we agreed because the other alternatives looked all about the same. These aunties have a few tactics for snaring your yuans. First they offer you a discount, but they don’t give you a discount. Instead they tell you they will put more meat in our order. The next tactic is a sure winner. The slightly more expensive alternative is encouraged by saying that canned ingredients are used in the cheaper version capitalising on our aversion for all things canned. Dinner was cheap but so-so.

It was a 17 hour train ride and we didn’t manage to get a sleeper ticket at the train station but this time we tried for an ‘upgrade’ and managed to secure two hard-sleeper berths for an additional 77 yuan per person. Somehow, despite automation, the station has problems tracking availability. Beggars couldn’t be choosers so we couldn’t complain about the third-tier bunks with ceilings low enough to bump your head a few times before you finally get used to the cramped conditions. At least we would be getting some decent sleep saving me a grumpy Karen the next morning.


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