The morning today started with snoozed alarm clocks and uneaten breakfast. After a late night of studying, I decided to sleep for a few more precious moments before heading to my first and only Chinese midterm. Language learning has never been my forte, but I've found that the immersion and immense focus on improving my blatant illiteracy of my native tongue has helped an immense amount. Consequently, I'm sure that I at least didn't fail my exam.
I had to rush to my room afterwards to haphazardly pack, because today was the beginning of our weekend trip to Anhui! Unfortunately Dong Laoshi wasn't able to persuade the weather to cooperate like she usually can - the rain poured unforgivingly as we ate lunch, stocked up on snacks, and somehow caught cabs to the train station.
The Nanjing train station was much nicer than the sweaty mess that was the Beijing station. I remember the pushy rush of Beijing's station, as well as a gigantic meat cleaver that security had confiscated from a clueless man's luggage. Needless to say, I appreciated the relative peace in Nanjing. The metal detectors at this station seemed commotionless and and almost decorative. Plus, some of us actually managed to find seats in the waiting area. Not all of us, mind you. The squat toilets have really allowed us to practice crouching on a whim.
The train itself was very acceptable, with more walk space than I expected. The air conditioning worked wonderfully which I really believe was the defining factor of the train car's pleasantness. We chatted, napped, snacked, and told ourselves that we should have been writing journals and doing more readings. Periodically train attendants would come by, loudly announcing the sale of various beverages, fruit, and mysterious shrink-wrapped products. At one point a woman with a speaker system strapped to her body demonstrated a ShamWow type cloth product and tried to sell them to passengers. That was definitely strange.
The scenery outside became more and more rural, with wet plots of various crops and paddy-type land that I could only identify as farm-like and muddy. It was actually quite pretty, and peaceful to stare at until it became too dark to see outside.
We finally arrived at the right station at almost 10 pm, all of us achy and famished from the long ride. It immediately struck me that Anhui air might be cleaner, but it is also so filled with moisture that it felt like I was sucking in steam. Our new guide April picked us up and brought us to a little noodle restaurant nearby where we had a quick and much needed dinner. We then boarded nicest, cleanest, newest coach bus that I have ever had the pleasure to ride in while April proceeded to teach us a few things about this unique province. Of course I was most interested in her spiel about food, in which she described Anhui's cuisine as darker with more soy sauce, saltier, and quite spicy and flavorful.
We arrived at the hotel and were astounded by how beautiful the decor was. Everything about this place screams Chinese, especially rural older China, including the beds, many of the decorations, and the fact that I believe this inn is simply very old. It may be old, but it's also very nice, with furnished beds and a TV and pretty okay Wifi. One thing that I am struggling with though are the ping pong ball-sized spiders that are just hanging out on lots of the walls. I'm not sure how well my arachnophobia will let me sleep tonight...
Today was mostly a traveling day, and I am pretty excited for the hike tomorrow morning. April mentioned that Anhui's mountains inspired some of the scenery in the Avatar movie, so I expect tons of exquisite beauty that will make up for the horror of giant (killer) spiders. Hopefully the rain will let up and allow us to fully explore!