Saturday, 1 September 2012

48 hours drinking in Zhengzhou

When I was in Beijing I'd met up with an Irish guy called Niall Quinn (yes, like the footballer), who'd been living in China as an English teacher for a couple of years. I didn't really have a proper itinerary for my travels here, and he suggested a couple of things I should see - one of which being the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, which would be on my way to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors. Anyway, he also mentioned I could stop off in his city, Zhengzhou (pronounced more like Chungchoo - but I never mastered it) as it was on the way, so I thought it would be good to see somewhere off the tourist trail and break up the journey. It was a city I had never of but according to Wikipedia it has as many inhabitants as London - a remarkable feat that there are cities of such populational significance we've never encountered.

I'd taken the slow train from Shanghai, I had 13 hours on a hard seat ticket, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that a 'hard seat' was as soft as a regular British seat. I slept for the first 8 hours after being gently knocked out by a valium donated by Will before he left, and when I awoke I was the main focus of interest of two cute Chinese girls, both about five years old. Within minutes of interacting they had left their seats to come and climb over me, someone had a picture book and I taught them some English, their ability to repeat words they had probably never heard before was very impressive - I'm still unsure if my pronunciation of the Chinese word for 'thank you' is correct after over two weeks of practice. The girls didn't tire, but I didn't mind, they kept me entertained and as a spectacle we entertained the rest of the crowded carriage. The most active girl gave me a keyring as I left the train, and I felt bad that I had nothing to give her. I searched in my bag but camera batteries were not a suitable gift, and the chocolate raisins I found had been there since Mongolia and gone a lighter shade - it wouldn't be right to give her those.

Departing Shanghai on the slow train to Zhenzhou
The train links Shanghai with Chengu - I will be going here soon.
Friends on the train - mother and daughter
The crowded, but comfortable for me, hard seat.
She didn't tire - but she was fun.
Kids for company.
Arriving in Zhenzhou in the evening - many people waiting for midnight trains going anywhere.
I arrived in Zhengzhou during the evening, and took a motorcycle taxi to a bar where Niall and his friends were involved in a pub quiz. They were just about in the lead at the time, but I turned up and correctly contributed the answers of 'Yorkshire', 'Kashmir by Led Zeppelin' and 'white' to help secure the victory and win us the £20 bar tab - the night was off to a good start. I chatted in there with different people, mostly a mixture of expats who were here teaching English. We went to another couple of bars, played some pool and drank more beers. We ended the night in a club in which we were pretty much the only foreigners, but it was really busy especially considering it was a Tuesday night. I didn't spend anything in there as drinks were free for foreigners, which was a very strange but equally very welcome concept. I'm not sure why it was the case, but I think they want to keep us in there, our perceived coolness perhaps added value to their establishment. One Chinese fella came over with a bottle of whiskey and proceeded to pour us all large drinks, one after the other. I think being seen with a foreigner, and showing off your wealth to them in public like this, is a status raising thing for the Chinese, and I was happy to accept the gift. We were looked after in the club by a small group of east Africans, who were employed by the club, not as waiters, barmen or security, but to look after the white foreigners. The seemingly racist hierarchy the Chinese had created did not impact upon our relationships, and we all had fun together.

Inside a Chinese nightclub - the following night they wouldn't let me bring in my camera.
Views from Niall's apartment on the 24th floor.
Construction of apartment blocks is omnipresent in China.
Unfinished apartment blocks.
Looking down from the 24th floor.
Bungee jumping in the People's Park.
 The following day we didn't get up too early, and once we did we went out in the baking heat to find some ingredients for an omelet. Breakfast sorted, Niall took me to the People's Park where we had a walk around and I saw a bit of central Zhengzhou, before we had dinner in an Indian restaurant and sat there drinking the cheap bottles of lager until it was time to move on. The night followed a similar format, we visited different bars, bumping into Niall's friends and I enjoyed meeting new people. I had a small drunken debate with a Jewish American bar owner about the Israeli - Palestine conflict, neither of us would ever concede any ground, like a microcosm of the conflict itself. We ended up in the same club again, and were once again were looked after the by the Africans who provided us with drinks whenever we wanted them, and they just hung out in the club, I was still unsure of their job title - perhaps 'cool enabler' or something would have been appropriate. I managed to calculate we must've sunk twenty drinks that night, but were still somehow standing strong, or I was managing to keep up with the Irish. There's a little bit of Irish blood in me somewhere anyway.

Niall (centre) a Chinese barman and the American bar owner (right) preparing Irish carbomb cocktails. 

The next morning and probably still drunk having only had a few hours kip, I took a taxi to the train station with a slip of paper on which was written in Chinese 'one ticket for Luoyang'. I bought a ticket and followed the crowd through security to the departures area, and I was quite bemused as all I could see was a row of buses, and nothing that looked like a railway. Oh well, it looked like I was taking the bus then. I'd walked into the wrong terminal with them all situated on the same square; I'd just followed a sign that said 'tickets' and went from there - I wasn't paying full attention. I noticed a European girl and so hoped she would be my saviour, perhaps we were going to the same place, as I couldn't work head nor tail of my ticket and was unsure which bus it would be. Fortunately Beatrix from Berlin, was going to the same place and spoke excellent Chinese having studied it for ten years. I could stop paying attention again and let her guide me to my destination. We spent the two hour bus ride chatting, and like all Germans, her English was perfect and she was a good conversationalist. We were both for a more united Europe, which pleased her as not many Brits are, and we were able to discuss the second world war in detail, and I jokingly denied that the bombing of Dresden had ever taken place and was just Nazi propaganda - it was nice to be able to talk openly like this. I also had to open the window and stick my head out into the hazy polluted air, the motion of the bus combined with a hangover was not a good cocktail for my stomach, but I made the journey without embarrassment.

Hangover cures - hanging my head out the window.

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