Day 8: First day off (Sat 5 Nov)

I woke up at 8am sans alarm and felt pretty good. Tried to sleep for a while longer but to no avail – technology called. I thought I had Skype installed on my laptop already but apparently not. I desperately tried to download it because it will be easier to use via computer rather than iPad. The firewall here is pretty tough so I haven’t been able to get it on to my computer yet. Also having a lot of trouble with Facebook. My VPN crashes every time I try to open it. Might try another VPN, other than that, not really sure what to do. I can’t keep using my Blackberry on global roaming to check FB; I’m already too scared to see what my bill has amounted to and I’ve only been here a week!

I have spent a couple of hours touching base with everyone and keeping on top of my messages through various electronic means. Reminds me of the hours I used to spend in GP3 when email was brand new in universities. Oh how far we’ve come since tartarus!

There’s a part of me that wants to seize the energy that I seem to have today and head out to see the terracotta warriors which aren’t too far away. But I know that my energy levels could flag at any moment so I’d best save that day trip up for *when* I am a bit better and can handle a day without a nap. I’m going to wake Brad up soon so that we can at least catch the brand new Xian metro and head into the downtown area. We literally haven’t ventured beyond one block in this entire week. Admittedly it is a pretty damn big block, and its features include hospital, hotels, the never-to-be-mentioned-again massage place, department store, supermarket, laundry, KFC (no, we haven’t had any) and various other of life’s essentials. But enough’s enough. Time to go and see what else this little village of eight million people has to offer.

The metro stop is a short walk from our hotel so we got there and managed to buy ourselves a ticket from the self-service machine (complete with English translations) as well as figure out in which direction to catch the subway. There were pats on the back all round. Knowing which direction to go at the other end was a bit of pot luck. I insisted that we should “follow the crowds.” Um, yep. Since there were crowds as far as the eye could see, this wasn’t a particularly helpful suggestion. The subway had more helpful red flashing signs indicating the direction to the Belltower (famous icon in Xian), the shopping plaza and a few other bits and pieces. We got ourselves to the shopping plaza across the road from the Belltower (we weren’t in the mood for doing the touristy thing today) and thought we’d buy a few essentials; another tracksuit for me to slouch around the hospital in and a backpack to carry our daily needs between home and hospital. We went in to the shops which looked like any ordinary David Jones store, only about four times bigger. We didn’t want to get too carried away with shopping since this was meant to be more of a relaxing recon mission to suss out the lay of the land. We flicked over price tags here and there and things started not to add up (or should I say, they really started to add up). We were both dumbfounded to find that whatever kind of mall we were in had prices over and above the already ridiculously inflated prices of Perth. We’re talking $50 for a Hanes t-shirt, and $800 for a fairly plain looking men’s lightweight winter jacket. The Samsonite luggage was $350-450 a pop, much like home, and the tracksuit gear was about $80-90 a piece. I was starting to feel very poor.

We got out of that place as quickly as possible, but very bemused about who exactly is buying all this Western-priced merchandise. Surely not people on Chinese wages? I will park this musing for another day.
Further along the street we found a pedestrian mall with a variety of shops. My eagle eye for a bargain spotted a second-level Adidas outlet store, so I got a few new tracksuit pieces to keep me going. It wasn’t exactly “cheap” as we Westerners might imagine China to be cheap, but the stuff was priced similarly to what we might find in a discount outlet shop at home.

Thank you McDonalds and 7-Eleven

I must make a special thank you to the McDonalds Corporation and to 7-Eleven in this edition of the blog. I am indebted to the global conglomerate, and probably not for the first time. You see, I neglected to mention earlier that Brad had been up most of last night with… how shall I say it… loose bowels. A sort of Bali-belly, Chinese style, if you will. Of course I showed the requisite concern this morning after I had slept like a baby and he was tired from being a jack in the box between the bed and the loo. But my turn came. And it came when I was in the middle of the mall. There was of course no time to waste. As “that feeling” came upon me I knew what had to be done. First, find a loo. Scan the area… McDonalds. Ding. Public toilets in China don’t have toilet paper. Scan the area… 7-Eleven. We hightailed it there, bought some tissues, then headed over to Mickey Dee’s. Brad went off to twiddle his thumbs and I waited in the queue. Oddly, the queue had very few people in it, but it was probably one of the longest waits I have had for a toilet in a very long time. I have no idea what those women were doing in the toilets for soooooooo long. After a few knocks on the doors by me and the other woman who was waiting I finally got my turn. I navigated the squat toilet with as much precision as I could muster and got out of there as quickly as possible. Crisis averted. So, like I said. Thank you McDonalds. You may not sell real food, but you definitely provide a valuable service.

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