Jinchang, Wuwei, Sunny/Grey – Max: 21; Min: 9; Avg: 15
We woke, packed (again) and went for breakfast at 8am sharp. Nothing was ready and we were placed in a large room with one table placed in the middle. Later another couple came and they dragged in another table. Breakfast was worse than the previous days and after a bowl of porridge and some dry bread and a fight to get one cup of coffee this time (and no tea!), Lene left. Yanmei stayed to finish her noodles.
We met in the lobby at 9am, but no sign of the guides. Megan arrived around 9:15 and started lengthy discussions with the receptionist. More people got involved. We never found out what it was about, but finally after waiting almost 45 minutes we left for the SWI – minus “the boss”. We had no idea where he was. We took pictures of the hotel, called Jinchang, and the driver with Yanmei and Daji.
We drove to the SWI and were led up to the Director’s office. We were given a glass of very hot green tea and thanked the Director for the show the night before a told him how much we had enjoyed it and now we had it on video, not least Yanmei would be able to see it again. The Director had a computer in his office and we told them about our site and told him about the Gansu site on Yahoo. After about 30 minutes we were ready to go – not least the children. The Director offered that we could look around again, but we’d seen everything that we needed to see, so the Director led us downstairs.
The children were out again, many doing gymnastics (including head over heals on the hard cement – not something you’d get Danish children doing!) and others reciting something or other in Chinese. We felt it was time to be leaving now, not least as we hoped to reach Lanzhou and travel back to Beijing now that we had to leave Jinchang. There was certainly no sign of a storm brewing. However there was still no sign of Megan’s boss, and when we asked where he was, we got a cryptic answer. After some telephone calls we were told that he was at the Civil Authorities and he wouldn’t be finished for another 15-30 minutes. After about 15 minutes, we were ready to leave, the Director led the way to pick up Megan’s boss, and then led us to the road out of town.
We stopped next to large area on the edge of town that was being excavated. Lots of people were digging and landscaping. The Director told us that the people of Jinchang were building a park and that each family that wished to, could plant a tree. There would be a lake in the middle. The park has since been opened as a massive flower park in the middle of the desert. We said our goodbye’s we were on our way through the desert, towards Wuwei. On the edge of Yuwei we med several hundred cyclists – they must have just left a factory for lunch. There are often signs over the road when travelling in China outside the big cities – I am sure they convey some type of message, but no idea what.
As we neared Wuwei the guide told us that it would not be possible to take a flight to Beijing this evening as the flight at 18:00 was full. In addition, they would not return to Lanzhou as it may be difficult to get from Lanzhou to the airport due to the storm (the storm that never materialised), so we would have to stay in Wuwei. This was a decision we were not happy with, but were not given any choice.
At around 1pm we arrived back in Wuwei, where the smell was just as strong as our previous visit, two days earlier. We checked into the hotel at the edge of town (the same hotel we’d eaten lunch a couple of days earlier), in a fairly small and dusty room – on what we were told was the VIP floor, with a view over the factories with their chimneys emitting white/grey smoke.
After we had settled in we contacted Megan to arrange a trip into town. However she felt that we needed more time to rest and proposed we met at 4pm (2,5 hours ahead). Steven was getting annoyed with the whole situation and eventually sensing this Megan agreed to meet 30 minutes later. When we finally met in the lobby, it turned out that Megan’s boss and the driver were no longer at the hotel, but had driven to another meeting in Wuwei. We had suspected that there was another reason for us ending up in Wuwei, and it seemed that it was planned so that Megan’s boss (who we had no idea why he was with us) could attend a meeting in Wuwei(?)
Without the bus, we hailed a taxi – 3 adults and 2 children crammed into the smallest possible taxi, and we left to visit the Weiwu Confucian Temple in the south-east of the city. The temple dates from the Ming Dynasty having been established in 1439 and beyond the being the largest Confucian Temple in Gansu, the grounds also contains a museum with a collection of scriptures, as well as porcelain and other artefacts found in and around Wuwei.
We don’t remember a lot about the Temple beyond the many different pavilions, the very old trees, a bridge with red ribbons, the statue of Confucius and the fabulous coloured signs, with what we recall as being different Chinese proverbs. I think we were probably a bit “temple tired” by now.
Outside we decided to skip the museum with the scriptures from Confucius and took a taxi the short trip into town. The taxi stopped next to the Southern Gate and behind the gate, a large square with tablets depicting Wuwei’s 5000 year history. Wuwei has been capital of a number of Dynasties and has in former times also been known as Liangzhou.
Megan told us there wasn’t a lot more to see in Wuwei, but there was a pedestrian shopping street. She came here occasionally as a guide on the Silk Route tours, so she knew the city. We asked her to show point us in the right direction and it would then be OK for her to leave us, as we didn’t need a guide to help us window shop.
As soon as we left the square, we noted how much more life there was in Wuwei than there was in Jinchang. Officially Wuwei has a population of 2 million, 500.000 of which live in the city. So whilst it is only twice the size of Jinchang based on the population, the city seemed far, far bigger with far, far more people on the streets – still not as crowded as Lanzhou, Xian or Beijing, but a city full of life and people.
We walked along the main road, past a market and down a tree-lined street towards the commercial centre of town. People were very interested in seeing a foreign family with two Chinese children. We said goodbye to Megan and went into one or two of the larger shops – but were quickly in and out.
The pedestrian street was fairly busy, we bought some cakes, we hadn’t eaten lunch and sat on a bench. People stopped and stared, but walked by. A young man stopped and asked us why we were in Wuwei and why we had children that looked like Chinese children. He invited us home to his house, an offer we politely declined. Now that somebody was actually speaking to us, many people stopped and stared – coming closer and closer, and asking the young man questions about us. When the crowd became too big he asked them to leave, but it wasn’t many minutes before a crowd had again gathered. We’d finished our cakes so we decided it was best that we left, got up and made our way past the crowd.
As in many other Chinese towns, the pedestrian street had a number of bronze sculptures scattered along the street. We walked along street and towards the southern gate – seeing it now from the other side. There were bicycles everywhere and we never ceased to be amazed by the creativity of the Chinese use of bicycles to transport different things.
It was around 5pm as we started making our way back towards the hotel. Our hotel was on the western side of town, so we walked in what we assumed to be the right direction. We passed through the Muslim area and saw a butcher with meat hanging from hooks outside an unused building, people playing badminton in the street and lots of small local shops. The further west we walked, the stronger the smell from the factories and the poorer the housing became.
We crossed the river bed, minus river. As we reached he western end of the bridge the stench was unbelievable. We looked into the river and saw a small steam of dark brown sewage running along the bank of the river. We hurried past, Daji complaining about the smell. Crossing the bridge was like crossing into another world – a far poorer world. The road was a dirt track, the people were scruffy, the children dirty and and there were bicycles and stalls lining the road selling food and clothes as well as live animals. For the first time we felt a little unsecure.
The further we walked along the road, the more it seemed that news had travelled that we were on our way. We didn’t at any point feel unsafe, but it did feel like everybody was staring at us. We were also being followed by a tall man on a bike, we’d seen him long before we arrived at the bridge – we noticed him because he was far taller than all the other Chinese, and he was still following us on his bike when we got back to the hotel.
This was undoubtedly the poorest area we had seen whilst in China, and a strong contrast to the rest of Wuwei. The area lay next to all the factories, with many houses actually built into the factory walls. We followed the dirt track back to the hotel – we could see the “Eiffel Tour” that was outside the hotel. We were pretty sure that we must have been some of the few westerners that had ventured into this area, despite it being so close to the hotel.
Despite us not wanting to be in Wuwei, it had been an interesting afternoon. Wuwei has far more to offer than Jinchang – as long as you can hold out the smell! We saw some TV in the room and walked around our floor at the hotel – we were the only people on our floor. There was a good view to all sides – not least over the “smoking” factories. Megan had told us that the factories processed the wheat and other crops that grew around Wuwei – not knowing anything about food processing it seemed logical, although I have no idea why it would create such a smell.
We hadn’t really eaten anything substantial since breakfast so we discussed what we were going to do for dinner. We didn’t fancy going out in Wuwei during the evening – although I’m sure it is perfectly safe, so we decided to go to the restaurant in the hotel. We quickly realised that the hotel was a stop on the Silk Route. Two large groups, one from Japan and one from the Philippines, filled the two large rooms. There was no menu in English and nobody seemed to speak a word on English (except to say “Sorry, Long Time”!). We had a picture book pictures of animals, different foods and drink. We pointed at mutton, omelette, egg stock, spinach, rice and noodles, beer and juice. The waitresses had no idea what we wanted, so they brought the head waiter – he was extremely efficient, saw what we pointed at, said something in Chinese, and we looked forward to seeing what we’d get. It took a very long time (so now we know why they could say “Sorry, Long time”) – we came at the same time as the groups, and they were served first. Finally the food arrived, everything we’d ordered, and the food was really excellent – really worth the wait. We tried to order a desert, without any luck – the head waiter came again and voila, four cookies arrived – it turned out that they were cookies they normally served for breakfast!