26.10.2018 - 28.10.2018
After class, I went to the train station for my overnight train to Tonghua. I was the only one in the whole car, I guess that's why they kept the lights on way too long. I brought my eye mask, so it ended up alright, but it was an annoying way to start the weekend.
I arrived at 5 a.m. and waited for the next train to Ji'An at the end of China. At 10 a.m. we arrived and I started looking for a place to stay. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but whoever wrote the section in the Lonely Planet about the northeast did a terrible job. He wrote that I could find "a dozen" guest houses just outside of the train station, but guess what, none of them accept foreigners. I know because I went in and asked half of them. Usually it's not a problem, they just take cash and don't say anything. But I guess Ji'An is strict because of the North Korean border nearby. I went into every guest house that I saw, while making my way to the guest house actually listed in the guidebook. Finally I arrived there and they accepted me happily. That guy obviously didn't bother checking out any guest houses besides his own. It's not the first time he wrote something stupid like that.
On the way to the hotel, I happened upon the city's museum and tried to get inside.
The only door open was the exit, so I went in there. No one was inside and a couple of the employees were very angry that I didn't have a ticket. One of them took me across the street about 50 metres away to buy it, where there was no visible ticket sign or arrow or anything. I bought my ticket and went back. They assigned one guard to me and he followed me around the whole time. He even waited for me outside the bathroom, boiled some water and ran around with the kettle to fill up my bottle when it was empty. So that was interesting... There was a lot of gold stuff they found in the tombs at Wandu Mountain City, where I'd be going the next day.
That night, I walked along the Yalu River, gazing across to North Korea. It seemed like no one lived in the small green and white cottages across the way, but there must've been someone there, because probably anyone who tries to cross into China gets shot.
I found a North Korean restaurant where the women dressed up in chintzy costumes. They gave me some fresh fish from the river and I stuffed myself while sitting on the low tables. That restaurant was just as empty as the museum. In fact, empty is a good way to describe a lot of tourist attractions in Ji'An
The Lonely Planet said I should hire a driver to take me around for the day, but I noticed the tombs weren't more than 4 km away from my hotel. The writer also said the rest of the sites were not much different from Wandu Mountain City, and one of them was closed. That one was the only other place I had a small interest in, a tomb with colourful murals on the inside that you could actually climb into and see for yourself. Oh well, so I decided I'd walk to Wandu Mountain and spend the whole day there.
It took me about an hour and then I climbed around the ruins of the ancient palace, surveying my kingdom, imagining my subjects scurrying around in the city below. Life must've been difficult 2000 years ago. It snowed in the middle of October and then the king kept a big chunk of whatever was produced, my god. How terrible.
After that, I climbed about 500 stairs to get to the top of the old city wall. I thought that would be the extent of the climbing for the day, but the path kept going along the ridge, so I kept going too, completely unsure of where I would end up. I figured the path would end up somewhere I could get a cab or bus back to town, if it wasn't a loop. Thanks again to the terrible writer in the Lonely Planet for not bothering to mention this lovely and well maintained hiking trail.
So, I was having a grand adventure, tiring myself out, not sure how long I'd have to trek. Suddenly the path got very steep and I heard PLOP THUD, something fell to the ground right next to me. At first, I thought someone had thrown something at me. I hadn't seen anyone since I bought my entrance ticket, so my mind was spinning, looking for some attacker. Then I heard something rustling in the leaves below me. That's when my terror turned to extreme sadness, as I watched my "Cash For Life" stainless steel promo water bottle slowly and excruciatingly slide down the slippery cliff. My heart dropped and I went through all seven stages of grief in about 10 seconds. I realized that I could never fetch it without falling to my death, and also that I would have to turn around and go straight back down the way I came up. It was a rollercoaster of emotions.
My water bottle fell down exactly here:
No sane person would ever go on a hike without any water or knowledge of the length and terrain that lay ahead. Defeated by the tragedy of gravity, I did a complete 180 and was back down at the entrance within the hour.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around the ancient tombs.
On my walk back to town, I bought a cherry soda for 40 cents and a brand new water bottle with a wide mouth and tea leaf sieve for $1.50.
I made it back to the hotel by 3 p.m., and concocted a plan to have some more Korean food, but I fell asleep too early.
It was snowing when I woke up, with huge beautiful flakes drifting down silently, then promptly melting into a muddy awful mess once they hit the ground. I went to the train station early, made tea in my new bottle and sipped the delicious brew as I watched all the snow fall down through the enormous train station windows.
On the train back to Tonghua, the woman sitting across from me took photos of me surreptitiously while I glared at her for three hours. In Tonghua, I had four hours to kill so I went shopping and got some new boots for $6 and a shower curtain for $2. Exciting. I stumbled upon a Korean restaurant and had a nice bibimbap.
On the way to the train, the handle on my brand new water bottle fell off, and it smashed on the ground. Tea went everywhere. What kind of water bottle manufacturer makes a plastic bottle that breaks immediately upon dropping it on the ground one time? It was just one more loop on the rollercoaster of emotions that weekend....
On the train the man sleeping across from me kept video calling his wife and making me talk to her but neither of them could speak English besides MY WIFE MY WIFE! Then he forced me to eat some gross cold duck wings and finally I had to yell at him that I needed to sleep in my best Chinese and he left me alone after that.