No room at the Inn
The sun has finally decided to put its hat on and what a difference it makes. I’d previously thought China had set its colour mode to grey but if you splash a little bit of colour on something it makes a huge difference.I may well have been a little bit harsh on the other provinces partly due to the weather. Some of those first few weeks on the bike spent riding through some pretty depressing scenery. Perhaps the weather just compounded my feelings about these places.
Shaanxi has started well with funnily enough the return of mountains. Riding up a long stretch is made all the more easier when it’s not chucking it down with rain. I’ve already witnessed a change in the architecture of buildings; the houses in the hills have that very distinctive Chinese style with those wonderful elaborate curved roofs. I found out the other day that Buddhists curved their temple roofs because they believed that the shape helped to ward off evil spirits.
The upturn in the weather has, as you can see brought about more pictures. I was very aware at the beginning of the trip that I wasn’t taking many photos; but when it’s grey and raining what is there to take photos of? I keep the camera stored up front in the handlebar bag so it’s easy to quickly pull out and take a snap. The only problem I have with taking photos is that it breaks your rhythm when riding. Today though I could really soak in the mountainous scenery around me and bask in the glorious sunshine. I was in no hurry and why should I be?
The first thing you see when you arrive in Shangnan is the beautiful temple set high on top of the hill. It looked especially wonderful when I arrived with a wonderful blue background to it.
Finding a hotel wasn’t a problem and before I knew it I was settled in and ready for some food. Talk to any Chinese person about food and they will always say their province serves up the best food. The Chinese take their food very seriously. I’m in noodle country now and Shaanxi food is known for its strong flavours. It’s quite easy to get carried away and start making big claims about food but I have no doubt in saying that the dumplings I had for dinner that night were the best I’ve ever eaten and that is a fact. I gobbled them down in break neck speed and could quite easily have gone back for seconds. I tried my best in Chinese to convey to the owner of the restaurant that I thought they were the best dumplings I’d ever eaten but she just looked mildly confused.
With my stomach in heaven I strode back to the hotel with a real spring in my step. I could also now see the temple which I’d seen on arrival; it was lit up in glorious bright gold. It was quite a sight and one unfortunately the camera on my phone couldn’t quite do justice.
It was at this point that the evening took a turn for the worse. The young receptionist who’d booked me in was getting a bit of a dressing down from an older Chinese woman who I assumed was her boss. The girl followed me nervously up the stairs and I could tell that the conversation she’d been having was linked to me. China has some strange laws one of which stipulates that some hotels cannot house foreign guests. The poor girl was obviously very embarrassed sorry for the mistake she had made booking me in and was basically saying that I could no longer stay there.
It was all very awkward; I’d unpacked some things from my bags and had already made myself quite at home. She watched as I went through the process of stuffing everything back into the bags and then carrying it all downstairs once again. Was I angry? No, frustrated but laws are laws and there would have been no point in me arguing about this. It was now 8 o’clock and I was basically without a place to stay.
A man from the hotel made some calls and from what I could make out because I was a foreigner I would have to stay in the 5 star hotel located near the train station as that was permitted to accept foreign guests. I tried to explain to the man that I have a budget and that budget certainly doesn’t account for staying in swanky 5 star hotels. Nevertheless he insisted on walking me there and with that we both left the hotel.
We looked a right pair as we walked down the street, me over 6 foot and him almost half my size carrying my bags of fruit and water. I knew immediately when I saw the extremely grand hotel that this wasn’t for me. The car park was jammed packed with all the latest automobiles all shiny and gleaming and then there was me, looking a little big haggard by now pushing my bike up to the front doors. We didn’t even get through the revolving doors as a young Chinese woman who worked for the hotel shooed me away in a very forceful manner like I was some kind of vagrant dog. She and the old guy who’d led me there then spent the next 10 minutes arguing about whatever as I just stood there like a spare wheel. This obviously attracted the attention of more people who were coming and going from the hotel and it seemed that everyone wanted a piece of the action. I was eventually informed that I could stay at the hotel for a discounted rate of about twenty pounds but that I would have to leave my bike at the bike station where the security guard would watch it. This obviously wasn’t going to cut it with me. I thanked the guy who’d taken the trouble to try and help me out but the woman’s stubbornness and flat out refusal that the bike couldn’t go in was the final straw for me. The man seemed a little puzzled as I got on my bike and said I’m going to try and sort this out myself and with that I was off. I didn’t really have a plan if truth be told I was just a bit annoyed at what had now become a farcical situation. I did contemplate sleeping outside I mean it wasn’t that cold but the problem was finding a place in the dark.
I rode a little way down the street and saw what looked like another hotel and pulled the bike up to the front. When I asked the two women whether foreigners were permitted to stay here or not they seemed rather perplexed; their response in Chinese seemed to be delivered with a sort of shrug of the shoulders and a an air of ‘why wouldn’t they?’ So a good three hours after rolling into town I was finally booked into a hotel and could at long last go to sleep. Just another day of biking through China.