Arriving in Tianshui was a complete contrast to the Chinese cities I’ve encountered so far. Tianshui consists of two towns linked together by a highway: Qincheng and Beidao. Trains arrive in the latter one, where traffic and people are quite busy. Although this is certainly not the nicest area of Tianshui, people are very friendly and they made my decision to stay there easy. Also, my hotel, near the train station, seemed to be a good strategic move as there was a good infrastructure for food, Internet and bars.
Being the only non-Chinese guy in a city of 400’000 people was a neck turner for most locals. When going to the supermarket to buy a shampoo – I tend to leave them behind in showers a lot, isn’t it Peer? I quickly found myself surrounded by at least four helpful shop assistants. This shopping experience was somehow a mixed feeling between being amused and annoyed. It was quite hard to convince the ladies, that I didn’t care about the brand – as long as it was cheap. There’s not much hair left on my head and I casually use shampoos as a substitute for shower gel. Hey, my Rucksack is already heavy enough. In China doing so is essential: The shower gels contain mostly some skin bleaching chemicals which I really don’t fancy. I figured out that explaining this to the shop assistants would not be essential.
Before entering the store actually I had to deposit my day pack at the locker desk. By the time I left, the girl handing back my bag was blushing and giggling. That moment I had an idea: Why not let the public (the locals) be entertained by a tall strange looking guy (a Westerner)?
Therefore, feeling like a celebrity, I decided to perform on the streets by doing the excursion from Beidao to Qincheng by foot. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook, the distance was only about 5 to 6 km. That was a perfect length to walk and enjoy the fame. Unfortunately, the Lonely Planet map for this area was yet another inaccurate one (the last one was the city map of Tomsk, Russia). If I’d spoken with the locals – instead of showing off – they’d have pointed out the correct distance: 16 km. Walking that far by constantly having to wave, smile and greet is a burden. I now know, how Queen Elisabeth must feel. And if this wasn’t enough as punishment, when arriving in Qincheng, I had just enough time to catch the last bus back
Nevertheless, being immersed in a complete Chinese environment is both interesting and challenging. The receptionist would not want (emphasis on want) to understand that I wanted to stay two nights. One night was OK, but anything beyond that was “Mejo” (no). So I decided to do the same. I did not want to understand her. After the first night, I packed everything before leaving for the day trip. I figured, if the hotel really was full and they truly needed my room, they only would have to grab my backpack, which would make things easier for them as well as for me (knowing that nothing else was left in the room behind). To my surprise, when I returned that evening, my room was untouched and I thus was able to enjoy a second night – exactly as I wanted.
Although news about the earthquake (dubbed casually as “5/12”) is omnipresent in China, I am witnessing here for the first time the real consequences. Yes, I have so far seen numerous trucks with “Earthquake relief” banners elsewhere in China – but the streets of the twin city of Tianshui offered me with a hint of the magnitude of this natural disaster.
Tents with relocated families from the neighboring Sechuan province are omnipresent. These shelters are virtually everywhere – even in front of tourist attractions and in the centers downtown. It feels a bit odd to wander around with a camera, being a curious tourist. Nevertheless, these homeless people were very friendly and I guess my appearance made the day for the kids who had to exchange their home against a place next to busy streets.