Stop Over: Kaifeng

From Shanghai, we took our first sleeper train. Basically in China, you have the option of taking a soft sleeper which has 4 “fancy” beds and a door to your cabin or you can go hard sleeper which means you get a bunk bed in a row of 2 sets of three bunks per set. The bed isn’t really hard and you get a pillow and a blanket, although we would learn on later journey’s that the cleanliness of these linens are often questionable as they don’t get changed after every customer. The top bunk is the cheapest because you have no head room and it’s quite a climb, but I enjoyed the top because then I didn’t wake up with Chinese people staring at my foreign face. The lowest bunk is the most expensive and the most coveted because you get use of the table and you can properly sit rather than just lay for the whole journey.  The journey was pretty smooth and uneventful for the first ride with nothing but our usual stares, pictures taken and people offering us weird absinthe tasting seeds.

Before I knew it, we had arrived in Kaifeng (pronounced Kigh-Fung). Kaifeng is basically a weird “town” which in China means it has less than a million people, but is still quite massive with over 500,000 people. Kaifeng was a weird choice because nobody goes there. It has no real attractions and nobody speaks a single word of English. Ellie and I thought it’d be good to stop somewhere during the 35 plus hour ride to Xi’an from Shanghai and looked at a map and chose the halfway point. This is how one finds themselves somewhere like Kaifeng. When we arrived, it was pouring and the streets were flooded beyond belief. Taxis wanted insane amounts to carry us 1.5 km down the road. We finally got someone to take us for a fair price and went to the hotel we had booked beforehand. It was one of the “fanciest” hotels in Kaifeng which means it was a little less nice than a Motel 6 in the US. We promptly had a buffet breakfast which consists of a variety of cold vegetable salads and hard boiled eggs before passing out in our beds for the remainder of the morning because who wants to walk around in a storm?

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riding in the back of our first tuk-tuk!

riding in the back of our first tuk-tuk!

When we awoke, the rain had cleared and so had the roads so we took a walk. Kaifeng is one of the only places that used to have a native community of Chinese Jews. The synagogue burnt down and then they moved elsewhere. Nothing remains of that community. Kaifeng also still has its authentic city walls around the old town which were interesting for about 5 seconds. We basically walked to a temple where some Buddhists were supposed to have a vegetarian restaurant running. We paid to get into the temple. The restaurant wasn’t really there, but some lady monks (are they monks if they’re ladies?) fed us some veg soup for about a quarter each.

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The kitchen of the temple "restaurant". We're guessing there was a watermelon festival in the near future?

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We toured the temple, which was pretty, and then bided our time until the night market began. Kaifeng has one of the best night markets in China, according to Lonely Planet. We ordered some prawns, eggplant, tofu, and other various vegetables and they cooked them on the BBQ for us.

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It was really good and we hung out with locals who were trying to locate the English word for pretty in our Mandarin phrasebook. Kaifeng has seen so few tourists that we were something of a spectacle, even more than usual. People ran into trash cans to crane their necks at us and poked and prodded their friends in an obvious manner to let them know of our American presence.

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At one point, a woman came over to our table and confiscated our Chinese Phrasebook. She proceeded to search through it for over an hour, getting a kick out of being able to communicate with us. She discovered such words as “American”, “pretty”, “Panda”, “beer”, and “thank you” and shared them with us. It was a really nice moment, and made us appreciate how hard some Chinese people try to make you feel welcome. But it also showed us how little we are actually able to communicate with people on a daily basis and how hard it really s.

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At the hotel, I needed toilet paper and had to make a hand signal for butt wiping and they just laughed at me, confused. I thought butt wiping was pretty universal?

Our crazy 3 star hotel

Our crazy 3 star hotel

Kaifeng was good fun though and it was pretty weird because for having no Western tourists to speak of, it had a Sam’s Club which made us laugh. The next day, we went to the market again before heading to the train station for our next leg of the journey to Xi’an, where the only weird incident that happened in the train station was some boy who said “Hello. Can I have your email address?” Hmmm.  I guess he wanted to be pen pals?

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