On Saturday, we decided to go to the Xi'an Wall, or as I dubbed it, the Lesser Wall (as it's only a few kilometers long [though still probably as tall as the Great Wall from base to top]). Being the separation between the new parts of the city and the old, it was pretty central overall. When we got there, everyone else got bicyces to ride around the wall. I, though, decided to walk, mainly because...well, two reasons. First, I wanted to go at my own pace. While I like spending time with my dad, when I'm with the whole group of seven people, I always feel like we're never going at the same pace; either I'm slowing them down, or vice versa. On this thing, I just wanted to do my own thing, take pictures, have time to think, etc. Second, I want to walk as much as possible to prep myself for my Everest Base Camp trek. So, after seeing everyone bike away, I turned my Zune on, and decided to switch on some keygen music (which is probably one of the weirdest "genres" ever - music that is specifically used in the background of illegal, copyright-infringing keygen programs; I'm not endorsing them, but the music associated with them can be fun). And you know what, it was actually pretty nice. Just walking, listening to music, making some observations on the environment, not having anything to worry about.
(And speaking of making observations, I am going to make an aside about one of the most strangely off-putting things men do here. And no, it's not growing long hair out of moles. Or growing their fingernails long to pick their noses [seriously]. It's them rolling up their shirts to their chests, letting their paunches just hang out. I realize it can hot, fellas, but please, all the way on, or just take them off entirely. Don't stop halfway.)
Anyway, either the bikers were going slowly, or I was just walking fast enough (both likely) that even though I was stopping for pictures, I eventually caught up with the bikers for a quick chat. When I left them again, they didn't catch up with me for nearly an hour. At that point, we had reached about the three-quarters point in the wall, and it was decided that we should stop (not by me - I could have kept going until the end). Instead, we took a shuttle, first on a full trip around the entire wall, and then again for that last little quarter. I wasn't super comfortable riding this thing while others were walking and riding bikes, though it turned out to be nothing compared to what I'd be dealing with later on. Anyway, we walked back to the hotel, where I showed my dad some of the stores I had been to the night before. I think the wrong impression was given - that I really wanted something from these places, and that I wanted them to buy it for me. As that wasn't the case, I decided to pull out and head back to the hotel. There, I did some photo organization, as well as some general trip organization until dinner. We had dinner in the hotel buffet again (which we basically would every night that we were in Xi'an), but I was wondering if it was possible for me to get dessert at a later time, because really, I wanted to have dessert a couple hours later, not immediately after dinner. I said that maybe we could ask if I could just come back, or alternatively bring something out with me. Michelle said she would tell them I had to immediately leave to check emails, but would like to come down to finish. When I said it wasn't important enough to lie, she replied by saying that it's the proper thing to do according to the whole Chinese "Face" thing. Further proof that the concept is...not my cup of tea, I'll say it that way. Her method did work, though, and I was able to get dessert later that night, which was mostly spent just messing around my room. And packing. Had to do that.
The next morning, we woke up early (6am-ish) for breakfast, because we had to be out and about before too long in order to be at the airport, to head to our third and final destination of Shenzhen. However, about 20 minutes into the drive, we got a call saying that the flight had been cancelled. Apparently there was a big storm passing through the Shenzhen/Hong Kong area, and the weather was bad enough that they cancelled all flights going to and from that airport. So, basically, we were stuck. We turned around and went back to the hotel, who were thankfully quite accommodating, and let us all back into the same rooms for the night. My room still even had the wireless router plugged in. I decided to exploit - yes, exploit - this situation by downloading and uploading as much as I possibly could/needed to. After all, you never know when the next time you'll have decent Internet is. It might be in the next spot you go, it might be a month from now. So, I uploaded some pictures to Facebook, downloaded some music (legally - don't let that keygen thing cloud your judgement), and looked up some of my plans for future travels, mostly in regards to Australia and new Zealand.
And wow, I had no idea Australia would be such a tough one to plan for. And afford. I need to do some more work.
As the day continued, I realized that I had gotten a couple of mosquito bites. I think I've found that, setting malaria aside, I think I prefer African mosquito bites to Asian ones. African ones look terrible - after you get bitten, you'll see it swell up into a hideous island of raised flesh the size of nickel. but give it five, maybe seven, hours, and it will not itch anymore. These things, though, itch for days. On the bright side, I've been able to apply my home remedy to them, which is to apply a blow-dryer to the bite areas. I don't know if there's any scientific backing to it - I like to think there is, because that would make me feel smart - but whenever I apply a strong amount of heat to an itchy bite, it not only feels satisfying as hell, but also stops itching for a good amount of time. Win-win! Anyway, I went down to dinner, where, thanks to a family-friends dispute that Michelle had to deal with personally, I was able to have a nice, long one-on-one talk with my dad. It was a genuinely nice moment - really, it was this kind of stuff that had me come here in the first place - just to be able to catch up. I honestly wish I had had more moments like that during this leg of the trip, but such is such is such. After dinner, I didn't do anything particularly exciting, just spending the rest of the night futilely trying to figure out what I was going to do in Australia, which ended up having me go to bed pretty late.
On Tuesday, we had a bit of a late start, since we didn't have any "official" plans for what we were going to be doing for the day. And even when we did decide to leave to go see to some of the local theme parks, people kept on having to go back and forth because someone forgot this or another. (It makes you realize some of the benefits of traveling alone.) In any case, we made our way to our first stop, called "Splendid China Folk Village". This place could basically be described as one of the world's largest dioramas. It showcases art, architecture, and culture from various nationalities, with China being the main focus. And everywhere you go, there are scale models of mountains, buildings, statues, etc, most of which are at 1:15 scale. Doing a little bit of research, the place is apparently 30 hectares, so that's pretty big (well, for a diorama - mine in school were mostly shoebox size).
When we arrived - there were only five of us today, as Michelle's brother and one cousin decided to take the day off - we went to this place to get on scooters to go around in. Now, I can understand the appeal of riding around on a motorized scooter, complete with sunshade, during a very hot, sunny day. That said, they were motorized scooters. I mean, go one step further, they become Hoverounds. Simply by sitting down in one, I felt 60 years older, 200 pounds more overweight, and 85 arthritic joints more infirm. Basically, sitting in that thing made me feel terrible. But hey, everyone else was doing it, and I didn't want to fall too far behind, right? Well, except the things had a maximum speed that was no more than a decent walking pace. You weren't saving time or anything; you just weren't walking. You had to scoot past people standing around, staring at you as you slowly cruise by. Now, I've said much about the Chinese concept of Face, but I guess the American equivalent is good ol' fashioned Pride, and this was just killing mine. I honestly couldn't take it any more, and so drove back to the scooter rental place to drop the thing off. Walking was hot and sweaty, but man, did it feel right. It also proved to be the more utilitarian choice, because the park had steps everywhere, forcing the scooter contingent to turn around and take alternative routes. Overall, we lost significantly more time using those things than benefit received. According to my dad, it was fun going on them (maybe because Michelle kept crashing their tandem one), but if you're ever given the option, and you have working legs, take my advice - use them. ...The legs, I mean.
After walking/driving around the place for a couple hours, we stopped at this Medieval Times-style show, which I guess was supposed to show a chapter of Chinese history for...some place? It's kind of hard to know, as I didn't understand a word of what was said. There was some basic horsemanship, which wasn't very impressive, as one guy couldn't even jump over a half-meter-high pole (which I had specifically called out beforehand seemed to be a low standard). They then had a huge battle at somebody's castle, with sword fights, mannequins being thrown over the castle walls, an army of female warriors (which I don't know is historically accurate), and one guy literally doing everyone's voice, which made it difficult to tell who which side one, the red side or the purple side. What won for me though was a horse from whom one of the killed warriors fell from, and didn't go to his pen as planned, but instead casually strolled through the field as the battle was raging. Apathy Horse is best horse.
After this, I was asked if we wanted to stay a little while longer, or go straight to Happy Valley, which was described by WikiTravel as "bigger than Hong Kong Disneyland, and most would say better." Of course I'm going to prefer that to scooting around and looking at miniature buildings. So, we take a train over, and get into Happy Valley, complete with insect cartoon character mascots. I was getting pretty excited, because we could go on some roller coasters and have all sorts of fun, just like an old elementary/high school field trip...except that the first thing the group did was get more scooters. And these were slower than at the last place, so I just had to walk, languidly, next to my dad. The man is not infirm in the slightest, but while he was sitting in that thing, it looked less like I was his son than his caretaker. Anyway, we drive to the first ride, which is basically one of those towers that just shoots you straight up (this one being for 60m). I walk up a set of stairs to get to it, at which point I see about three people waiting in line and an empty ride. Several minutes later, the scooter contingent rolls up, and we find out they're waiting to get at least six people. I said that with all of us, there were at least six people. Nope, as it turns out, none of them wanted to go on. My mood immediately soured. Now, I've been to theme parks before with people who don't like rides, but usually I'm not the only one going on them. The thought that these people had paid - wasted - good money to scoot around a park and watch me go on rides infuriated me. Straight up, infuriated. I went up and down the 60m without a smile.
My mood did lighten a bit when I was able to go on a roller coaster with my dad. Michelle kept telling him he had to be careful not to hurt himself, while I kept saying that he's done these kinds of things for years. The ride turned out to be pretty fun, and I was successfully able to have the picture taken of me be with me stroking my goatee (which is my favorite type of picture to take on coasters). Not that we bought the picture; I just do it in case the other people in our car buy it. But yeah, that single moment of being on the coaster with someone else made me feel a lot better about the day. I went on a few more rides as we were there, including a wooden train coaster (similar to what you'd find at Knott's Berry Farm [and I find it interesting how pervasive the Old West theme is at theme parks, regardless of which country you're in]), that, happily, everyone went on. We did end up missing a "4D" show (unless we wanted to wait another half-hour), but seeing that it was just a Yogi Bear mini-movie, I'd say we dodged a bullet.