………….back on a train today, Going from Shanghai to Xi’an. In my recent posts I have waxed enthusiastic about Chinese trains and their rail systems. I have to modify that view a bit because we have been downgraded to an old model for this journey (starting at midday and arriving at 9.0 am tomorrow.) On the one hand it saves us accommodation for a night; on the other hand I know we are not going to get much sleep on this rinkle-chunkle old rattletrap. We thought we lacked a little privacy on the last sleeper: this one is totally open.
Still 3-tier bunks facing each other, but of a special design devoid of any discreet paneling to afford some privacy. In fact I have renamed this train Stalag III because it is overseen by Frau Goebells –or the Chinese equivalent. She is our coach manager (I assume) and rules with a humourless rod of bamboo. She doesn’t like us opening the window, she doesn’t let us leave a lollipop on a plate for future consumption; she drags a filthy mop up the corridor and swishes it into our cubicle, scattering feet and boots willy nilly without a word, a smile or even a friendly snarl. The sleeper bunks are of the exposed variety so that Frau Goebells can see what we are up to at all times. We had a rubbish bin for our wrappers etc for the first part of the journey. She has wordlessly confiscated this, presumably to have the contents checked by headquarters before we disembark.
The train has a special way of stopping and we have worked out that they have a large bucket of rocks at the end of each carriage, which they toss under the wheels when ‘stabling’ is required. (The toilets doors warn that ‘no occupying while stabling is allowed’) In addition the hydraulic buffers between carriages have been, well, dispensed with so stopping entails violent grumblings followed by by violent bone jarring jerks. You know when you have stopped and are eternally thankful that you are still in one piece.
I’m writing about the process rather than the journey because frankly, the scenery,, what we could see of it through the thick hazy smog, has been forgettable.
As before, endless vistas of fields intermixed with crumbling dwellings, brickworks, huge motorway roads and flyovers, massive factory buildings, hundreds of identical high-rise apartment blocks, paddy fields, ponds of various sizes and stages of stagnation, and all covered in this weird thick haze which restricts visibility to about 1/2km maximum. The haze has got me bluffed. It smells like smog, it stings the eyes and tickles the throat – but smog for 100’s of kilometers?
A final comment on our guard. My posting was brought to an abrupt end at this point last night when, without warning, all the lights were turned off! That was at 9.45pm!
Anyway, back to the people. The taxi driver who took us to the station this morning could not have been more friendly. We had ordered two taxis (why would you need more? there are only 11 of us with 13 backpacks and a large suitcase plus a stroller !) to be taken to the rail station this morning. Rob’s driver, however was distinctly ratty. Probably because we had ordered the taxis for 12.30 and were running 5 mins late. Plus probably the fact that it takes about 10 mins to get everybody and their packs etc, squeezed into the taxi! However since the total taxi fare was only 21 Yuan and Rob gave him a 10Y tip he was finally happy as well’.
Our arrival in the city of X’i’an caused the biggest stir yet. It is starting to get to me a little, this open curiosity as if we each had 3 legs and green beards or something. We were supposed to be met at the station by the Hostel people so of course we stood around outside the station looking hopeful. No sign of the pickup. So Rob digs out his laptop and looks up the phone number of the hostel and proceeds to ring them on his cellphone. The crowd that gathered during this 10 min exercise was unbelievable – at least 60 or so people crowding shoulder to shoulder peering over Robs shoulder to see what he was looking at on the laptop and relaying the information to the crowd.
as usual, as soon as I point the camera, they all pretend to be doing something else! Its the sort of behavior you read about when Capt Cook first landed in the Tahiti, but it is not as if we are the first white people to have visited China. We can only put it down to the size of the family, which is verboten in China of course. I tried just looking directly into the eyes of the audience but they were immoveable. That is, until I got my camera out and started photographing them. Suddenly they find an interest in other things!
However the ordeal ended when Rob was asked by the hostel folk to catch 2 taxis because their van was elsewhere – fares to be refunded. The hostel is really excellent and is located right next to the ancient Walled City which is one of the things we came here to see,
We have been out for a stroll and ‘grazed’ (for lunch) on what looks like semi-glazed sweet pizza bases, buns filled with a variety of pickled veggies, chilly beans and other unknown ingredients, the steamed ‘pow’ both pork and beef filled, and exotic omelet/pancakes containing eggs, veggies, crispy pastry pieces etc.
That lot from 4 different little shops cost us a total of around 29 Yuan – about $NZ7. To feed 11 of us. Of course if we chose to go into a restaurant the cost would be a very different story!
Now we are back at base, having a rest before investigating a bit more.Tags: 1, Food, Observations, People, Transport, Tag Index