Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Monday 14th October - Beijing - Xi'an

Goodbyes like this are not easy, though we've known its been coming for a while. Breakfast on 19th floor, this is not a time to peruse the papers. Lump in throat, ache in gut. Final checks, hugs and kisses and then Anna is in the car on the way to the airport and back to Blighty for LFF work. Shared a wonderful couple of weeks with my wife, but now I am undeniably on my tod.

Dived into the fabulous pool at the Kerry, [got a little water in my ears, which would prove problematic on the flight to Guiilin two days later] and swam a few lengths. Packed the rucsac and then headed across town on subway line 1, two more changes took me to Beijing West rail station.

Rail travel in China benefits from a little explaining: 
First you go to the ticket office, to collect or purchase your ticket. Since it's practically impossible to buy tickets for overseas online, I used an excellent agency called DIYChina, who charged only a $10 fee, in return for an reference number and good instuctions. In big stations, there may be an English speaking counter, see below, but really you just need to show your passport number and reservation number to get a physical card ticket. I arrive at 13.00 and get my ticket within ten minutes. Unlike the UK, each train has a number, much like a flight. The letter denotes the type of train. The G class are high speed modern trains.

Then you look at the indicator board, the number on the right indicates the waiting room to which you then go. Thus my train, fifth one down, no. G87 leaves at 2pm, waiting room 11.

Here's waiting room 11. Very much like an airport gate. Here we're all waiting for one of two trains, I arrive at the gate at 13.20, and boarding commences at 13.40. 

The train, looks fast, and is fast. 

310 km/h woo woo!
[but the maglev in Shanghai can be much faster]

I decided to get a day time train as opposed to a sleeper in order to see a bit of the countryside. For two reasons though this didn't work out. In second class, the seating arrangement is 3 seats, corridor then 2 seats. Unfortunately I got the middle seat of the three, between a polite Chinese girl at the window, and a older man grimacing with bad knees on the aisle side. No worries though, because there is no beautiful country side to see on this route. Asfar as I could tell, this journey of over 1000km rarely leaves suburban/industrial type geography. And the air pollution...just look at this:

Anyway, arrived at Xi'an North station which serves the high speed lines at 19.00, and after a twenty minute ill-informed attempt to walk into the city (it's the wrong station to walk from, don't try it) got on the two line subway and headed into town.

For the next two nights I've got a room at the Han Tang Inn, a couple of minutes walk from the centre of the city, it's a good place with friendly staff, the walls covered with flags drawn by previous guests.

Just when you think that people and places are the same wherever you go and that everything is being blended into irretrievable homogeneity, some new juxtaposition comes along that surprises. So whilst there may be nothing new under the sun, under the moon that is not quite true. I came round a corner and saw a man with a telescope array mounted on a tuktuk. (You wouldn't get away with that rig in Kabul.) Slightly flumoxed by this new combination, I soon realised, reading the usual gesticulations that this was a money spinner, turning tricks for lunatics. But unlikely and unstable as it would appear, it works, because round the next corner were two more, all aiming lasers and different lengths of scope at that cloud concealed moon. 

The Bell Tower right at the centre of Xi'an, popular with photographers and those in need of a landmark.

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