Slow train to China

25 May

So, Shanghai. Got myself nicely through immigration departures and onto the train – they have several classes of sleeper train over here, the cheapest being ‘hard sleeper’ which is a padded bench, six berths to a cabin. I spent most of the time sitting on a little bench outside the cabin, watching the world go by and dreaming to myself, doing a little writing, listening to some teaching audios… Soft sleeper is just what it sounds like – softer – and if you go for a deluxe cabin you get arm chairs.

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Still, you can get good food in the restaurant car for around $2.50 (that doesn’t happen in the UK!) and there’s hot water on tap to hydrate the ubiquitous noodles. I suspect the menu entry of ‘Crucian Crap’ may have been ‘Crucian Carp’ – and I was a little bit flummoxed by ‘Yellow Croaker’ until I got internet connection (another fish).

We rush past hordes of waiting commuters on the platform… past well organised smallholdings and miles of industrial zones… past what look like skyscraper farms, with giant cranes towering over clusters of half finished buildings.

Every now and again a little Chinese kid wanders past with his sister in tow, stares at me and tries another word in English. ‘Pen’. ‘Book’. He’s doing really well with parts of the body, and I haven’t got the heart to correct him when he gets to ‘feets’.

And then into Shanghai. There’s not as much English on the signs as there is in Hong Kong – but still enough to get round. It makes me glad I went to Nanning, as that showed me what China was really like out of the megacities.

Quick trip on the well designed metro, and into a hostel. I’m booked into a real Youth Hostel here, and it’s nice to have a bed with a window (even if the wind does howl round it in the night) and people to interact with! This is another ‘hostel in a highrise’ – but in this case it’s all stripped pine, light and airy with nice staff (but really slow internet). And in China EVERYONE lives in a high rise!

As usual, then, a walk to orientate myself – a walk by the river along the Bund, looking at another dramatic cityscape (even if one or two of the buildings are, well, silly). The Bund means ‘embankment on a muddy waterfront’ and is ‘the’ place to be on a Sunday afternoon. Or so it seems – everyone seems to be there. Certainly Chairman Mao is.

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The city is crazy busy – but I do realise what I have been missing since leaving Vietnam… no horns. In Vietnam, the horn is used all the time in driving. In China, it’s used, as the Chinglish sign goes, to ‘tootle mellifluously’ as a warning.

I’m glad of my China guide on my Kindle – not only does it mean that I don’t look quite so obviously like a tourist, but the China guide is about 3cm thick and weighs a ton. On the other hand, it could come in quite handy for self defence – no-one’s going to get back up quickly after being hit by that.

And I am cold again for the first time since November in New Zealand. I’ve got trousers and a fleece on! And it’s raining! I feel completely at home.

So.. it’s shaping up nicely. Less than 50 days to go before I return to the UK. Tibet & Nepal are nicely lined up, and my plans to see Beijing look good.

And then disaster strikes. But that story will have to wait for another day…

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