03 September 2009

Train Thoughts from China

Went to sleep last night on the train, rocking a little, rolling along the tracks to Hong Kong from Shanghai, moving forward. Then, woke up this morning to find the train going backwards! I guess we must have terminated at one station and moved out backwards. Anyway, we're not going back to Shanghai, we're going to Hong Kong, right?

Had a good long sleep. 10 hours. Slept quite well, waking up a few times to turn over. I like sleeping on trains. Looked out the window after waking up, and found it to be fairly mountainous, but not high mountains. Hilly, you could say. On the flatter areas between the hills, there were old Chinese houses among the rice fields, vegetable patches and bushland. The odd lake and river. There are some banana trees, also, reminding me of this area's semi-tropical climate. This was about 2 hours by train north of Guangzhou.

At breakfast and did some reading...

I think we are now in Guangzhou. The train is meant to stop at Guangzhou East station, before travelling another 2 and a half hours before arrive in Hong Kong. Out the window, I see old apartment buildings about 5 stories high, industiral equipment (rail, factories etc), overcast weather, trees between buildings etc.

Interesting, when I left Shanghai, I asked the hostel staff about getting to the train earlier because I might have to go through immigration. Although Hong Kong is part of China now (since 1997 after the British handed it back to China), it is an SAR (Special Administrative Region) and, in may ways, still feels like a seperate country (eg. currency, economy, democracy, no internet controls, immigration, etc), and means that you need to pass the "border" (get passport stamped, and maybe need a visa etc) to go from China to Hong Kong or vice versa.

Anyway, the staff said I don't have to get my passport stamped, but if I come back to China from Hong Kong, I need to. Well, I allowed the 30 minutes they said, got a bite to eat with my last few Chinese money (now I'm down to about AUD 1, but I'll be in Hong Kong in a couple hours anyway). Then, I found I did have to go through immigration! Well, it was very painless and I was probably the last person to go through, but got on the train with no dramas.

Reflecting in Shanghai... Compared to Beijing, it's much more progressive. The buildings are much taller (a few more than 400 m) and much more stylish. The roadways are narrower (or, to me, seem more normal... the roads in Beijing, especially the main roads, were very wide!) Shanghai is much more of a commercial, financial and shopping city, whereas Beijing is more government, historic and cultural. Subways, buses and taxis are just a little more expensive in Shanghai. Shanghai is more internationalized, and would better qualify to be a world city. The driving in Shanghai is more aggressive and noisy (when I thought Beijing was interesting!)

In Shanghai, I went to Wu Gardens (old, historic district), a local market area (which sold frogs and snakes!), Nanjing Road shopping and walking streets (East and West), the Bund (a street by the river of western style sand-stone bank and government buildings), Shanghai World Financial Center (with the world's highest observation deck at 474 m on 100th floor), the Bund Sight-seeing Tunnel (it's ok). Just a short trip, but was happy to go there for 1.5 days. And, I was happy to see the Pearl TV Tower, the most iconic building in Shanghai.

I'll arrive in Hong Kong in just over 2 hours! There 2 days. Meet one of my high school teachers from Australia, fly to Bangkok Thursday night and spend a few days with a previous colleague from Melbourne :-)


A bit more about the train I'm on...

I got a hard [economy] sleeper. The beds are 3-high. I got the top bed which is about 2m off the floor. I can't sit up in bed, or I'll hit my head on the room. There are six beds to a "room", and seats in the side aisle. There are a few powerpoints in the aisle. In fact, in China, every powerpoint I've seen takes the Australia, US (and Japan) and European (and Korea) plug shapes, but the voltage is 240 volts.

The toilets are "pit" or "squat" toilets, which make for interesting balancing as the train goes along... not my favourite. There are some basins for cleaning teeth, washing face etc, which power plugs for shaving or hair dryers (althogh I haven't seen anyone use hairdryers here yet). I haven't seen any showers. There is no cold drinking water, but there is drinkable hot water, which is great for making up some instant noodles (bought before I got on the train).

After living in Japan for 2 years, and learning some Japanese, I got used to knowing a little bit of a second language. Coming to China, I now realize how much Japanese I did learn, and I feel like my linguistic "hands" have been chopped off! I can't speak a thing in Chinese (except 1 to 10, good morning and thank-you, basically). It's a bit of a let down, and I'm faced with the "new language" feeling again.

In Japan, I could often say a few words in English and someone could help me, but in China it is harder. One time, at the shop, I asked the clerk where the toilet was, but I couldn't communicate the message that well, but some young 10 year old boy who was there, helped me out. His English was pretty good!

Anyway, I have my Japanese phone with me and can write some Chinese characters (many of which are the same in Japanese and English, although many are different). So, sometimes I've communicated with Chinese people by writing on my phone and showing them the Chinese characters. An English-speaking Australian and a Chinese person communicating using a Japanese phone... interetings!

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