Today is a travel day: we are taking the bullet train to Beijing, travelling the 1200km in under 6 hours, and then explore the hutong neighbourhood.
4 June 2016
Wake up call today is the ceremony for the raising of the flag (complete with loud music) at the local government building just across from the hotel – pictures taken from my window. A group of guards march in tight formation and run the flag up the flagpole; and then a group of soldiers of some sort that appear to be just going for a jog around the block all pass by as well.
We are all breakfasted and ready to go at 8.30am, loaded our luggage in the bus for an hour’s drive to the new Xi’an North Railway station which is very new and modern compared with the old station that we arrived at after the overnight train.
Jing has warned us that this railway station is the only one in China that doesn’t let you take any knives on board at all, even packed in your main suitcase. The security for people doesn’t appear to be that strict compared with the bags, so those of us that have pocket knives secrete them upon our persons and pass through security without issue. I had just removed mine from my bra when we were called aside for a random check and had to pass through another security check. With frantic scrambling I manage to put the pocket knife back in place only to have it slip down as I move forward! With quick wardrobe adjustments I manage to put it back without causing any concern with the guards. Although it is an amusing interlude for us knowing that we don’t have any malicious intent, it is an eye opener as to how relatively simple it could be for someone who did.
We have half an hour to find any drinks or snacks that we want to take with us (it will be a light eating day for many after our meals yesterday). We stack our cases at the back of the carriage and are all seated together in reasonably comfortable seats for our 5 hour 40 minute trip. I settle back to write this journal and then get out my book. Jing eats her lunch early and intends to sleep as much of the trip as possible.
As I looked out the window, the scenery racing by (at 300km/hr) reminded me of my first impressions of China as I flew in 3 weeks ago. It was indeed a vast flat land covered with human endeavour as far as the eye could see. I saw the fields of crops and trees and occasional greenhouses, interspersed with villages – some with small houses, some with two storey houses, some with multi-storey buildings and then cities with hundreds of tall buildings reaching up for the overcast skies. Most were in shades of brown but every now and then a flash of a particular shade of blue or red.
Where there are cities, the sheer numbers of tall buildings are quite overwhelming. Many of these cities will have more people than the whole of New Zealand (4.5M) and yet just be insignificant towns that most people in China will never have heard of.
We arrive in Beijing on time and are excited to see blue sky again. The pollution index is about 126 (low for Beijing standards) but my camera still seems to be having problems coping with the light. We have a 45 minute bus transfer to our hotel – the Dong Fang Hotel that I had stayed in earlier (the sense of familiarity is quite welcome). I now have a better sense of the history and events that occurred at the hotel – it was a meeting place for many of the revolutionaries during its heydays in the 1920s.
Some are keen to have the western food available at the hotel but many head out to explore the streets. I had learnt earlier that this was a hutong area with many of the old houses very crowded and often sharing toilet facilities but Jing says that this is a very desirable area near the city centre and with very good schools so the people are very proud to live here. When I had walked around the streets in the morning there appeared to be very little in the neighbourhood but it really comes alive at night-time. There are little restaurants everywhere with people sitting out on the streets, drinking, talking and eating. We watch the locals going about their lives, including the brush salesman coming to visit selling his wares. All the cars parked in the street have cardboard or wood propped up against their wheels – this is to stop dogs (and drunken men) peeing on them.
Jing takes some of us to a local restaurant – we discover that she is also one of the guides on the ‘foodie tour’ and she is certainly very skilled and choosing a delicious range of dishes to suit all tastes. I enjoy eating out with her and the group because it means we are able to try a wide range of dishes rather than just having to pick one or two. We also visit a local fruit shop near the hotel and I buy some lychees and mangosteens.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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