CHINA JOURNALSaturday, June 1 and Sunday, June 2, 2002
Well, I'm definitely traveling Chinese with all the advantages and disadvantages that go with that. The advantages include the much, much lower price than western run tours and full immersion in the culture in all ways. The disadvantages include that the Chinese train system hasn't yet had a particular flash of inspiration on how to truly serve the traveling public. I can see why the foreign tours all fly from city to city. However from what I've been reading about the safety records of the various Chinese airlines, I think I am just as happy on the train. (But I'm allowing myself to grumble just a little bit about the inconvenience and the lost touring time... as if taking a train through the Chinese countryside isn't touring.)
Here's the picture. Let's say that Beijing is located where Seattle is and is the hub of all train traffic going from the north to the central and south areas of the country. You want to visit Bakersfield but you also want to go over to San Luis Obispo which is pretty much straight west near the coast. There is no east west train so you have to make two trips. First you go from Seattle to Bakersfield. After you have visited there, you take the train all the way back up to Seattle. The next day you get on a train that will take you down the coast to San Luis. When that trip is over you go back up to Seattle. We're talking big distances and lots of train time. (Amtrak has figured out that where there is no track, they can send a bus so I can go from Bakersfield to San Luis on a combination of train and bus pretty conveniently. China isn't there yet.)
So this is the schedule. Tomorrow Zhang Jie and I leave the house at 8:00 a.m. to catch a bus to the train station which should get us there by 9:00 for the 9:52 a.m. train to Xian. We have hard-sleeper reservations, and you know about those. We arrive in Xian at 10:08 a.m. on the 4th, after a 24 hour train ride. We have two and a half days of touring there. On the 6th we leave at 11:15 a.m. on the 24 hour train trip back to Tianjin, arriving there on the 7th. The very next day, the 8th, we leave Beijing at 6:23 p.m. (which means we have to leave Tianjin about three hours earlier, which means we have to leave the house at about 2:00 or 2:30 p.m.) Once we get to Beijing we ride on the ``fast train'' to Chongqing...which takes 33 hours from Beijing, arriving in Chongqing at 5:04 a.m. on the 10th. This means that in the four nights we will have slept on the train three nights with one at home. The sleeping isn't the hard part; it is the sitting up that gets tedious. Now, as I read the China map, the train we took to Xian goes on west to Baoji and crosses paths with a train to Chongqing....or we could get a bus from Xian about 100 miles to meet up with the other train to Chongqing. I can think of several options to returning to Beijing. Well, maybe the Chinese traqel agencies will get that figured out before the Olympics. At least I'll see a wide variety of Chinese scenery, and that's always good. The funniest comment on Li Di's translation of the tour information for me is for June 9th, the day sandwiched between the two nights on the ``fast train''. The only thing it says is, ``Free activities on the train''. I'm eagerly waiting to see if the ``fast train'' is any different from our other hard sleeper where the activities consisted of shifting position on the bunk, standing when there was room in your little bunk area, or working your way through the crowds in the aisle to get to the WC at the end of the car. Nevertheless, I'm really looking forward to both tours!
I finally remembered the other correction in my reporting that I wanted to make. I have referred to men playing what seem like ongoing games of ``Go''. I'm not sure where I got the ``Go'', but the game is more accurately called Xiang Qi, which translates as Elephant Game. From the description it sounds rather like chess (which explains the heavy concentration and the outside interest of kibitzers) but the pieces are round like checkers rather than 3-dimensional like chess.
Saturday I was happily working on my computer when, at about 10:30, Zhang Jie came in and announced that Sun Zhi Hong and Liu Jian Goa were picking me up to take me to the office with my computer. Li Di and Cui Hua were stuck on how to put an ad on a website and needed me to teach them. We spent all day there. I told Li Di I wanted him to think about what each screen told him to do in a desperate attempt to make him independent. I told him I would not stay by the screen. When he got stuck, he could come and ask me. I should have counted the trips we made back and forth. One of the hardest parts is training him to take notes so he knows what to do the next time. Fortunately Mr Lu is now in charge of that project. He keeps saying how much he has learned from me...and he has. He understands the concept of organization and paper trails though he has had little experience with it done in an effective way.
While we were there, much to my delight, Liu Yong called from Nanjing to tell me ‘hello, thank you, and goodbye'. Yes, he did decide on the job in Nanjing. One of the main reasons, Mr. Lu said, is because there is one man who truly seems to be in charge rather than the three who are making decisions here in not always a very long-sighted way. He is a good man and one of the people I will remember with great fondness.
While I had Li Di there with Sun Zhi Hong, I asked him to tell me about the interview with Paul. He said nothing about the beautiful girls or the dirty collar but sort of beat around the bush about not thinking he would fit in. Today I asked Cui Hua about her impression. She made what is probably the most telling remark, ``Mr. Lu thought the children would be afraid of him.'' I think it wasn't just the children who might be afraid of him! Sun Zhi Hong and Fu Ling have seen so few Blacks and have had no occasion to deal with them, so it is scary for them and they didn't rise to it. While he is not the ideal candidate, I think he would have been okay. I asked Cui Hua what they told Paul. Her first answer was that I had said it wouldn't work. If they did say that it was the convenient but chicken way out. Later she said they told him they might have something in September. The Chinese have never had to deal with a ``salad bar'' population like we have in America.
Cui Hua and Zhang Jie took me shopping to get my two blouses sewn. It was all the way to the train station by bus. The prices are so low on things that it really disturbs me instead of making me feel pleased. The saving grace is that they are low all across the board. The blouses will be ready when we get back from the second trip.
New foods: deep battered and fried very thin, fresh asparagus. What they call fried corn is similar to chunks of polenta but with dates in it (the dates are the ones about the size of small olives and with the seeds left in). A different version of lemonade tasted as if it were made from the powder of dried lemons. It is very dark in color and quite good, with no sugar added...but I didn't guess from the taste that it was lemonade.
New sights: A third type of construction scaffolding other than the bamboo and the metal rods. This was made from poles about the length and girth of telephone poles but not as straight. The ends looked as if a beaver had cut them down, which meant they were felled with an ax rather than a saw. They are lashed together with what looks like baling wire. If the baling wire holds, I would think that walking on these would be preferable to walking on the smaller circumference metal rods.
The weather is warm...hot in the sun...and the summer clothing reveals that there are a few heavier men and women around. It also brings out a sun cape for female bicycle riders. It goes over the shoulders and top half of the back where the edge flutters attractively in the breeze as you ride. There are two arms which look as if there is some type of loop which lets you keep your hands covered too. Two other answers to the sun exposure were putting your arms backwards through blouse sleeves to cover your arms or wearing gloves that come up past your elbows.
Since arriving in the winter and seeing all the long johns on the ladies, I've been fascinated by the change of foot and leg coverings through the seasons. When the long johns finally came off, they wore what looked like the heavy cotton socks which women wore during WWII years when they couldn't get nylons. Next, as the weather gets hot, they have gone to ankle hose with a gap of bare leg between where the ankle hose leaves off and the skirts begin. It looks very funny to these western eyes, but also very practical.
This morning our train tickets along with tour bag and tour hat #2 arrived. I'm sure I'll get #3 when we come back to Tianjin before the last tour. Off on the next adventure!