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China

Beijing

Had a wonderful, surprising, fast-paced, eye-opening, thought-provoking, unexpected and exciting time in Beijing. So short of time to be there. At one moment I am feeling sad to leave so quickly but at the next moment I think I need time away to process what I saw and learned so I can make the most of it. We saw some old friends and made many new ones.

So many new sights, thoughts and ideas that I cannot seem to stream any together. So I will give you some snapshots.

The worn knobs on the numerous gates at the Forbidden City. The prayers of the elderly as they stroked the gate.

The parasols and gloves.

The old men playing games on the wall at the Temple of Heaven.

Little babies with splits up the back of the trousers and no diapers.

The fighting dragons.

The food.

The Happy campaign signs and bright yellow t-shirts.

The man with the bleeding head fighting with the ladies in the emergency room.

The numerous Lambourgines and the Rolls Royces.

Nai Nai (grandmother) with her consistent smile even though she has a back hunched from being beaten when she was younger.

The immense, funky, old munitions factory, the arts community -798, and the profound art it contains. A place that was squatted by artists and begins to grow in reputation as the place to be.

The young Pakistani refugee that had seen way too much death in his short life and waits, hopefully, for his visa to the U.S. while his friends are sent back to Pakistan to die after being refused their visa. Brings of memories of apathy and anger towards asylum seekers in Britain, U.S., and Australia.

The creative bicycles and scooters.

The stories of plans for uniting families in the countryside.

Beijing is truly and engaging city. So many stories of happiness or sorrow, greed or generosity. I suppose anywhere there are so many people in one place you will see both extremes.

One artist shared a term he had come up with called “urbanity”. The jostle of Urban and humanity. The humanity being the greatest joy and the most piercing sorrow of the urban environment.

There are some places in the world that take all your senses and percieved wisdom and place them in a whirlwind. A place where the words mundane and boring are forbidden. Beijing is such a place.

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China Hong Kong

Taking the Train from Hong Kong to Beijing

We are here in Beijing looking down at the city from the 25th floor. We just took a 24 hour train from Hong Kong to Beijing. No worries.  Just couldn’t handle the idea of going from one large city to an even larger one without a bit of the country thrown in the gap.

I think we made the right choice to take the train. Here are some things we have noticed about taking the train. We are guessing there may not be a lot of info because there are not a lot of foreigners there. We have seen only 2 other foreigners on the entire train.

We booked our tickets several days ago and didn’t get in one room. Not necessarily a bad thing.

We had to come early to the train station in Kowloon. It is more like an airport than any train station I have ever seen.  Before we went to check in we got some Chinese currency, pot noodles, apples and water. We were glad Lizzy brought her small thermos. The kids wish we would have brought some sweet snacks. We could take smaller bags on the train but we needed to check our backpacks and pay extra. I think it was money well spent to check our bigger bags. We will also need to pay money to pick our bags up. After check-in you need to go through immigration and security. Just like the airport except you can bring fluids through. Once you get on the train there is no English save a random word here and there.

Everyone gets a bed on the train. Seems there are 3 classes.

First class has one bunk and a chair in each room, a locking door, no chairs in the hallway and I think even your own private sit down toilet but haven’t seen inside one of the rooms but for a moment as someone came out of their room.

Second class has 2 double bunks with a lace padded backrest, locking door, one fold down chair in the hallway and a shared sit down toilet.

In the third class you have 2 triple bunks in a doorless room with two fold out seats and a mini table to share out in the hall and 2 shared squat toilets per car. We tried to get one room to ourselves but we booked too late. No worries, this might be better.  I am in a room with TJ and Hannah. I am on the middle bunk. TJ and Hannah are on the top bunks. TJ loves the top bunk. It really plays to here monkey nature. She takes advantage of the rails and fold out footsteps and manages to avoid stepping on the other beds as she goes up and down. Lizzy and Abi are in the top bunks of the next room. Dad is in a top bunk in the next car down.  I think middle bunk is the best because I can lay down comfortably and take in all the new sights. On the top bunk you cant see much but the railroad tracks from your bunk. Most people prefer the lower bunk because you don’t need to play monkey and you can sit up straight on the bunk. I really like third class because the whole place is a buzz with Chinese conversation and friendly people.  First and Second class are way too quite. Each bunk comes with nice clean sheets, a duvet and a pillow. The windows don’t open and the train is air conditioned to a nice temperature.  If you get cold easily you might want to bring a cardigan (sweater)

As far as food. I am not sure about the first and second class but in third class about half the people have brought their own food. There is a boiling hot water dispenser at the end of each train car to make your own tea or pot noodle. Pot noodle is very popular as a snack. When you buy your pot noodle make sure it doesn’t have a picture of a microwave on the side. Around mealtime ladies come down the aisle with food in red plastic baskets. You will need to get some Chinese currency at the train station before you board. If you miss the first lady with a red basket don’t worry the keep coming for the next half hour. They carry some change. Between meals there is another lady with an apron and a metal cart. She has warm drinks and savoury snacks that look like they are made of meat. None of us tried the meat snacks but the girls did get some orange juice and green tea.

We didn’t see much of Andrew because he was in the next car reading his thriller novel we got from the nice English secondhand bookstore in Mui Wu. We saw him with pot noodle dinner in the evening and then not until 10:30 the next morning. He seemed stressed. He slept through the breakfast and was desperately seeking out a cup of tea. I told him I had put the box of teabags in his duffle. Still ravenously hungry he returned with a worse for wear chipped, stained and sadly deformed styrofoam cup with a teabag floating in hot water. We told him about the red basket food delivery but it was late for breakfast and too early for lunch. He had missed it. Not wanting pot noodles and still more than an hour from the lunch delivery I got him a tube of chips resembling pringles from the silver cart lady as she passed and replaced the styrofoam cup with Lizzy’s thermos and cup. The chips were in crumbs and went everywhere when Andrew desperately tried to fill his empty stomach. He told about the previous nights ordeal as he was absorbed in his book all the lights on the train went off at 10 pm and everything went pitch black. Being a words person over a visual person and having a book in hand he had neglected to find the reading light at the head of his bed.

Anyway, going through immigration was fine except for the minor hitches that the family had to go through immigration seperatelly and that me, Abi and Lizzy didn’t look enough like our passport pictures and the supervisor had to be called in for each of us.