The train station at Hong Kong was really well organised - I had to go through passport control- at a train station - how exciting?! We were called to board and I found my carriage and then my compartment. I spotted a western woman a few doors down from my compartment. I was travelling soft sleeper: my compartment (a bit like an old style BR First class compartment) had 4 bunks in it. I sat nervously waiting for my travel companions, thinking questions like - who chooses when we all go to sleep? If I am on the top bunk do I have to sit / lay up there all the time or am I allowed to sit on the lower bunk?? Where do I change into my pyjams? But then we started moving. I was companionless. I ventured out into the corridor and found the other westerner (Sue from Manchester)- she hadn't done this before either. It emerged that we each had our own compartment all to ourselves. :-) It was so nice - clean and comfy with air con and a white duvet / sheets that were actually white. A flask of drinking water and even a plant on the table :-).
I settled in and then went to chat with Sue. We had dinner in her room (yes, they do room service too!) and managed to while away a whole evening talking about high brow issues of international concern: "China and India: economic growth at what cost?" "Where are the decent men in Asia?" "Why we are single: narrow escapes and near misses" (only nice things about anyone reading this) and only one of those issues is made up. We had a great chat - stopping only to photograph the view through the window (with little success - see results on photo album tag!).
I returned to my bunk (choice of 4!) happy. But I couldn't sleep. Sleeping on a train is not normally a problem for me (see: Bennett, K (2004) "E-mails from New Zealand"), so I was a bit surprised. I think it was the novelty of being horizontal and sleeping on a train. All very formal! I thought about all that happens on trains in books and films: murder and intrigue. I wasn't woken by James Bond handing me his spare gun, telling me he was going to investigate why the train had stopped moving. Hercule Poirot didn't disturb me asking where I was at 10.20pm - the time of Lady Grantham's death (that was lucky, because it was me whodunnit).
The next morning was whiled away by a cosy lie-in (it was raining and everything!), breakfast, reading and a game of bridge with Lord Forsythe and Monsieur Poirot in the dining car.
I was very reluctant to get off the train at 3.30pm. New country, into the unknown. Battled with taxi drivers for them to use the meter and take me to my hostel of choice. All through using the language section in the Rough Guide.
And so began my adventures in Beijing. The next day I walked in the direction of Tian'anmen Square. I wasn't sure if I had found it or not, when I was asked to star in a photograph by a load of chinese girls. It turns out I had. It wasn't as big as I thought - I walked up to the northern end and was a bit disappointed. It seemed like a really harsh place - not sure if that was because of the sunlight or because I remember the news reports from the democracy demonstrations a billion years ago.
I enjoyed an hour spent in a little cafe chatting chinglish with the guy that owned the place - again the language section in The Book was invaluable. He collected Royal Doulton I think. He was very generous with the tea and biscuits.
From there, I ventured up to the northern entrance of the Forbidden City. The Book says that the audio guide here was recorded by Roger Moore, so I was very excited. Imagine my disappointment when I was introduced to the site by a woman with a clipped american-chinese accent :-( It was good to see some 'proper' chinese style architecture - there doesn't seem to be alot of this left in Beijing.
On leaving the Forbidden City I was joined by a couple of girls who spoke english. They said that they were visiting Beijing too and were going to try a tea tasting ceremony thing nearby - I could join them if they want. Following my nice exchange with Mr Cafe Man, I thought why not? We went to a place and tried 10 different teas - some better than others. Then it came to paying. Turns out it was very expensive. The girls 'paid' their bit by card. Think I was scammed.
From there I wandered down the major shopping street in Beijing. If you squint you could probably be on a high street in the UK - maybe Uxbridge??! I got The Book to look at the map to find my way back to the hostel when I was approached by two students. They asked me if they could help. I explained that I needed to go back to the Hostel to sort out train tickets. In the end they helped me get sorted with a plane ticket in a local office (we discovered trains were fully booked - summer holidays). Nice people. One of them was an art student apparantly. Another scam? I ended up buying a print from them, but they had just spent an hour helping me get tickets sorted. And it is a nice print. I walked home via Tian'anmen square. I prefer it in the dark: it was full of people flying kites and felt more relaxed.
I returned to the hostel in need of a beer and was enjoying this immensely when I was joined at my table by some friendly french guys. We partook in a cultural exchange. I received some advanced french lessons- though i like to think my french was better than their english. I've still got it. Naturellement, les garcons ont eu une odeur mauvaise.
What a day! If every day in China is going to be like this [some hope!], I'll be cream crackered!
Visited the Summer Palace the next day. I caught the bus there (helped to the correct bus stop by a young Beijing-er). Annoyingly, my camera battery was flat. So you will all just have to take my word that it is a beautiful place. It was where the emporors used to spend their summer - it has a lake, so is a bit cooler than central Beijing. There is a boat made of marble on the lake. It was comissioned by Emporess Cixi (?) who spent the navy's budget on getting it built. Good girl!
After another boozey evening and game of pool avec les francais, I woke up at silly o'clock, feeling a bit hungover and generally worse for wear. Just the right state in which to fly off to Shenyang: my place of employment for the next six weeks. Yikes.