Wednesday 27th August.
Today is travel day. Richard and I gave a slight hitch to the smooth arrangements of travel as we both have lost our train tickets. Richard lost his to an enterprising robber who fished his wallet from his bag. I had foolishly left mine with my passport which the hotel had unexpectedly kept for our stay and wasn't there on its return.
Naturally there were queues and offices to visit, microphones officials yelling into speakers behind glass walls and monies to be paid and then refunded. And of course no seemingly sense to the sequence.
We finally became part of the milling masses shuffling, pushing, scrambling to get ourselves and bags through ticket gates and finding the correct carriage and seats. We had been warned that speed is of the essence as there is limited capacity for the big travel bags and if we wanted them safe out of the way we needed to have them in the overhead shelving before anyone else. We were up for the challenge and I am proud to report that 8 Aussies were set on the train in very good time.
Its a high speed train this one, and at 300km hour for 7.5 hours we have seen a narrow cross section of China. Freeways and roads, bridges and rivers, farmlands and cities, quarries and industries, valleys and tunnelling through mountains, scattered housing and tall apartment housings in the middle of nowhere flash by, often covered in white mists (of pollution??) which cut the distance we can see considerably.
The thing about Chinese housing that makes the most impression on me is the sameness of it all. Business buildings are ornately interesting but living places are all painted with the same brush of grey boredom. Whether they are one of dozens of 'cookie cutter' style apartment high-rises or less commonly the flat roof, adjoining concrete box homes they are built identically in lots of 3, 4, or a dozen or more. Lined up with precision like soldiers. Many are in the process of being built and wrapped in green shade cloth like enormous presents on the landscape. . Some in great clusters with cranes towering over them. Many seem empty and in the middle of what looks like 'nowhere' Its all quite disconcerting, I shall be googling China's apartment housing industry at some time.
On our train a lady wet mops every hour or so, a sweeper walks up and down with a broom, a cleaning cart lady replaces our rubbish bag every few hours. A dinner cart goes by with a prepackaged hot meal with rice and seaweed, meats and pickles for 45yuen. Grandmothers bring their little kids up to first stare, then burst into quivering cries as they look at us.
And at all times the speed is flashed up in orange neon lights above the train cabin door, proof we are travelling fast.
I went to the buffet cabin (seriously over rated name, a few drinks in the cold fridge, a few packets of Chinese snacks and biscuits on display) and as I walked through the 5 full cabins everyone watched me walking by. Bizarrely, an hour later as I returned the people of 5 cabins were still facing and looking at me. Complete disorientation and confusion. Turns out during my buffet car experience in every single cabin, hundreds of people, jumped up and flipped their seats to face the other direction. And I missed the great turning of seats. That was disappointing!
It's night when we finally arrived at the city that the 'Victoria cruise' sails from. We bus to the mighty Yangtze River and complete with the enthusiastic noise of a brass band for our group of eight, board. Our cabins are cute with a wall of glass to over look the river but right now all I see from our patio is water swirling in the darkness below and huge barges moving steadily down stream with spotlights on the gorge wall beyond.