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Monday, September 17, 2007


Journey to Xiamen

I had decided to move on from China and booked my flight through AirAsia to leave from Xiamen. I knew nothing about Xiamen, not even how to say it (Sha-men), so checked Lonely Planet and it looked interesting. Decided to spend a few days there to look around.

There are flights from Hangzhou to Xiamen that would save a lot of fuss but I enjoy the train journeys in China. It is one way I can get to see a little of the Chinese countryside. This journey takes 24 hours. When it came time to buy my ticket I got someone to write the details of what I wanted in Chinese on a piece of paper. At the station there are 29 ticket windows each of which usually has a long queue. I noticed a separate section with just a couple of windows and almost no queues. The only English sign said 'CRH'. I didn't have a clue what that meant at the time but it was worth a try. Presented my note at the counter and got my ticket, no trouble.

On the morning of my journey, I got up early, finished packing and got a taxi to the station. I pointed to the word for railway station in my dictionary to let the driver know where I wanted to go. Got there with plenty of time to spare. Because of my journey to Shanghai with Liu Ping I knew what to do at the station. The waiting room was very full. When boarding was announced, as I expected, almost everyone got up at once and rushed to the entrance. I sat for another five or ten minutes waiting for the masses to move on.

I had booked a soft sleeper the same as I had for my journey from Guangzhou to Hangzhou. These cabins have four berths. Once again I had chosen a top berth. The lower berths tend to be used as seats during the day. At least I had mine to myself. There was one young guy, say twenty-something, in the cabin when I got there. I said 'nihau'. He replied and we smiled at each other. We were joined shortly by two of his friends. They didn't say anything.

These guys were no trouble. They played cards for most of the journey and chatted quietly. I spent my time watching the scenery, taking a few photos of the towns we passed through and the countryside. On the first day of the journey it was much the same as I'd seen before.

I discovered that CRH stands for China Rail High-speed which this certainly was not. We stopped at many stations and from the information I'd got off the internet we seemed to be travelling at up to 90 minutes behind schedule. When I went to bed that night my room mates were still chatting quietly so I plugged my ears and went to sleep. This also deadened the train noises and I slept right through until about 7 am.

When I got out of bed I could see that the scenery had changed dramatically. We were following a river through a gorge. It was quite spectacular. I got out my camera. There was no charge left in the battery. I had a spare but had unthinkingly packed it way down the bottom of my backpack. I also contemplated getting out the fz20 but both of these options would have required lots of unpacking and repacking that I was not keen on especially while my cabinmates were sleeping. I decided to just enjoy the view. Sorry, you don't get to see the pictures. But I'll make sure that next time I pack the spare battery somewhere more accessible. Not so smart—buying a spare battery for just this sort of situation and then packing it in an inconvenient place.

We continued to follow the river and the gorge for several hours and at times there were towns and villages. Most of these places don't get a listing in Lonely Planet but if I ever return to China, somewhere like this is where I'd like to stay but only if I've improved my communication ability in Mandarin language—or perhaps whatever local dialect is spoken there.

I was standing in the passageway outside the cabin enjoying this scenery when one of my cabinmates got up ahead of his friends. He said 'good morning' in English and we chatted. He came from Beijing and asked if I had visited. He was disappointed when I told him I hadn't, especially when I mentioned that I'd been to Shanghai. He said that people from Beijing and Shanghai hate each other. I suggested this might be like the rivalry that exists in Australia between Sydney and Melbourne—mostly tongue in cheek. He said 'no we hate each other'. He insisted that the people were very different culturally. I asked about manners and how, for example, Beijingers board public transport. He admitted that they were the same as I'd encountered elsewhere. But he said that younger people will stand for older and people do stand for a pregnant woman. We chatted for some time. He was pleasant company and I learned a little more about Chinese culture.

We arrived in Xiamen more or less on time. Overall the journey was a pleasant one.

You'll find a few more pictures from the early part of the journey on my flickr page, see sidebar.

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