December 28, 2015

Further East to Harbin and The Karate Kid

My carriage fills up with a few Chinese passengers once we are on the way to Harbin. It’s good to have some company in the carriage, but they are mainly very noisy and not too social. Late in the evening I pass a short but very fit man in the corridor who now lives next door. He has tied back shoulder length grey hair and he bows deeply when he sees me, with his hands clasped together. He makes a sound like you hear in a martial arts dojo – “Ouooooooos”. Am I now in the company of a reincarnation of Bruce Lee? I return his bow whilst maintaining eye contact (in the style of Sir Roger Moore, “Man With The Golden Gun”) and make a mental note to treat him with extra respect – just in case he decides to start chopping up the carriage with his bare hands later on.

Outside the train there is a frozen land of half built tower blocks, oil wells, concrete factories, and the occasional farm. There is a distinct smog in the air, and its easy to see where it is coming from. At lunchtime we stop in Harbin for 40 minutes. I get shouted at by a platform guard, but once he realises I’m not a terrorist but in fact just a trainee trainspotter, he lets me go about my business.
There is a freshly built ultra modern high speed line next to the one we are travelling on. It is possible to make this part of the journey much more quickly on a Chinese “G” train. However, I prefer the relaxed pace and comfort of my own home onboard what is now called the “Z20” train in the People’s Republic of China.

I have had a quick look at the newly attached Chinese restaurant carriage, but have not eaten there yet. Rather strangely I decide that I would prefer to eat some Russian instant noodles for lunch today. They are delicious. So delicious in fact that I also decide to have some for dinner. I must have been on the rails for far too long..

I get a knock on my compartment door at 05.00 the next morning. It makes me feel a bit Phileas Fogg, as it is Rimma, and she just says one word to me – “Peking!”
Beijing Central station is busy, but manageable at this time of the day. The obvious problem is that the smog is bad. Really bad. I think my taxi driver must be using a compass and several mobile devices to navigate (if he does not have ground radar). We finally locate my hotel and I’m suspicious that I’m going to get ripped off again, but I have read the meter wrong by a factor of x10. The trip costs me about £3. Time for a well earned shower and some rest before I get ready for the journey to Tibet.

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