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I enter China 中国

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Thursday 21st March 1985. Day 100.
Deborah wants all the details.
 Up at 6.30 am. Cup of coffee and minibus to star ferry. Catch ferry to Hung Hom station and catch 8 o’clock train to LoWo 10 HK$. This smart electric train whisks us through the new territories in 35 minutes. It was practically empty until the last minute before we pulled out of Kowloon when it suddenly filled with hordes of wild eyed screaming chinese with lots of packages. It quite alarmed me as I was having a repack at the moment of this violent invasion. Have breakfast in railway station while the hordes fight through the ticket barriers. Whatever you do in China you do with hordes. Walk through ticket barrier, Hong Kong customs, chinese health desk, chinese foreign exchange desk, chinese customs and finally into China.

Officials now wear baggy green suits with a red star on their caps. Foreigners use different desks and rooms to the Chinese. Change £200 (3.27 Y = £1) at Bank of China desk. Actually there was a better rate in Canton (3.33) despite what the guide book says.
 Mingle with the hordes in Shenzen railway station. Just before “booking office” is a little window where I bought a chinese ticket for the next train to Canton. About 8.1 Y. There are 4 or 5 a day. Had an hour to spare and took a walk up Shenzen street. People wanted to change money, but couldn’t get their acts together before I left to catch the train. Reserved seat comfortable ride two hours. Arrive Canton 2 o’clock.
 Canton station is vast. People want to change money. Good rate 100/170 or more. Change 300 Y in blocks of 100.
 Ticketing hall is a mass of people. Prepare by writing out journey details in chinese script using guidebook. Old woman takes me to the front of a queue. No tickets. But very helpful transport policeman called ChinSun startles me with American accent. He knows the system, which queues are for which return journeys. He advises me to return at five. Catch number five bus for town, what a squash. One hour later arrive at the front near Shaimen island. Eat beef and rice in a restaurant with assorted animals (monkey, pigeons) in cages. I think I was charged 8 Y which sounds outrageous. By this time it’s 4 o’clock. Waste half an hour trying to find bus. Catch taxi 3.80 to station paying in Reminbi. Get to station shortly before six. Get in line. Chin Sun martials three other pinkies, hangs around, gets a few queues in line, takes us to the front. Hard seats only. Take a hard seat on the 8 o’clock train.’ 67.80 Y. Fake Taiwan student card okay here. An international driving licence no good.
 Buy bunch of bananas, 20 jasmine teabags and some cakes and pears.
Squeeze onto the train, after queuing in the train boarding hall and trotting with hundreds of fellow chinese passengers once the gates had been opened. Reserved seats so I cannot understand the stampede. Huge train. I am in a big carriage packed with chinese people. Fortunately I have a window seat with a table so there is some prospect of some sleep. I have an idea the train takes 3 days but actually it’s only 35 hours. My fellow passengers are a swarthy looking lot with ill fitting clothes and ragged haircuts with ruddy cheeks. Fairly cosmopolitan clothes, but plenty of blue suits and blue cotton caps. I get lots of smiles and many people try to speak Chinese to me. My attempts to learn some words causes the whole carriage to laugh uproariously. Two law lecturers in grey suits and ties but wrong collar size speak English and want to make friends, they get me tea. Everyone has a large enamel mug for making tea in. There is a large steaming charcoal fired hot water boiler in every carriage.
 Sweeping the floor of the train is like painting the Firth of Forth bridge. Never finished, this mass of humanity has resigned itself to 36 hours confined on this train and everyone eat spits and blows their nose all over the floor. Eating habits are messy, and the floor is the bin.
 Sleep erratically.

Posted by 1985 trip 12:43 Archived in China

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