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prepare for China in 1985


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Wednesday 20th March. Day 99.
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My last day in Hong Kong. I have Chinese visa. Make repairs to padded jacket, the popper fixings on the front were not very well fixed. Do washing and ironing, borrow a pair of chopsticks, as the communal ones in chinese restaurants are rumoured not to be too wholesome. Read guidebooks, worry about money, China seems very daunting now, wonder how I am going to get about.

Posted by 1985 trip 12:41 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

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.
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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 Comments (0)

Bejing in 1985


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Saturday 23rd March.
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Arrive in majestic Beijing railway station at 6.30 am. Say good bye to Her who wanted me to go to Tanjin with him. Go to the Beijing Hotel with Lesley and Inge for breakfast. This monstrous massive structure has three big fronts along a wide tree lined main street leading off the big square. 20 minutes walk from the train station. Several restaurants in the hotel. Have a small omelette with toast, pear juice and a piece of cake for 4 Y. One can have a big dinner for half this price in the peoples restaurants. Several Asian and Eastern European businessmen, also some Europeans I think. Best of all superb lavatories, sit down type with paper, flush, hot water. soap and hot air dryer that works but makes the lights dim. Shit and shave both much needed. I have lost a set of keys, left behind on the train, but spare set in body belt.
 Find China International travel service in East end of Chongwenman Hotel. All sorts of stories are told about these agencies. If you get what you want its okay, if not, don’t believe a word and try to make your own way. The agency would rather make any arrangement than admit your request is not possible or even understood. Meet some other people here and we decide to go for the Qaou Yuan hotel near Taoranting Park in the south of the city. Hire a bicycle from near the CITS office it costs 2.20 Y for the first day and 1.70 Y each successive day. Pay on return, an official looking personal document is required as deposit, wish I still had my AA driving licence. Cycle to the hotel in about half an hour with hundreds of fellow cyclists in blue jackets and an occasional rumbling articulated bus. Wide tree lined streets, huge empty squares, massive grey buildings, dust.
 Hotel want “letter of introduction” which we had asked for from the CITS office but they said was not necessary. Much discussion. I find a registration form, take charge, and fill it in, which ends the discussion. Take a dormitory bed for 8 Y, but they want FEC, agree to pay 10 Reminbi. Warm dormitory with communal showers and promises of hot water, usual tea facilities (bring your own leaves), and a restaurant. Feel full of energy despite the long train journey and cycle all over town in the afternoon. Visit the friendship store which is packed with American and Japanese tour groups. Explore side streets near Dazhalan . Thriving private economy here, but rather drab. Eat an okay doughnut and a foul slab of slimy something tasting of seaweed.
 With blackmarket money things are much cheaper in China than Hong Kong. Five Fen to park my bicycle in large street cycle park. Good laugh with lady attendant.
 The friendship store consists of 3 floors of chinese products and foreign luxury goods, you can get almost any thing here. I buy nail clippers and small penknife 2.10 Reminbi. Also get chinese birthday cards for Rick and Mike.
 Cycle for 40 minutes back to the hotel, Lesley and Inge are not around, go back out to Chinese acrobatics in Dazalan alley near Quainman. 60 Fen for two hours of great entertainment. Costumes rather grubby but otherwise all very impressive. The few foreigners in the audience applaud, the Chinese remain silent but cough and spit with gusto. Afterwards obtain a meal just over the road with some difficulty, a bowl of hot noodles with spicy duck kneecaps. Have to wait for the huge noodle cauldron to boil. They used huge two foot long chopsticks to dish up the noodles, 2Y.

Posted by 1985 trip 13:15 Archived in China Comments (0)

buy a railway ticket, great success


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Sunday 24th March.
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Wind and rain. Do washing, write all this stuff, chat with dormitory neighbour Ron from USA whose been teaching English for 18 months in Tokyo. Have lunch in the hotel, two rice dishes and a large bottle of beer 4.50 Y. At 4 o’clock venture out, catch 106 trolley bus, the terminus is just round the corner so get a seat. Despite this actually getting on to the bus was a high spirited scrum, my feet hardly touched the ground, several poppers on my jacket suffer. Buy tour ticket from a blue office just north of Maxims and CITS. 7 Y. Leaves tomorrow at 8 o’clock, hope the weather is better.
 Catch the underground 10 Fen and incredible scrum to go one stop to Beijing hotel, meet Ron in one of the many lobbies, the place is enormous meet some girls and wander into the large imposing starched Chinese restaurant. Order minimum meal vegetables and tea, 3 Y each! Hit the acrobatics show again. After show go to the Grand Railway station. In the far lefthand corner of the main hall is a large quiet comfortable foreigners waiting room and booking office, no queues, Reminbi and fake Taiwan student card accepted no problems. Such small wins in the great battle that is independent travel give sufficient pleasure to cope with the next 10 petty bureaucratic set backs. Ron buys a hard berth ticket to Kunming for 81 Y, 60 hours.
street scene

street scene

Posted by 1985 trip 13:21 Archived in China Comments (0)

Ming tombs


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Monday 25th March. Day 104
Tea and biscuits.
 Chonwenman by 8 o’clock to catch a luxurious coach for the tour. DSC0000202.jpgFirst stop is the Valley of Emperors Tombs, all from the Ming dynasty. Only one has been excavated and that took three years in the 1950s. The setting is remarkable, they chose a valley 50 km north of Beijing where the mountains and built a dam to make a beautiful lake and then had a long approach road made. On the far slopes large walled gardens shaped like a giant keyhole mark the site of each Emperor’s tomb. We visit Ding Ling’s. The round part of the keyhole is a vast walled mound of earth planted with trees. Underneath were discovered the vaults and treasures. Built of marble blocks with swinging marble doors to each room all some 12 feet high. The Tombs are virtually empty now, some fine gold crowns, cloth and other artifacts remain in a little museum. The approach to the giant burial mound is through a series of garden squares marked by giant gates which are also large pavilions with ornate encrusted yellow glazed tiled roofs raised on tall solid wooden pillars 1 meter in diameter. Magnificent. Very similar in style to the Forbidden City. The long approach road to this site is characterised by little marble bridges and a series of huge stone animals.

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Next the coach climbs into the bleak snowy mountains to the great Wall. Great! It weaves and wiggles over the scenery, sticking to the steepest parts. Swarming with tourists and Tee shirts touts who charge outrageous prices and only take FEC!! It is an extraordinary day, brilliant blue skies. Walk with Ron in the steepest direction as less people. Get as far as the unrestored section which is crumbling. It really is quite extraordinary to see it marching away over the mountains, not around or between, but over.
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Spend two hours here. Back by half past four. Meet some others at the Quaiman Peking Duck restaurant, joining in the chaos in the cheap room. Get a table surprisingly quickly. Share a half duck with Ron, it comes with a large bowl of soup, plus a jug of the restaurants beer, 8 Y each.
 Afterwards we go to the train station and Ron gets my ticket using his student card no questions asked. Hard seat to Xian 37 Y. I have heard that some genuine students are having difficulties getting discounts, also news of two tourists being arrested for changing money. The current blackmarket rate is 100/170. Sew the poppers back on my jacket, the boisterous bus and ticket queues were too much for them.

Posted by 1985 trip 13:23 Archived in China Comments (0)

small travelling circus

nearly fined for spitting!!!


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Tuesday 26th March.
Up late.
 Cycle to the Temple of Heaven.
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The Emperor of the day used to visit this splendid (the best I reckon) pagoda on auspicious occasions. The most important occasion was in October to pray for a prosperous year ahead. He was carried here from the Forbidden City a few miles away in his palanquin followed by his entire retinue. A curfew was enforced with everyone indoors and the shutters closed. The route through the various approach pavilions is orientated north south with three gates in each wall. The biggest and the central gate is for the Emperor and his palanquin bearers only. Royal family use the left gate and ministers use the right. Typically there is a flight of stairs to approach the gate, but the Emperor’s route does not have steps but an ornately carved slab of marble up which the bearers walk. One such slab in the Forbidden City weighs 250 tons and was slid through the streets on a path of ice.

DSC0000196.jpgIn the surrounding park a small traveling circus is touting for custom. Put on by one family behind a wall of canvas, there is juggling, a mangey wolf, one nervous monkey and one reluctant monkey, one bendy lady who bends over backwards and puts her head between her knees. It is a continuous show, performed with sullen indifference.

DSC0000180.jpgAfter an unusually vigorous scrum/queue I successfully buy two rice boxes for lunch from a little window. Disposable chopsticks, each box 1 Y. Eat them in the street, Ron gulps his down to fast and coughs and splutters before spitting out the offending rice. Up pops a petty official with a red armband gesticulating and speaking very excitedly. Our complete bafflement at this strange turn of events does not help to calm him down. A policeman comes along with a book of tickets, several bystanders add to the rising confusion. We back off through the crowd and down the nearest subway. Discover later that spitting is an offense with an on the spot fine. But each street corner has a spittoon, sometimes as large as a butlers sink and awash with phlegm.

Head off for the international post office in the afternoon. A small place bustling with tatty chinese. Post birthday cards and a few post cards. Buy some aerograms. Have to use a pot of glue for the smaller denomination steps and also to seal the envelopes.
 Meet some people in a restaurant and we retire to one of the Beijing Hotel coffee lounges after. Feel lousy with a cold coming on. Cycle back home. It’s rather chilly.

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Tiannamen square in 1985


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Wednesday 27th March.
on my bike in Tiananmen Square 1985

on my bike in Tiananmen Square 1985


Rise slowly suffering badly. Sunny day again. Visit Mao’s mausoleum in Tiannamen square, but back off at the sight of the half mile long queue of shuffling blue suited chinese. Make do with a photo. Must have cost a lot of money to build. I wonder how many bowls of rice.
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Search in vain for the offenders famous underground restaurant. Beijing has a lot going on underground but I cannot seem to find my way in. Dine on rice and something unidentifiable. Park bike outside Forbidden City and venture in—about 30 Fen.
DSC0000184.jpgA vast walled city, very high walls, painted burnt red. Parks and courtyards and pavilions and houses within. The most important buildings lie on the North South axis. Progressing in a northerly direction you pass along a paved avenue and through several massive stone gates, you reach more and more exclusive quarters until the audience of the Emperor is found in the Temple of Stunning Silence. Grand courtyards and large pavilions, basically they are large halls on massive wooden pillars with a very elaborate roof. The most exclusive courtyards are paved in ornate marble, again the central path is exclusively for the Emperor to pass over, there are never any steps as officially he never walked anywhere. DSC0000186.jpg Towards the back there is a kitsch Chinese garden, overdone grottoes and wiggly rocks. The concubines quarters are not recently restored, and as such are very attractive, the quiet walled alleyways and courtyards perhaps with a solitary pine tree, some bamboo growing in a corner and a functioning well. DSC0000195.jpg The weather worn wood still showing patterns of ancient paint. In one part there is an exhibition of foreign gifts to the nation, from the UK there was a picture plate from Stratford upon Avon!
 The Forbidden City gets 10,000 visitors a day, mostly chinese tourists. I saw one very old lady being escorted through by her son. She tottered on tiny feet. Deborah told me the toes are folded underneath. This city is basically the work of the Ming and Quing dynasties which roughly covers the last 1000 years.
Find a dumpling restaurant (Daioux) and order one portion. However it turns out I ordered one kilogram! I have to send half back. Cost 1Y when money refunded even, 1Y’s worth is rather too much.
 I have a peculiar excematous patch on my abdomen in the midline two inches above my navel.
 In the evening a violent dust storm rages across Beijing. Cycling across Tiannamen square is impossible because of the wind. You just get blown off. The street lights are slung on cables and lurch wildly about making people’s shadows jump over the walls. Sections of lighting go out. Since cars are infrequent and no one else has lights the journey home becomes hazardous. The next morning everything in the dormitory is covered in brown dust.
 Pay bill, pleading starvation and impending train trip to Moscow to pay in Reminbi. 40Y for 4 nights. My padded silk chinese jacket which has so valuably kept me warm, now has a grubby authentic chinese look, the brown dust has permeated everything.

Posted by 1985 trip 13:32 Archived in China Comments (0)

hard berth to Xian


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Thursday 28th March.
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Fail to get up early. Return bicycle, 5 days 9 Y. Buy some provisions for the 18 hour journey and grab lunch.
Board the train at lunchtime, nearly miss it by standing in the wrong queue. Luxury of a hard berth. These carriages have about 10 open compartments each with six berths. I have a middle berth which I think is the best. There are four Swedish nurses in the compartment too. However they speak very little English. The scenery gets more interesting as we head west and some greenery starts to appear. Little chinese girl befriends me with cute smiles, and I get given sweets and apples. The Swedes have come over on the Trans-Siberian railway they have a large flask of instant coffee. Local coffee is truly appalling. Sleep well.

Posted by 1985 trip 13:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

have a foam bath

unlikely luxury

overcast 15 °C
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Friday 29th March 1985.
Up at 6. Noodles in dining car. High volume fast service here. Pack and ready to leave train at Xian at 7 am. Photograph steam trains in station. Jiefeng hotel near station, no dormitory, single room 50 Y. No thank you but the Swedes check in. March to the Xian peoples Hotel. Massive soviet style hotel compound

Massive soviet style hotel compound


A vast imposing affair in three blocks, with fountains playing, all walled in as a compound. Dormitory bed 7 Y, FEC accepted. Large dormitory on ground floor in block 3, for the foreigners. Six large comfortable beds and our own bathroom fully equipped with bath, mirror and sit down loo. Have a foam bath for one hour! Luxury! Walk around the block and eventually find the Chines International Tourist Service office in the hotel itself. There are two trains to Chongquing, number 7 and number 9. Get the chinese and tourist prices. Trudge off to the advance booking office. Closed for lunch as it is now midday. Locate appropriate queue for train number 9 and stand in line for one hour. Request hard berth to Chongquing, but get big 'no no', I think because the train does not start here. International driving licence passes for student identity card and after much bluffing and pretending not to understand unwelcome developments and by being very patient and ignoring all her protestations I get a local price hard seat in Reminbi. She short changes me 3 Y in her anger, total price 30 Y.

Wander around Xian. The city is neatly laid out on a North South grid, this ancient city is now dull concrete and dust but it was once equal to Rome or Constantinople as a capital city. The massive city walls are still much in evidence. Right at the centre of town is a large solid pagoda, this used to house a big bell which announced the time of day to the city. The walls mark the boundary of the ancient Tang dynasty’s Forbidden City. The visible bits of wall are Ming rebuilds. The wall forms a square with a 14 km perimeter. It is 12 meters high and 12 meters wide.
 Xian has been an important city for 3000 years. Xian is the capital of the state of Qin, and this was the first state to conquer all the others, thus Emperor Qin Shihuang was the first Emperor of all China. He died in 206 BC and left, in his longing for immortality, a huge tomb guarded by many thousands of life size terracotta soldiers. After his death the Qin dynasty collapsed to be replaced by the Han. Xian stands on the site of Changan which was at its best under the Tang Emperor's (618-907 AD). When it had a population of one million.

Enjoyed some very tasty yoghourt in its own Ming vase. Refundable deposit. Sealed with waxed paper and an elastic band, you thrust in a straw and suck out the cool contents. Dine on well spicy Sichuan food with two young English brothers. The older is traveling before going to University and is on his way to Indonesia.
 Sleep in empty dormitory. My throat is sore and my nose is running.Spot the spitoon

Spot the spitoon

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visit the terracotta army

“This soldier wears a serene expression. He looks determined and solemn.”

overcast 15 °C
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Saturday 30th March 1985
Local children near First Emperor's Tomb

Local children near First Emperor's Tomb


Get up, find restaurant, top floor block 2. None of the waitresses will serve me. A classic example of Chinese sullen indifference. Three members of staff are standing around determinedly doing nothing, including the one behind the till. Eat up someone else's breakfast, and leave.
 Meet the Swedes in the street. They caught a bus outside the railway station to the terracotta soldiers yesterday. I do the same, 80Fen. Change buses, and further 20F. Drive past the tomb proper, a vast dome of unexcavated earth. One and a half kilometers away is a huge hangar covering the excavated soldiers.
 Many souvenir hawkers and change money women. Best price 165 renminbi to the pound. Well laid out museum, but not much English. “This soldier wears a serene expression. He looks determined and solemn.” I’m not surprised-he’s been stuck in the ground for 2000 years! They are impressive pieces of workmanship, and their sheer number is awesome. How many more must there be still buried.? There are about 800 figures excavated so far. DSC0000215.jpg
Qin Shihuang’s tomb was started when he came to the throne, a whole generation of artisans built this elaborate fantasy for the afterlife. Their casual mass graves have been found nearby.
 Eat some noodles with a few chives and chillies on top. 1 Yuan what a rip off!
 Catch bus back and lady next to me has a few words of English, leg, nose, car etc. this provides enough material for her to entertain those around her, in fact she tells them all sorts of fanciful things about me. Someone insists on giving me his biro. Good laugh all the way to Xian. They direct me to the number 5 trolley bus for Banpo village. This is in the same general direction as the soldiers, but not so far.
 At Banpo a large Neolithic site (? 6000 a D.) has been excavated, this was put on display in the late 50’ s. It is well displayed with lots of English. The site was occupied for over one thousand years. You can see the development of house styles. They buried their children in pots. High infant mortality evidently. Exquisite pottery and fine bone fish hooks.

Get back to Xian about 5. Wander around street market, chickens being gutted, fresh meat dyed livid red, pastry rollers making stuffed fried savoury rolls, fruit, veg, dried fish, dried spices, and great slabs of unsliced noodles. Eat there.

Making dumplings

Making dumplings


Creep back to the Renmin, pay in FEC’s, meet Fred the German from Beijing who is on his way to Lhasa. Have a wash and shave in his room. Leave at 10 and bluff my way into the first class waiting room, to avoid the dense crowds of huddled humanity rolled up in their cotton quilts on the pavement. Nice hot tea and fitful sleep until 3. 30 am, when train for Chongquing arrives.

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meet a cadre on the train

director of North China Railways


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Sunday 31st March
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Train is packed, definitely no seat. Was planning to bluff by way into hard berth and sit tight, but door locked and lady guard won’t let me through. Stand for three hours then someone invites me to sit with them. Here beginneth a long English lesson.
 Countryside mountainous, lots of little tunnels.
 Read nearly two pages of The Honorary Consul word by tedious word with Chinese man repeating them after me. Eventually I have to stop before descent into madness. He spends a further hour with my guide book getting me to read the cities names to him. Keep smiling bravely. They fetch me tea and give me sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are a good way to pass the time on long journeys as it takes such a long time to get a mouthful.
 Sit down in restaurant car for lunch with the only other white face on the train, a huge American in his Sixties who is sitting with a cadre like person. I introduce myself as William and he says his name is Ravensholt. He calls me Williams for the next two hours. The cadre is director of the North China railways. Despite this he still wants to practice his English, we repeat our way through words like chopsticks & noodles. Ravensholt is one of a distinguished group of guests invited to China by the China journalists group. They were all foreign correspondents in the East during the War. The other guests are flying to Chongquing, Ravensholt wants to see the trains and the scenery. Wise man, I’ve heard scary stories about internal flights. I tell him his name sounds like something out of Titus Groan, he makes a note the author.
 For the night I opt for the sunflower shell covered spittle drenched floor and my foam roll. Take 20 milligrams of Temazepam and sleep till the dawn chorus of throat clearing.

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settle into Chongquing

and get ferry ticket to Wuhan


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Monday 1st April 1985
Day 111
Chongquing ferry terminal on the Yangtze river

Chongquing ferry terminal on the Yangtze river


My Chinese friends put me on bus 12 for the ferry booking office. Spend a very long time at the crowded booking hall getting a Wednesday dawn departure for Wuhan, 4th class 33.50 Y. Bus back to railway station and walk and climb to Renmin hotel, about 40 minute amble.
 What a fantastic creation of pillars and curving roofs. A vast facade, two wings and a huge central concert hall to seat 400, with a pagoda dome roof in the middle. Service and rooms pretty basic though. Check into roof top three bed dormitory, 7 Y. one Japanese guy in situ, no English spoken. Sleep all afternoon.

An American studying in Taiwan finishing his year with a tour of China gets us local prices in the hotel's restaurant, about 50% discount. Have a pleasant dinner with, wonder of wonders, a clean tablecloth. The waitresses are very pleasant and helpful. China is full of surprises.
 Several travellers have the big padded cotton great coats, 30 Y. keep out this perishing wind, my sore throat may be getting better but the nose dribbles on. A flea bites me five times on my ankle in the night. I remember to take my anti malarials.

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exploring Chongquing in 1985

eat well for once

overcast 13 °C
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Tuesday 2nd April
Spend day wandering up and down hilly Chongquing. Much more character to the town than the grand but desolate wastes of Beijing.
Street vendor making toffee dragon

Street vendor making toffee dragon


Greater toffee artists in a street market. Pouring elaborate creations onto a marble slab and sticking them on a bamboo stick for 10f.
Watch 12 year old boy methodically butcher live eels. Knock on the head, skewer through the eye, slit open, another cut out comes the spine and guts, chop off head and toss into customers bowl. Very bloody and wriggly, feel sick. Further up the market a street sign advertises Dr Chow, expert in cancer.

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Fail to locate museum and find old temple instead. But disappointing. Eat steamed, fist sized, dumplings with savoury filling--baozi. Good, 14f.
 Unable to sleep on dock side ferry tonight so have to traipse back to hotel. Meet the four Swedes again, they have tomorrow morning departure to, but on a different ferry. Eat a truly delicious pork dish, more than I can manage, but I force it down, I will be many days on that ferry. The ladies at the next table gives me a bowl of their soup, then some men insist I go over and drink their beer. We drink innumerable small toasts from bowls. One to one. I propose 'chin chin', and this becomes the toast for the evening. Not one spoken word in common but lots of laughter. We are thrown out at the unusually late hour of 9.30.

This morning my tooth paste and razor were stolen from the bathroom, which was shared with another dormitory. In the afternoon I replace tooth paste, but cannot find a razor. Tooth paste tastes strongly of bubble gum. Revolting.

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board the ferry, see a corpse

and set off down the Yangtze river to Shanghai, this will take a week.


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Wednesday 3rd April
Up at 5 am for the dock. Retrieve soap from the other dormitory where I had left it yesterday. The Swedes are in situ and getting up for their boat. Catch bus number one, the first one is at 5.20. Dock side by 6 am. have some rice gruel and baoxi from a street vendor. Very warming on cold foggy morning. Join the shuffling queue, already very long, at pier two. It is just beginning to break dawn.
My home for the next week

My home for the next week


Far below, it's a steep descent to the river, the long bellows of ships sirens echo around the smokey river. They sound like whales singing in the ocean. Sometimes they almost start a tune, I imagine a giant organ rising from the deep swirling waters vibrating the air with a gutteral rendering of Bach's Toccata.
The queue is about 1 hour, we board at 7.30 and depart at 8. Quickly shown where to go. A lady exchanges our tickets for a bed number, she gives me an outside top bunk. Good view of the passing scenery through the door and large square windows. There are six two-man bunks in this 4th class dormitory. Two blankets, and two fans for the summer.

We are on a large modern steel ferry with five decks. Most accommodation is in 12 bedded 4th Class dormitorys-472 people like mine. Third Class in 8 bedded dormitory-96 people, fifth Class 18 beds-111. Plus a few people in second Class, whose lounge I have sneaked into at the moment. There maybe up to a hundred others camping on the stairs and in the corridors.
 Grub is served at speed to all 800 of us three times a day. You have to purchase meal vouchers in advance. One yuan will get a meat dish and rice. Filling and tasty, someone usually gives up a seat. Outside of second Class there are only four foreigners, myself, an Australian, a German, and a Japanese medical student. I pass the peanut test for chopsticks.
 The river is wide and fast flowing, full of eddies and swirls. The countryside is steep limestone hills, up ended Swiss rolls of rock strata exposed by the river. Little allotments cling to the slopes. In the afternoon much excitement as a very dead corpse floats past. His skin taut and oedematous and coloured a bilious green.
 Plenty of hot water for tea, and in the communal showers. The loos are very public as usual, we all squat in a row over a trough. A two foot partition enables one to chat with one’s neighbour.
 Sleep a lot. Ferry moors for the night, but cannot get off.

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rush through the Yangtze gorges

4th class cabin


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Thursday 4th April
Day 114

We rush through the Yangtze gorges

We rush through the Yangtze gorges


Everyone leaps out of bed at 6 am. as we go through the first of the gorges. The Yangtze narrows to 100 yards, rushing through on the torrent of water, fog horn blaring, and scattering little wooden boats before us. Steep mountains rise to 900 metres either side. Rush through all the famous gorges in the morning. Those Chinese who have cameras take many posed pictures of their friends.

DSC0000236.jpgMeet an Urgur. From the far West of China, near the USSR, north of Tibet. He is travelling around China, his brother is in Australia. He has wavy black hair and Western eyes. I try to talk about a yurt but get nowhere.

Suddenly the mountains drop away and we arrive at the top of a vast dam bristling with cranes. We edge slowly into a huge dock along with a few other boats. The drop is about 60 metres. Two sections of railway track are lifted vertically by enormous gantries to let the boats in. The bottom gates take 15 minutes to open. Awesome. People here have the “Speechless” phrase book, very useful, wish I had one.
 Beautiful sunny day. I feel warm for almost the first time whilst in China. This is the way to travel. The Australian gets off as we dock in the evening. The ferry only stops once or perhaps twice a day.
 The two Chinese in my bunk and the one opposite have befriended me. We get on very well with sign language, drawings, and lots of hot tea. Usually I eat with the Japanese guy, the German girl has befriended a business man in 2nd class.

4th class 33 yuan,
3rd class 8 bed, sink, desk, communal trough loos, 58 yuan,
2nd class double rooms, shared private cubicle pedestal loo, 120 yuan.
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Posted by 1985 trip 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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