Saturday, 4 June 2011

Dehang-Jishou-Shanghai (15th and 16th of September)

Having tried to ask the locals when the first bus left to Jishou only to be met with sign language of ‘I can’t read’ and shakes of heads, we got up with the larks/locals, and found a bus waiting in the square at 7.30 a.m. After the driver had smoked his three cigarettes and the little girl on her way to school had positioned herself in the front seat and counted all the plastic bottles lined up on the dashboard we left at quarter to eight.

It was hot outside the station and blue sky was making an appearance, but we found a tree to sit under and I tootled off to buy some expensive pomegranates and cheap bananas. We sat and waited in dread for our standing spot in the hard seat carriage. A German couple who work for a charity helping deaf children in Hunan province came to speak to us and didn’t put our minds too much at ease. They said going to Shanghai would probably be o.k. and we were lucky we weren’t going out as it was the mid autumn/moon festival next week when the Chinese people would all be on the move. In the past they themselves had travelled during a Chinese national holiday and had had to be escorted to their seats by the police in order to claim their seats. Sadly they didn’t realise that we will be trying to get out of Shanghai next week and with our impeccable timing just one day before the moon festival, so that we can hopefully get the ferry to South Korea on the day itself.

When the late running train arrived there was a mad scrum of people outside the carriage and it was hard to visualise how all these people would actually fit in there. There was then some announcement and people rushed to another door, but we stood there and waited. It sounded and seemed like the train was about to depart without us and the other people on it, so we sprinted (as best you can with a heavy backpack) to the other door.

Our carriage was crammed full, but the one we’d walked through to get to it was empty, bar a few people who had sneaked in there. We asked and gestured to the conductors to see if it would be possible for us to sit in there too and we probably got the go-ahead, perhaps because we were foreigners. After all that worrying we found ourselves in a luxuriously cool carriage with seats galore. As we neared Zhangjiajie City the conductor tried to tell us to move to our next carriage and fortunately there was a man who translated this into English. We traipsed through the train and found our empty ‘compartment’ in one of the sleeping carriages. It was peaceful, but the peace was broken when a large tour group got on. On the platform a lady was carrying a baby to the train in one of the pretty and intriguing Chinese high-chair backpacks. Jenny rightly guessed that she was destined for our compartment.

The baby’s mother and another lady sleeping in our compartment used a combination of clapping, clucking, whistling (this according to Jenny was to make it pee) and humming to communicate with the baby. Once again I found myself wondering how on earth babies ever learn to talk when they are treated like complete idiots.

This journey was far better than the one from Beijing, with lots of opportunity for sitting at the window even though we could see quite well from our middle bunks. We passed by some huge towns, lakes with netting over them, ponds with thousands of ducks, and increasingly large fields of rice where traditional harvesting methods have been replaced by the machines. Outside Shanghai we crept past the warehouse/factory buildings where I imagine the sweatshop workers are toiling away making all the ‘made in China’ garments for the rest of the world.

Any hope that it might be cooler now that it’s nearing the end of September faded as we got out the train into Shanghai’s in the 30s temperatures. We took the Metro past many a stop to the hostel on ‘Pu Dong Avenue’. Shanghai is strikingly modern, there are skyscrapers everywhere and most of the time you could be anywhere. The Metro is all very new too and our ‘Lonely Planet’ guide from 2006 only shows four of the many lines there are now. In the evening we took a walk down through the skyscrapers and past the shopping mall to the riverside. There we discovered the ‘City shop’ which was like an overpriced oasis in a desert of inedible food. We were so close to all this tasty European food, yet we couldn’t have it because it just cost so much! What we didn’t manage to resist were a few of the ‘Laugenbrot’, but fortunately those weren’t as expensive as everything else.

There are a lot of people in China and an awful lot of these can be found in Shanghai, particularly on the Bund which we walked along after crossing the river by boat. As it got dark the neon lights of China started switching on and I don’t really like to say it but it did look rather nice. The Chinese were of course there having their photos taken and maybe because it was dark or we were in Shanghai where there are a lot of Europeans there were no photo requests. We then walked along the pedestrianised shopping street where the lady in the Swatch shop thought Jenny should buy a new watchstrap, because the buckle was broken. It was crowded on the street and progress was difficult. In the shops the mooncakes were flying off the shelves and if it hadn’t dawned on us before, it was dawning on us now that the moon festival is a big thing. The trains would be crowded and we would need to get our tickets to Qingdao and South Korea soon.

We found the ‘Vegetarian Lifestyle’ restaurant that we were looking for and joined the queue of people waiting for tables. The sweet and sour vegetarian ‘pork’ was as good, if not better than at the restaurant in Shanghai. Foolishly we ordered dumplings again and realised we shouldn’t have.

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