Returning to the summer 2008 adventure to China…
The rest of China
Even outside of the Olympics, China was impressive. From the moment we crossed the border I knew I would like China. For starters they had the most efficient border crossing and bogey changing (something to do with track width) we had experienced, which was most welcome after the 7 hour Belarus/Russia border crossing involving little sleep (for the rest of the train anyway) as the carriages were raised and literally dropped back down to the ground by a guy with a old spanner in one hand and a fag in the other. And as soon as we hit the first station in China people started selling us stuff – hawking anything from jeans to tourist tat. And they smiled when they parted us from our money. Actual positive recognition. Remarkable after a week in Russia. Oh and the trains were in a class of their own – second only to Germany’s. TV screens, headphones, temperature control and loo paper. And a separate wash basin cabin…. Luxury!
The Chinese landscape was also dramatically different from Siberia and even Mongolia. Rolling green hills, craggy rock outcrops, lakes, rivers. We got our first taster from our final day on the train as we rolled into Beijing and were glued to the windows taking pictures, and then again when we visited the Great Wall. We opted to drive further from Beijing to a quieter spot at Simatai and despite the grueling steep climb on the wall the views were incredible. You could see the wall stretching for miles… crumbling in one direction and wide cobbled steps in the other. The scale of the wall drove home to us the amount of people the country must have had to divert so many of them to construct a project of such magnitude.
That was only reinforced at Xi’an – the site of the terracotta warriors where the whim of a leader led to the production of thousands of model soldiers all to be buried underground to keep him safe in the afterlife. All that effort just to bury it underground. Although its hard to imagine much of what we build today being marveled at hundreds and thousands of years in the future so maybe we should just be thankful.
We ended our China trip in Shanghai which was by far the most real place we visited after Beijing and Xi’an. It was a real world class city, much older than I imagined and more complete. It had a real sense of history with old architecture on one side of the river and sparkly new skyscrapers on the other – it would be a toss up to choose between the original Hong Kong Shanghai bank on one side and the giant bottle opener building on the other. To re-adjust to London life we drank very overpriced cocktails at an amazing rooftop bar and on our final evening had an incredible meal at M on the Bund. That helped make up for 2 weeks of pot noodle.