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Published: June 11th 2008
Blog May 28
There is a lot of flag-waving on TV at the moment. I’m watching events around the preparations for the Olympic games, the rescue of victims of the earthquake and a series of documentaries revolving around the epic struggle of the red army to defeat the forces of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang in 1948 and -49.
Also the invasion by Japanese forces in the 1930’s gets attention. The filming is monumental with battle scenes involving thousands of stand-ins and period battle equipment that puts films like “the longest day” and Spielberg’s “Save private Ryan” in the shadow. Cultural documentaries, sopies and a police story also feature.
I’m watching TV in my room of the Shenyang Post Hotel in Shenyang, where I didn’t want to go at first. My plan was to travel from Beijing to a place at the cost, Qinhuandao first and proceed to Shenyang later. But everything went wrong.
I got a train ticket for 7:50 in the morning instead of at night of the 24th as asked for.
That was changed later in a ticket for 13:50 the next day, standing without reservation, without paying anything extra.
It was a very fast train
and we had stopped and were past Qinhuandao when the mistake was noticed and so I had to pay more to get to the next stop, which happened to be Shenyang.
No worry. Except that it soon became clear that all small, cheap hotels near the railway station would not accept foreigners and eventually I had to accept a room at Y88 a night. There is nothing much to do here, but I booked in for 5 nights anyway to give my back a chance to come right again. After the hike on the Great Wall it had not recovered completely.
The room is large with two beds, clean with TV but apart from this and the impressive entrance hall, the best I can say is that the hotel is very big and “seedy”.
Toilets are pathetic but some of the quests seem to be used to a lot less at home. Showers are two floors up, arranged in a row against the wall with no partitions or doors. It’s something you have to deal with in the same way they do: act as if it’s normal.
Shenyang is a medium size town where modern high-rise buildings, some of them
of exceptional design are soon making way for older buildings, apartment blocks with some slums and than old, some very old apartment blocks with a lot of slums.
Some busses are well past their prime (understatement) with a partitioned side door hanging loose in its hinges and moving crazily when opened or closed, a broken seat here and there with the old wooden parts attached to the metal frame with a piece of wire or flex and a piece if sheet metal covering a hole in the floor.
But the windows are clean and so is the floor thanks to the ever present mob in the rear corner.
There are a number of up-market buildings of which I haven’t seen the like ever before with shops ablaze with the most luxurious goods imaginable and large water fountains adding an almost surreal atmosphere. Next to that building you can eat noodles for 3 Yuan at an open-air eatery, where the noodles are freshly made and cooked.
The bus to Harbin took 6 hours to cover the distance and dropped me off behind the big railway station from where I could take the bus to the youth hostel, Little Fir International YH
where I booked 7 nights into a dorm of 5x7m with three beds and 2 guys, for Y35 a night.
It’s a town in Manchuria with both strong reminders of the Japanese occupation from 1931 to 1945 and the Russians who left their reminders here as well.
Although it has a population of an estimated 4 mil souls, it’s not crammed here. The streets, highways of up to 10 lanes sometimes and the large buildings, office-and apartment blocks, stand wide apart and allow for a fairly smooth flow of traffic. But the municipal buses here are on their last legs and the people, although helpful, are not as friendly as in the places I visited earlier.
The KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) outlets have spread here like a virus. Sometimes, in the centre of town, you can spot 4 or 5 outlets without taking a step in any direction. And they can’t be build big enough, they are crammed all the time.
Something I noticed before as well is the enormous number of clothing outlets you find in China, where non-edibles are the more important departments in big stores and even in Carrefour, of which there are at least two outlets
here, the food departments are the smaller ones. They are not small, but smaller with a variety of foodstuffs, especially in the fresh produce departments, that’s astounding. The clothing the ladies wear here varies from the simple to the incredible, the frilly to the silly, the stylish to the childish. Mix-and-match often becomes mix-and-mismatch, in short, anything goes.
Clothes outlets are sometimes surpassed by the number of eateries with a variety of food that make KFC and McDonald’s dazzlingly primitive. And the quantities their Chinese customers consume is equally impressive, Six, seven different dishes are easily shared between four diners who have loud conversations and enjoy a good number of beers as well.
I just read the news Jurgen de Grote, a single German with his dog who travels in a monstrous army truck, sent to tell about the disastrous accident he had in Pakistan. His car left the road, because of faulty steering it seems, rolled and was all but written off. He himself, and his dog were not injured, fortunately. The things that can happen, you know.
I’m back in Beijing. Another Youth Hostel of which there are a large number here, mostly not mentioned by Lonely
Planet. The building is a 280 year old structure, with a large space in the centre, lined with 2 stories of rooms, offices mostly on the ground floor and a balcony on the second floor giving access to the second floor rooms. Rumor has it the building was originally a bordello and I can well believe that.
It’s sweaty weather with little sun but the eternal pall of pollution hanging over the city. In the last couple of weeks I have spoken to a number of people who live and work in China. Mostly as teachers, also people who have never taught before. But the demand for English speaking teachers who can teach small numbers of kids, adults and even elderly people is enormous. I also met a guy who is employed by a travel agency to promote the area he is living in and they all assure me that, although the pay is not equal to what they would earn in their own country, they manage to live comfortably and travel quite a lot.
It has inspired me to think of giving up traveling by car, by myself, in favor of a job here and settling down for a
couple of years. Traveling is fabulous but if you can share your experiences and emotions with nobody but your blog, you start to compare yourself with a shelf in the attic where things are stored nobody is interested in.
To give an example: day before yesterday I went to visit the famous Chinese acrobatic circus. The performances were dazzling, helped by incredibly beautiful costumes, lighting and background. I was truly thrilled, but there was nobody to share this with.
I have another 6 weeks before my visa expires and I have to be back in Pakistan, but that works out quite well. There are quite a few things to sort out before I can put my plans in action, anyway.
There are a few days left here before I leave Beijing again, this time towards Shanghai Where I hope to be in a week’s time. Until the next time, take care all of you.
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