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Published: March 18th 2018
Miscalculation, could not find suitable breakfast. Watched staff in a neighbouring hotel doing pre-work warm-ups, saw a nice butcher’s stall. Noted in South China Morning Post an interesting article; it seems that a factory work (living in a strange city, without resident rights or access to free medical treatment) earns about U.S. $4,000 per year; some people are now moving back to the villages and starting e-commerce. One couple, 25km north of Xi’an, started selling vegetables that way, earned U.S. $78,000 last year between the pair of them, built a 200 sq. metre factory and are expanding now to 2,000 sq. metre. A farmer supplements his living elsewhere by supplying an e-commerce business, on a good day it is worth up to U.S. $25 but even on a bad day makes U.S. $3.00 – “not bad for a place like Yujin”.
The station was excellent, but with coffee at 35 Rmb per plastic cup (£4.00) one could understand why we were the only customers. Train brilliant again. Extensive graveyards on the desert fringe, occasional stupa, conical marker or stela but mostly a tabula rasa; presumably most graves are unmarked, because such a graveyard can run to many hundreds
of acres, with just the odd visible sign of inhumation dotted around. Smoking penalty on train ranges from £40 to £80. Am corrected re. female train staff uniform, synthetic form of wool, boots are pleather and knee-high.
After 45 minutes, at 9,000 ft, the fields became much larger, with huge snow clad mountains to the south, which we were nearing. Suddenly we saw large herds of yaks, hundreds of animals, and the mountains became hugely impressive. Is this “tundra”? Now at 11,000 ft, suddenly we enter a series of tunnels: 26 seconds, 175 seconds, 120 seconds, 100 seconds (during which we summit, at about 12,500ft. Now comes the descent, we emerge into snow fields, having passed through over 30 miles of tunnel straight through the mountain range (almost the distance from Colonsay to Oban). We pass isolated farms, the houses painted primrose yellow, the byres red or unpainted. Now we see HUGE tracts of tilled land, unfenced, undivided in any way almost to the horizon… what on earth do they grow? Corn?
Now we enter more tunnels: 48 seconds, 348 seconds, 118 seconds, 190 seconds, 106 seconds – we estimate that it amounted to
another 38 kms. We paused briefly at Datongxi station (nice mosque nearby), at 2,438 metres. Soon afterwards we arrived at Xining, what a brilliant, absolutely amazing train journey – and the other passengers did not turn a hair!
We have engaged a guide for the next few days and “Frank” met us on arrival. We have an excellent hotel on the concourse, Quinghai Baiyun Xiangling Hotel; although it serves no meals, no drinks and has no laundry. We had a quick shower (to recover from the last establishment) and then an excellent but too ample lunch in an adjoining Moslem restaurant. We then went away out on a lengthy search for the chimera, that “will o’ the wisp”, an ordinary launderette or “bagwash”. Incredibly, in view of the stereotype, such establishments are very rare in China and operate in a manner which is deeply inscrutable. We found three, but none of them could wash and return a few shirts and socks before Wednesday (this being Sunday!). However, the walk itself was fascinating, and we saw the Moslem area in some detail (this city has a very Islamic identity, mixing freely with Buddhists and with a very obvious
Tibetan cultural and racial influence). People very friendly indeed; we visited and were made welcome in the enormous main mosque, also saw two others from the outside; the main mosque has 10,000 adherents on a Friday, and 100,000 at a festival; most ladies wear headscarves, some wear a sort of balaclava affair and a minority match the balaclava with a dark dust-mask, thus achieving almost complete veiling. The gentlemen who were not working were all very smartly dressed, often in a black jacket and trousers with white shirt, and all were wearing a sort of skull cap. In many cases this was white and in a pristine condition, nicely embroidered. Lots of beards, but not with a moustache.
We walked into the main city area, and then down to the not-too-exciting river; between two weirs (about 200 metres apart) it is possible (in season) to hire frightful plastic boats with ducks heads. There is a fine riverside open amenity area, well policed. We are in Quinghai again, which is not an “open” area and is subject to an enhanced level of security. There is a very obvious presence of security personnel, but it is in no way
oppressive; all in all, from a very brief look around, this seems to be a splendid place, 2.5 million inhabitants, mixed ethnic and cultural backgrounds living in apparent total harmony and prosperity, with excellent infrastructure e.g. spanking new and highly desirable 30 storey blocks of apartments.
After our 8 or 10 km outing with the laundry we took a taxi back to the hotel; seemingly the driver did not read or understand Chinese, we were not sure but perhaps he is Tibetan? Definitely a minority member, but in any case he was very friendly and it worked out fine. We were impressed once again by this truly epic station, on a magnificent scale, surrounded by acres and acres of paved parterre and backed by 500 ft rose-red cliffs. A wonderful day, not sunny but not cold, about ten degrees (much warmer than at home, yet far from the sea and at 2,200 metres altitude).
Had bottle of Great Wall Cabernet in our room but decided that our one meal of the day (the excellent lunch) was sufficient, so turned in early. BTW, Kevin has acquired a tiny bottle (125 ml) of something which is
“35% vol” by Jing Brand Co Ltd, Barcode 6 909131 169201. It is brown, might be some sort of brandy substitute? Virtually free it was so cheap.
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