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Asia » China » Shanghai
December 10th 1986
Published: August 8th 2007
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Next stop China. Yes, dear reader, that's the plan and this travelling caper is starting to get real interesting. An American girl from our Tokyo guest house was keen to head out with me, and we caught a bus south to Osaka to link with the ferry voyage to China. Strategic planning wasn't a top priority for a pair of impulsive young travellers, and we only sensed trouble when the bus arrived in Japan's second largest city after midnight. Winter was setting in and we had no idea where to find a hotel that was still open late at night. Eventually we found ourselves walking the streets of Osaka for the night in an increasingly desperate search for warmth, amidst much immature grumbling from yours truly. Before dawn we found a fire lit by fishermen, and were so cold we just walked towards it like zombies and sat down without saying a word, whereupon the fishermen immediately roused us away. Eventually we found a heated entrance to an apartment building and stretched out on the floor.

This was not an auspicious start to our journey, but we managed to purchase tickets for the ferry across the east china sea the next day. People were packed in on tatami mats for the voyage but we had great fun as we settled in to a tiny space on the mats for the long voyage, we had goodies packed and a sense of adventure. The boat arrived on the shores of China two days later, and we had a great experience sailing down the Yangtze river towards Shanghai. The sailors on the tankers waved back at us, and it was amazing waving to crew members from Chinese and Russian ships. Shanghai itself is a beautiful city and has a sophisticated feel with fabulous architecture. The city was referred to as the Paris of the east and is a very impressive travel destination.

We met a more experienced traveller once we landed in Shanghai who had already been travelling in China for some time. He showed us his check in ritual that we later got to experience for ourselves, in a country that wasn't as yet used to "foreign devils". He stood silently at the hotel reception while the staff talked at length amongst themselves. In their own good time they finally acknowledged our existence and eventually we were checked into a room. Clearly any type of commitment to customer service had not yet permeated through China in a meaningful way. We were organised though and Shanghai is a great city to stroll around, in fact the young people dress fashionably in a similar manner to the Japanese. We spent our days exploring the city and eating at the restaurants before heading back to the hotel in the evening. We met another American girl in the city and all three of us were heading south to Hong Kong so we crewed up to organise a train booking to Canton, also known as Guangzhou.

The train trip was a great experience and for the first time we came face to face with the magnitude of travelling in a country that has a population of one billion people. The train seemed to crawl south and every stop at a station was an almost overwhelming experience. We couldn't face the meals on offer during the station breaks, and relied on noodles and other goodies we packed for the trip. Even paying a visit to the station toilets was quite the adventure, with queues forming that were scarcely believable. The Chinese in our cabin were very friendly and made an effort to get to know us as we travelled together through the countryside over the course of a few days. I enjoyed the journey and felt it was an authentic travel experience sharing a cabin with the locals.

We arrived in Canton and checked into a hostel in the heart of town. Unfortunately there was a degree of tension beginning to bubble to the surface between myself and my American travel companion. I felt she was a bit too opinionated, and can only speculate on my character deficiencies as seen through her eyes. I believe this was partly due to our lack of life experience as wisdom can only be learnt with age. It was no great drama however, and having a third travel companion ensured our China adventure stayed on an even keel. I didn't think Canton was really special as a travel destination, it didn't have the sophistication or beauty of Shanghai, and the south of China is primarily focused on maintaining it's status as the economic powerhouse of the country. The restaurants served meals that weren't bad, but they didn't compare to the quality of the Chinese restaurants in Australia.

Travelling in China is a fascinating experience, because it's the first country I visited with no real infrastructure to support a tourist industry, or for that matter any familiarity with foreigners in general. We felt like trailblazers visiting the country during this period of China's development, which added to the spirit of adventure but also helped us realise that travel is not always easy going when you get off the beaten track. The train journey proved a great opportunity to meet Chinese locals, but many times we found that the service in the country was somewhat deficient. When it comes down to the crunch travelling is about getting out there and having a go, even when things get difficult. After all ... if you believe you receive, if you doubt you go without! So come to China where, basically all of you should be here now!


He who keeps silence is not an idiot, an idiot does not know how to keep silence." Chinese proverb



As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now

Tom

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