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Published: September 25th 2005
Early rise this morning, we are booked on the 7.20 train to Yiwu. I have a very ill-timed nose bleed in the middle of morning preparations and as a result there are only twenty minutes left when we jump into a taxi and ask him to hurry for the main railway station. Fortunately the elevated highway is devoid of any major traffic jams and as we reach the station there are still a few minutes left. The unexpected security screening chews another precious minute on the way. Running through the station asking any official coming my way about the train to Yiwu we manage to find the proper track and board the train in time, we even have a minute or two to spare. We can let out big sighs of relief.
The train we have boarded has double decker coaches, and we are seated in a rather spacious cabin in the lower deck. The seats while not being particularily exciting are still comfortable and big enough for us to relax in, but I am constantly running up and down to catch better views from the hallway. As the trains rolls in to the first station we realize that we
have little clue exactly how long the journey is supposed to take, let alone how many stations we will pass enroute, and it is not exactly easy to read the mandarin signs on the platforms. The weather is cloudy and boring grey, but at least it is not raining. We pass a number of cities on the way south, the ride taking some 4.5 hours before finally a reasonably large and busy city comes up in view, we have arrived in Yiwu. Not exactly a tourist destination, the city is primarily a destination for businessmen and traders.
Realizing the train will only stop for a short while to allow passengers to board and embark disembark as well as load up on some cargo I ask Kay to wait with the bags and make a dash across the platform to try and take a picture of the engine. We're in the tenth coach and as I criss cross the busy platform I keep waiting for one of the security guards to stop me wondering what on Earth I am on about, but lo and behold I get up front just in time as the driver climbs into the engine. Photography
Arrival in Yiwu
Had I pulled this stunt at a railway station somewhere in a European capital I would probably have been shot by some nervous police officer.
like this always leaves me with a sense of achivement, even though most people would simply consider it rather stupid. Just a minute after I take the picture the camera batteries die on me, and in the morning rush I forgot to pack my camera bag into my backpack, so the spare batteries are back at the hotel. Great going...
As we get out of the station we start looking for the ticket office to purchase our return tickets to Shanghai. This proves to be more difficult than anticipated. Finding the office takes some practice and a lot of questions, before we realize that it is situated in a big inconspicious office building across the big square. There certainly are no English speaking counters here, but there are a lot of counters to choose from, each serving a gigantic queue of wannabe travellers. As we finally make it to the front of the queue it takes some effort and various approaches to finally succeed in obtaining the tickets, now priced at only 51 yuan. The train will return to Shanghai at 5.20 pm, which leaves us just a few hours in Yiwu.
Kay has prepared big printouts of
the Yiwu trade fair building but to our big surprise the cab driver is not really familiar with it. He drives us downtown, and as we pass by some shops I stop it near a camera store where I can stock up on batteries. The weather is getting colder and it has started to rain, giving downtown Yiwu a rather drab and boring look. The big streets are full of tricycles, their drivers shielding themselves from the rain under big rain coats. We are cold and hungry and stop for some tasty noodle soup at a street corner. The fair building is just a block away. However, as we walk over to the fair we realize that this is a completely different trade fair, and it sure is not the same products on display. We ask around a bit and get into another taxi that takes us across the river over to another big fair area.
Again, the products on display do not seem to match what we're looking for, and we quickly realize we're at a second incorrect place. This time though the staff know where we are headed and manage to send us off in a taxi
to the proper location. Finally arriving we have to go through visitor registration appearing as foreign investors. The process is quick though, and soon we can leave the dreary rain behind and enter the big fair. There are several halls and each is full of vendors offering their products. Scented candles, jewellry, fine garments, traditional lamps, consumer electronics, books, women's underwear, construction companies, shoes, make up tools, pretty much anything goes. Kay is looking for cheap trinkets and jewellry which she is thinking about selling back in Bangkok. We end up with a big pile of brochures and business cards. I go out for a few minutes in the rain to snap some pictures of the hall as some VIP arrives under heavy police escort.
After having circled most of the fair we are ready to head back to Shanghai, but grabbing a cab turns out to be a stiff competition. We finally manage to steal one and go directly to the railway station. The waiting hall is crowded and people are waiting in long lines to board the platforms. Unlike in Europe, the platform remains off limits until the staff open up gates shortly before the train will
arrive. The rain continues and as the train approaches the platform it is already dark outside. Although the price was roughly the same this express train has older and more worn down coaches, seating 3+2 and the corridor is very narrow. Pretty much all seats are taken, and I am seated between a huge Chinese man eating noodles and the aisle, which is trafficked by several vendors that walk it up and down. As they pass, they keep calling out for people to buy tea, noodles, newspapers, pillows ad nauseam. They also make sure to bump into my legs with their small wagons, just in case I might be sleeping. Naturally, such dreams will have to be abolished.
Even though it is pitch black outside I notice that the train is taking a slightly different route and I pray to the gods that we have chosen a reasonably fast one. Fortunately this route is a little bit shorter, managing the trip back to Shanghai in just under 4 hours, but we are still tired as we grab a taxi and head for the hotel. We go out for dinner at the local market in Fangbang, but end up choosing
at a rather dull and expensive place with an annoying beer vendor who keeps walk up to the table to hawk his goods. The food is ok but nothing special.
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