Thursday, September 15, 2016

On the Move to Lanzhou.



David had arranged for the hotel restaurant to have breakfast available for us at 7:20a. We had 20 minutes to eat before leaving the hotel at 7:40a for the 20 km drive back to the train station.

David escorted us inside the train terminal where we first had to clear security. Yim's suitcase was pulled out and she was asked if she had a knife in her possession. She replied that she had a Swiss Army knife which she had to pull out and show to the security officers. They indicated to her that the knife was not allowed to be taken aboard the train.



With David intervening along with a senior officer, they let her keep the knife but she had to allow them to record her passport information in their log. They also warned her that while they would allow her to take her knife with her, security in Lanzhou would be even tighter. The knife has sentimental value for Yim - she's had it for 16+ years and so having it confiscated would be a devastating thought. David suggested to Yim that we mention the issue to our local guide in Lanzhou as security there is even tighter than in Tianshui. Yim decided that when we reached Lanzhou, she will try and post the knife back to her home in Australia.


Knife issue over, we walked to Waiting Room 2 and waited for our training boarding announcement.  We were on the T113 train departing at 8:56a.

When the announcement came over the loudspeaker, the Chinese horde all pushed its way towards the platform. I was swept up in it - basically, squashed on all four sides by people shoving their way forward. There is no concept of queuing or personal space in China. :-(



Eric escorted us to our train and there we said our final goodbyes and thank you's to him before we boarded the train. We were all sad to leave him behind, especially Mal. He was so kind to us and we all greatly admired the fact that his virtually flawless English was all self taught.  He's been learning by watching English TV which he says is only available in the tourist class hotels. So between watching TV and practicing with tourists, his command of the language is outstanding.  He even knows a few slang words!

On this train, we had a very helpful attendant, a nice young lady who led us to our compartment. In return, we each handed over our tickets and she gave us a plastic card. We still have no idea what the card is for and I keep forgetting to ask the guides what it's for.



We had been assigned two upper bunks and one lower bunk. Poor Mal was dreading having to climb up to the upper bunk. Thankfully, the attendant told us that there would not be a fourth person in the compartment so we had the whole place to ourselves. Mal could stay on the lower level though she's still grappling with the fact that they don't change out the bed sheets and blankets between passengers so you might be sitting atop sheets that someone slept on the night before. Yim told her it was no different than sitting on a park bench - you don't know whose dirty butt was sitting on it just before yours. I guess if you look at it that way, it's okay but I don't know that Mal was fully comforted by that thought.  As it turned out, we had the entire cabin to ourselves so we could spread out a bit.

As always, I gazed out the window as the train left the station and whizzed its way through Lanzhou.


We all settled in for the train journey though we really had no idea how long the ride would be.   We enjoyed a couple of snacks as breakfast was not all that much.

Tianshui is known for its apples. Eric graciously gave us three for our trip.  They are huge!

A bar of Lindt chocolate, courtesy of Mal, made for a good snack :-)

It was another overcast day in Tianshui as the train whizzed through farmland.  It most certainly is not arid desert landscape here.




But the further away we got from Tianshui, the further away we got from the clouds.  There was still farmland but more of the arid landscape was coming into view.

I'm antsy by nature so unlike the other two who can remain seated for hours, I bounced between the cabin and *my spot* on the jumper seat in the corridor. Nice place to enjoy the view but it was a non stop flow of people walking up and down the corridor.



When my tummy said it was time for lunch, I took the bowl of ramen I had bought last night and placed all the ingredients in the bowl. The hot water dispense was just at the end of our corridor. Water in the bowl, steep for a few minutes and I was ready to eat. Simple ramen but it sure beats the overpriced lunch we had on the train yesterday. I've decided that from now on, this is what I will do for my train meal.  Mal had also bought a bowl and when she saw me enjoying mine, she did the same thing as me.


The landscape was not much to look at. I have come to the conclusion that China is a land of the practical and if that means that the land must be raped in the name of progress, so be it.  In honesty, that's probably no different than any other country.  The country is going through an Industrial Revolution of sorts and when western nations underwent the same change in their history, Mother Nature also lost out. It just somehow seems more evident here.




When the attendant next came around to retrieve our plastic cards and give us back our original train tickets, it was our signal that we would soon be arriving in to Lanzhou. We gathered up our bags and made our way to the door where we stood for what seemed like an eternity as the train would inch its way forward and then come to a complete stop as it made its way into the station. As we stood, a very friendly young Chinese man approached Mal and started to speak to her in English which was pretty good but I think he just wanted to practice his conversational English. After he left us, we thought that was the last we would see of him but he shortly returned with a a woman and young girl whom we presumed was his daughter. She said Hello and when Mal tried to speak back, she was so shy, she could not utter a word. She was so sweet but I think having to confront Mal was more than she could handle. Mal said a gently goodbye to the girl before she walked away with her father.


We disembarked the train and went into lemming mode, following the mass of people heading out of the station. I noticed a sign pointing to West Exit but few people were walking in that direction so we continued with the flow. Standing at the entrance of the terminal was a man holding up a sign with both Y's and Mal's name written on it. From the way he looked, Y figured that he was our driver. Since we had nothing on the agenda, for today, other than to check into our hotel, having just the driver was fine with me.

We followed the driver to our awaiting van. The first thing that hit me was the cooler temperatures in Lanzhou. Definitely much more tolerable than Xi'an and I think the humidity is much lower as well.

Where we've traveled to in the last 48 hours.

Our two train rides have taken us closer and closer to the desert landscape that I imagine of whenever I think of the Silk Road and the camel caravans that traversed it.

Just as we arrived at the van, we met up with our guide, Eric, who had been waiting for us at the West Exit. The two men had split forces, each waiting for us at a separate entrance so if we had left the station via the West Exit, we would have been greeted by Eric.  They've obviously done this before and probably many times!!  We don't have anything planned on our itinerary today so we'll explore a bit of Lanzhou on our own. Our big moment today, at least for me, is meeting the fourth person in our travel group - Sallyanne. I've heard a bit about her from the other and am very much looking forward to meeting in person.  She arrived into Lanzhou yesterday and is waiting for us at the hotel.

As we pulled away from the parking lot, I noticed a China Post building. I reminded Yim to mention the Swiss Army knife issue to Eric. It took a bit of explaining as we realized his command of English is not as good as David's. In any case, Yim and David made their way over to China Post. They returned a short while later - apparently, that branch did not do international mailings. Indeed David had initially suggested going to a branch near the local university which caters to the mailing needs of international students so there was a greater chance Yim could mail her knife home through that branch. In any case, we continued on our ride to the hotel. Along the way, we made a stop at another branch of China Post. There they told Yim that mailing knives is prohibited so Yim is now resigned to the fact that she will have to try and explain the knife when we do our next train journey which will be in Lanzhou.

We soon pulled into the entrance of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. This is most definitely a 5 star hotel in China and since that's the grade of tour that we've paid for, this is the quality of hotel I am expecting. Yay!!

I had thought that I was going to be having a single room on this entire trip but apparently I am sharing a room from this point forth. I have absolutely no issue with that and I decided that Mal would be my roommate. She was fine with that as we get along very well so we'll be roomies from now on. I like Mal. She makes me smile and laugh. She also makes this adorable squeaking sound when she's under a bit of distress. She has a different squeak when she's happy like when she was sniffing all the bath products in our bathroom.

We had been upgraded to a deluxe room. I really don't know what that means but whatever the case, the room is far more luxurious than anything I normally stay in when I travel.


Shortly after we settled in, Yim came down with Sal as she's known. She's a very slender and slight woman of Vietnamese descent. Apparently, she loves to go trekking, albeit high end style. Good to know she will be able to handle whatever walking/hiking we have to do.....probably much better than I will be able to handle it.

The three gals spent a few minutes catching up with each other. We decided that we would head out to explore the town but gave ourselves a bit more time to settle in first.  Time to just say *ahhhh.....*