Friday, July 12, 2013

China Day Five - First a Plane, Now a Train

On our last day in Beijing, we woke up at 5:45 to get ready and finish packing. We went to breakfast at 6:45am and were downstairs to checkout by 7:30am. Angela and Mr Gao packed us into the van and we were off. One of the things that Granddaddy had specifically asked to do besides the Great Wall and the Forbidden City was to see the Olympic sites - the Bird's Nest and Water Cube. We drove out to the Olympic area and circled around it to see the buildings, which were very impressive in size!

From there it was off to the Beijing West train station to catch the China Highspeed Rail (aka the bullet train) down to Guangzhou. Besides being cheaper than flying, it was a great way to see the diversity of the countryside as we headed from the north to the extreme south. Angela and Mr Gao were given permission to help us all the way through security and into the gate area for our train. We were definitely sorry to see them go - we wish we could have taken them with us to complete this journey! They were so welcoming and gracious.

We made it through from the gate down to the platform on our own with kids and luggage in tow and got settled into second class car #8. We had 5 seats on row 1 (at the back of the car right by our luggage) and 1 seat in row 2. Before the high speed rail line was put in, the regular train from Beijing to Guangzhou took 23.5 hours! Now you can make it in 8 hours, with four stops between Beijing and Guangzhou. At every stop, people got off and more people got on.

Considering that it was going 303km an hour, it was a relatively smooth ride and still slow enough that you could see the countryside go by in the huge picture windows. The nice thing about the train was that you use your electronic devices and cell phones the whole time and you could walk around whenever you wanted. We brought our own water and snacks, but there was a dining car complete with tablecloths, and the attendants came through regularly with food carts to purchase snacks and drinks. One interesting feature was in the lobby area of our car by the bathrooms - there was a spigot on the wall for hot water so that people could fill up their noodle cups and eat. There were also 6 TV screens in the ceiling of the center aisle showing Chinese television and movies.

This was definitely a native experience. We saw no other Westerners on the train, despite the fact that all the signs and announcements were in Mandarin and English. In some ways it was a little solitary, but it was a nice opportunity to people watch.

Some of the snacks we found in the Beijing grocery!

I guess the biggest observation of our time on the train is that China is a country of great contrasts - between cities and small villages, between industrial areas and rich farmland, between rich and poor, and even in between native culture and Western influences. The train stops were in large industrial cities with massive skyscraper apartment buildings and usually a nuclear reactor for power. In between were lots of small farming villages on flatland. In these areas all of the  buildings were 1 or 2 stories and were grouped together with a wall around to protect them, while all the farmland surrounded them. The middle section of the country on our route was mountainous, where our ears popped as the altitude changed and we went through several tunnels. The further south we went the landscape changed to rich fertile valleys with steppe farming, growing soy and rice. In these areas the houses were more spread out and resembled large single family Western homes.

We arrived on time at 6pm in the Guangzhou south railway station. What a zoo it was getting down the one escalator from the platform with our luggage! When we got out finally one of Lifeline's guides was waiting for us - Helen. She got us to the driver and the minivan and we drove about 30 minutes into the heart of the city, crossing over the Pearl River, to get to our hotel. Lifeline (and many other agencies) put their adoptive families up at The Garden Hotel which is an entire city block inside the city's financial district. It is an enormous 5 star hotel unlike any thing anyone in our family had experienced before. Fortunately our adoption agency has contracted for a much lower rate than rack rate price and their rate included the amazing buffet breakfast each day. 

The crib undid me for a few minutes when we first saw it; it made everything so real!

There was an automatic screen that came down to cover the window - the boys about wore out the remote for it. 
We checked into our hotel and when the bellboy brought the bags up we unpacked a bit and then decided to go out into the neighborhood for dinner. Fortunately Helen had given us a map with about 25 different locations marked on it and we headed for Mexican food at Tekila's  which was wonderful. We crashed back at the hotel - tired from our travels and with lots of nervous anticipation about what Monday would bring.

No comments: