Random Observations on a Trip to Beijing

I had the privilege of spending a couple of weeks in Beijing. I love being back in the city I called home for 14 years. So much changes and so much stays the same.

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Herewith are a few random observations:

Beijing still has some of the best food in the world! (Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.)

Even though the government announced that air quality had improved overall in 2015, I saw no evidence of it. Beijing (and all of north China for that matter) was enveloped in a soul-crusing soup of fog/smog/dust the entire time I was there. And yes, I came home with an upper resperatory infection.

The government recently announced plans to combine Beijing Tianjin and part of neighboring Hebei Province into one municipal district to form a mega-city (as if Beijing’s 20 million doesn’t already qualify). Supposedly this will make for a more livable and affordable city. I talked with a friend who has recently purchased an apartment in the Hebei portion of this soon-to-be megalopolis. It is an hour and a half by train from where she works. I fail to see how this is going to help.

Most people that I spoke with seemed to be taking the announcement of the change in the one-child policy with a shrug. Those who really want a second child had already figured how to get around the policy, and many believe they simply can’t afford a second child.

It’s time to take down and replace the Beijing West Train Station. Unlike the new ones being built, which are open and airy, this one is a warren of dark rooms and underground walkways to nowhere.

That said, the bullet trains remain a fantastic way to get around the country. I made a quick trip to Taiyuan, Shanxi and back. What used to be an 11 hour journey now takes only 3.

Of course the best thing about Beijing is the great friends I have there. I am grateful for the opportunity to get back there and see them from time to time.

Going to Tianjin? Do This!

I zipped down to Tianjin this afternoon on the bullet train to take part in walking tour of the old city, conducted by Doug Red, of Asia Walking Tours.

We started out near the Kiessling, an historic German bakery, then spent the next two hours wandering around the old British and French Concessions. Doug’s knowledge of of the city’s history is vast and his love for it is deep, both of which were on display all afternoon.

He’s a great story-teller as well, so we all came away with a better understanding of the lives of some of Tianjin’s more famous residents: Herbert Hoover, Charles Gordon, Zhang Xue-liang, and Eric Lidell, to name just a few.

If you’re looking for something interesting to do in Tianjin sometime, I highly recommend contacting Doug at Asia Walking Tours.

Here are a few photos from the afternoon:

Herbert Hoover used to work in this building.

The Astor Hotel — the place to see and be seen back in the day.

No British colonial city would be complete without a Victoria Park, now called The Municipal Committee Park (yawn)

China’s first Post Office

Three Days, Three Cities

Noel and I are sprinting to the finish line of our Esther Expedition, which ends in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Today we flew from Chengdu to Wuhan. On Tuesdaywe take the bullet train from Wuhan to Guangzhou, then another train to the border the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen. We will cross the bridge into Hong Kong, then board the light rail to Kowloon.

The reason we are doing such a circuitous route from Chengdu to Hong Kong is to follow the route of Esther’s final departure from China in May of 1951. Even though the People’s Republic of China had been established in October of 1949, many of the missionaries working in China at the time had been allowed to remain. By the spring of 1951, however, with the new government consolidating its control over the country and fighting between China and the US on the Korean peninsula, the local officials in Huili, Sichuan gave the final order for the foreigners in the city to leave within 48 hours.

Esther Nelson, along with another single woman and 2 families, set out from Huili, bound for Chengdu. Unlike our journey along that route 2 weeks ago, which was by car and train, their party made the journey on foot. Walking over numerous mountain passes and through towns and cities where they were viewed with suspicion, it took them almost three weeks to reach Ya’an. Added to the trauma of the departure and journey itself, when they reached the town of Hanyuan, one of the wives contracted meningitis and died, leaving behind her husband and 4 children, including a 6 month-old baby. They had to leave money with the Catholic mission where they were staying for a quiet burial, then continue on their way, with Esther taking care of the baby.

When the party reached Chengdu, it was decided that the now-motherless family and Esther would fly to Wuhan (as opposed to taking a slow boat), then take the train to Guangzhou and on to the Hong Kong border, which they crossed on foot. At the time, Hong Kong was really the only way in/out of China.

It is that route that we are tracing this week, although instead of a 36 hour train ride tomorrow, ours will take only 5 hours.

In the second week of our trip, we travelled by car and train along part of the route that she and the others trekked between Huili and Hanyuan. We had hoped to stop in Hanyuan and look for a grave or some kind of marker for the woman who died, but Mr. B, our friend and guide had contacted the priest at the Catholic Church there now and found out that the entire old city was flooded a few years back when a dam was built on the river below the town. There would be nothing to find or see, so we decided not to stop there.

Here are a couple of pictures of the area between Huili and Hanyuan which we got to pass through in relative luxury on the train. It seemed incomprehensible to us that Esther and the others had made this same journey on foot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: An excellent account of this journey out can be found in Ralph Covell’s book “Mission Impossible: The Unreached Nosu on China’s Frontier.”

And don’t forget to check out Noel’s recent posts:

I Feel Someone’s Eyes on Me

Children and Dogs

Cloth or Disposable or…?

Airport Entertainment

What is she wearing anyway?

 

Even Faster!

Yesterday, I hurtled across 800 miles of eastern China at a speed of 302 kph (188 mph). It was fast.

Today I rode on an even faster train — the maglev train that runs from the eastern suburbs of Shanghai 30 km (18 miles) out to the Pudong airport.  We hit a top speed of 430 kph (276 mph)!

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if something is going that fast it should be in the air.

Here’s the description of the technology from the Shanghai Maglev Official Website:

Electromagnetic levitation: controllable electromagnetic field is generated by exciting the on-board levitation magnets and the magnets and stator packs of long stator linear motor along the guideway attract each other, thus pulling the train upward and a stable levitation gap being guaranteed by controlling the levitation excitation current. Levitation gap between magnets and guideway is normally controlled to the range between 8 and 12mm. High-speed maglev system consists of four major components, i.e. guideway, vehicle, power supply and operation control system.

Got that? Even if that explanation were in plain English, I wouldn’t understand it. I just know that it has no wheels (or at least I couldn’t see any).

Quite impressive indeed.

So, How Fast is this Train?

 Friday morning I will board the super high speed train (not to be confused with the high speed train) and set out for Shanghai to meet up with Noel.  Let the Esther Expedition begin!!

So, just how fast is this train?  Well, as you can see from the stats in the chart above, It takes about 5 hours to go 819 miles.  I’ll leave math out of it, but it sure sounds fast to me.

I’ve travelled between a number of these cities more than once in my 28 years here. Perhaps a couple of comparisons may help give some perspective to this journey:

I’ve taken the train between Beijing and Qufu numerous times — it usually took 8 or 9 hours.

I once took a train from Shanghai to Nanjing that took 6 hours.

A flight from Beijing to Shanghai is 2 hours.

So, how fast is this train?  Really, really fast!

Check back tomorrow for a report on the trip.

 

Related Posts:

A Shaanxi Scrum

Outside the Wall

(Image source: China Highlights)

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfast in Tianjin

Last week I had three friends visiting from the US.  They all work for an airline so were able to “pop over” for a quick three day trip.  They had a long list of things to do in those three days so hit the ground running.

One thing they wanted to do was ride the new ‘bullet’ train to Tianjin, which makes the run between Beijing and the port city on the coast in 30 minutes flat.  At first I suggested we take the train down in the morning, poke around Tianjin, then come back in the afternoon; however, since they had too much they wanted to do in Beijing, we decided to make the trip for the sole purpose of riding the train.

So, one morning last week we took the 7:30AM train out of the South Station.  We arrived in Tianjin at 8AM, walked around the rain-swept square, ate some baozi for breakfast (Tianjin is famous for baozi–steamed meat-filled dumplings), then boarded the 9:30 train back to Beijing.  We were back here in town by 10. Each way, the train hit a top speed ofr 330 kph.

We went straight to my friend’s teahouse.  When I told her we’d just come from a breakfast run to Tianjin, it only confirmed her suspicion that foreigners are certifiably nuts!