Thursday, 7 April 2011

Arrived in China

Wednesday 6th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Paper Planes – MIA

Weather: It's raining and foggy within Nanning, China. Well when I say raining I mean its that 'fine rain' that you can see falling from the sky but doesn't get you wet. It does stop you taking photos though.

For my final meal within Hanoi, Vietnam, South East Asia I decided to go native and order a local Hanoi dish. It consisted of stir-fried meat with vegetables. I also received a side of noodles, leaves from some plant within the garden, and a vinegar flavored soup. It was rather nice though I'm not sure if you were supposed to put the noodles, and meat, within the soup … but I liked it!

After eating I hung around until 8pm. I had to get a taxi to the railway station, so I got the receptionist to write down my destination in Vietnamese. Afterwards I picked up my bags, took one last look at the hostel, and headed across the road to find a taxi. The taxi seemed rather professional; not only was it metered but I could see said meter and I could work out just how much, per kilometer, it should cost me. For once, within South East Asia, I thought that I was getting a professional, western style, service where I wasn't going to get ripped off.

I was wrong.

Not only did the driver miss a sign showing the way to the railway station (it was written in English as well as Vietnamese) but he also dropped me off at the bus station, instead of the railway station. I only realised the taxi drivers error when he had, conveniently, driven off and I had gone inside. I met a nice Vietnamese bloke who said he would give me a lift to the railway station, for free, on the back of his motorbike. Having a pretty good idea where the station was I declined the offer but asked for directions. I was told that the station was 300m to the right. So there I was, at night, walking with all my luggage within the suburbs of Hanoi. I didn't like it. I pulled down my hat to cover most of my face and walked without turning around. Thankfully it only took fifteen minutes to reach said station. This didn't stop me cursing the 'buffoon' of a taxi driver who put me within this predicament. Once at the station I showed my ticket to a ticket saleswoman who directed me to the correct waiting room. It was there that I waited, and I waited. I passed the time by looking at the 'world clocks' (all three of them) and the Vietnamese timetables that I couldn't read. At about 9:15pm an Aussie couple came in and sat down; they asked me if I was heading to Nanning. This made me happy as 'A', I was in the right place and 'B' at least there were going to be some other westerns on the train.

9:40pm came. The waiting room doors opened and, as I went to board the train, a guard checked my ticket. He told me 'coach two' … which is what my ticket said; this changed rather quickly when, the guard outside 'coach two', told me to head to coach three. I tried to show him my ticket but I don't think that he was in the mood. Once in coach three I was allocated a sleeper. I had to pass my ticket onto a guard in exchange for a plastic card. This was quite beneficial; it meant that no ticket inspector was going to come in and wake me up, in the middle of the night, as they already had my ticket to inspect.

The 'four bed' sleeper was the same size as an old fashioned train compartment. Instead of seats two long benches were put in their place with two benches above. Each bench had two ivory pillows, one ivory duvet and an ivory bed sheet; it was cute how the bed linen matched the walls. The carpet was red and there was a table with, what I first through was, a singular leg. On a closer inspection I noticed that said 'leg' wasn't tall enough to touch the the table. It was in fact a flask of boiling water to make tea, or to pour onto instant noodles. I had read about this within my guidebook and it was nice to see, however totally useless to me. The room was warm and 'Chinese chillout' music was playing through the cabins speaker. The music was lovely however I hoped it wasn't going to be on all night.

There was only one other person within my compartment. A fifty-four year old Chinese guy who didn't speak a word of English. We tried to communicate however it was rather difficult; I did find out that he was heading all the way to Bejing, however the next part of his journey will be a flight. I offered him some biscuits and he returned the favor with any food he had … neither of us accepted. Having run out of topics of conversation we both went to sleep around 10:30pm


As my eyes began to focus I found a ticket inspector gently shaking my arm trying to awake me. I looked at my watch to find that the time was 1:30am. Just then our speaker erupted with an English translation instructing me that we had reached the Vietnamese immigration offices. It was cold outside; four sternly looking Vietnamese officials showed the way into the only lit building. It was a grand waiting room with high ceilings, tiled floors and a wooden staircase, to the left, leading off to a restricted area. Just behind the staircase was a counter with a glass screen. It was here that I had to hand my passport to another sternly faced Vietnamese official and wait. I sat down and waited for, what seemed ages, until I was called to collect my passport. I made sure that I had been stamped out of Vietnam before walking back to the train and into my cabin.

The train began to move. I decided not to fall back to sleep as I was sure that the Chinese immigration office wouldn't be too far away. Actually it took a little longer than I expected. Once we had arrived a guard took my passport before I disembarked. This time cords directed me to the only lit room within the complex and, waiting for me, was a scanning machine. I waited inline, until two Chinese guys pushed past me and dumped their stuff on the convey-a-belt. I chucked my stuff on hoping that all would be okay.

It was.

Relieved I sat down and waited until everyone else had followed the same procedure. Looking at a desk to my right, I could see a Chinese official checking a screen. As I looked harder I could tell that he really wasn't that bothered what went through as, whilst luggage was continually being scanned, he would look away to chat to a fellow guard. Once we were all through the scanning process we were allowed back on the train. As I entered my cabin another English announcement told me that the train would be laying over, at this station, for another two hours. I checked my watch to find that the time was 3:30am. I couldn't go back to sleep just yet as the guard who took my passport hadn't returned it. It took quite a while until I was reunited with my passport. As soon as the guard was out of sight I went through my passport checking for an entry stamp.

All was fine.


I awoke, for the second time, due to sun light streaming through the window. Checking my watch I found out that the time was 6:30am. I decided not to head back to sleep; instead I decided to take in the view. I could see the same limestone rocks I saw in 'Ha Long Bay', only this time they were on land. Looking up they were quite high and vegetation was growing all over them. On the ground agriculture could be seen in all it's different stages. Some fields were in full bloom whereas others were being set alight for a new harvest. Oxen could be seen and some were even used for transport. The urban areas that we passed didn't look that glamorous either; most of the buildings had seen better days with the white exterior turning a rather 'unclean' shade of black. However, everywhere I looked, new development was springing up.

Our speaker erupted, first in Chinese, then in Vietnamese and then in English indicating that we would soon be arriving in Nanning. I gathered all my stuff together, wished my new Chinese buddy the best, and listened to the 'chillout Chinese music' that had just started playing again. Once out of the train station, and into Nanning, I noticed two things. One, it was wet and two, it was incredibly foggy. Having herd reports on China's energy problems I wasn't sure if all the fog was all natural. On the train I had memorized, in my head, the route to my hostel; straight up from the train station, second right and then first left. I made it onto 'Shanghai Street', the street my hostel was situated on, however it took me two searches to find my accommodation. Located along the river bank was a small park; within that park stood a small, semi-circle shaped, sheltered area where old Chinese men played dominoes … which was kind of sweet. Further on I found one building with the name 'Lotus flower hostel' on the side. I went in, trying not to think about the public toilet that was built into the side of the building.

Once inside I found no one at reception, however I did find an Irish couple, one watching a film and the another on the internet. I chatted to the guy as I fired up the PC next to him. He seemed nice and I tried to gain as much information, about how China works, as humidly possible. Unfortunately the guy did like to talk and so, not only did he tell me all the information I required, but he also told me about Bejing, things to do in Bejing and what not to do there. As I wouldn't be in Bejing for another month and a half this information was rather pointless and it diluted the important stuff, like how easy is it to catch coaches and trains within China, until I couldn't remember a word that he said. Luckily at this point a young Chinese girl came into reception; she checked me in and showed me my room. It was very nice indeed; I dropped my stuff off and returned to the reception.

I chatted to the Irish guy for a little longer, still not taking in much of what he said. One thing that did stick in my mind – and it's something that my guidebook has stated – is that transport fills up pretty quickly so book it as soon as you can. I therefore went into action and asked the Chinese girl, behind the reception desk, about getting to Hong Kong. 'Only buses serve Hong Kong' she replied and she gave me the time the daily coach left, the cost, and where it departed. I also inquired into trains that went to Shenzhen, a city within walking distance of Hong Kong. Within a flash the girl had printed out the times, and costs, of the different daily trains that departed Nanning for Shenzhen. Looking at the prices the train was similar to the coach, only the coach took me all the way into Hong Kong whereas I would have to change services on the train. I oped for the coach, departing here on the 9th April at 8:30pm. The receptionist was lovely; unlike in South East Asia, she wasn't able to book my coach ticket for me and so she wrote my request, in Chinese, on a piece of paper and handed it to me. She then marked on my map where the coach ticket office was and off I went.

It was nice to be able to walk through a city without being asked if I wanted something. No taxi driver was asking me if I wanted a lift, no shop assistant asked me if I wanted to purchase something ... nope, I was left alone and it felt good. Best of all the traffic seemed slightly organised and only a couple of car horns could be herd. The fog was becoming thicker but the rain was just as fine as before. I made it to the location where the receptionist said. I looked at the signs above the stores in front of me but no clue was given to which one could be a coach ticket office; the fact all the signs were in Chinese didn't help. I wandered up the street but I still couldn't find anything that looked like a coach ticket store. Eventually I found a posh hotel. Thinking that one of it's staff must be able to speak English I went in. Five minutes later I was told that the coach ticket kiosk was located two rows on the left. I said thank you, left the hotel, and made a mental note to ask hotel staff in the future.

The kiosk had an English sign; unfortunately the lady behind the counter couldn't speak a word and so I presented her with my piece of paper. She smiled, asked for 350 yuan (£35. Which was £7 more expensive than I had been told at my hostel) and gave me a ticket in return. As I looked at the ticket all of the writing was in Chinese; I tried to confirm that I was going to Hong Kong on the 9th April but she just smiled and nodded. She did point to a map, indicating the 'tourist information center', and so I headed off there, wondering if I'd just purchased a bus ticket to Hong Kong or an invitation to see the Russian orchestra in Moscow (which wouldn't be a bad thing). The 'tourist information center' was a huge concave structure with glass panels on the outside. I went through a glass door into, what seemed like, a bus waiting room. There were seats with a big departure board on the back wall. within a glass kiosk sat a lady; I presented her my ticket to which she replied 'so your heading to Hong Kong on the 9th April'. Yes! I thought to myself. What the lady at the other ticket office had tried to tell me was that my coach left from here, the 'tourist information center'. I was relieved that my departure point was within walking distance of my hostel. I left a 'happy chappy' and so I searched for food.

I went past my accommodation and headed, for the first time, away from the train station and towards the center of town. What I found there wasn't what I expected. After four months of not seeing a shopping center here I was, stood at a cross roads, with four giant shopping centers surrounding me. One had a MacDonald's ... and so I went in. I know this is my first meal within China but, as I've said before, MacDonald's are a good way of indicating just how costly a country is going to be. This is because Macdonald's are, just about, in every country on the planet and so you can compare prices. Don't believe me? Then read the article below ( I ordered a Chicken Nugget meal which was a lot harder to do than I expected. I pointed to the chicken nugget picture, showed all my fingers and thumbs to indicate that I wanted the '10 piece' and that I wanted a meal. All I got was the nuggets; I inquired into a drink and then one was brought over. I finally inquired into fries and, at this point, the cashier got it. I still had to pay for the three items separately but even so, the meal was pretty cheap … I'd say it was cheaper than Thailand. I sat down and went through my guidebook. There really isn't anything to do here in Nanning; the only attraction, being a museum, I've been told is closed. Looking at the weather it was dark, foggy and miserable. There was only one thing left to do ... shop.

Having not seen a shopping center for so long I was in ore at these giant structures that towered above me in all directions. I wasn't after anything in particular, apart from some Maclaren F1 clothes for the race in a weeks time. I went up the escalators to the 'sports floor' only to find the whole floor dedicate to sports fashion, not sporting merchandise. I had a quick look on other floors but there wasn't anything remotely in connection with sport. The situation was similar in other shopping outlets and in the end I gave up and headed back to my hostel.

Once there the Irish couple were still within the common room, watching TV. I asked I they knew where a supermarket was. Unfortunately it was back the way I'd come; I was told that I had to turn left at 'pizza hut' and there would be some steps leading down to an underground supermarket. In the rain, and the fog, I followed their directions to the letter, turning left past Pizza Hut. I headed down one set of steps however all I found were fridges and TV's … I wanted coke and chocolate. I scoured the area for what seemed like hours with no success. By the end I could have purchased enough clothing to re-cloth the population of Texas and bought enough medicines to re-stock the NHS for several years. That was all this city consisted of; clothes, pharmacies and TV stores ... surely people needed to eat. One important part of the Irish guys instructions was that the supermarket was underground. Maybe they all were. Maybe if I find an underground entrance I would find a different supermarket.


Luckily for me I found an underground shopping street consisting of yet more cloths. I raced past jeans, t-shirts, belts, bras (actually I stopped to look at the bras), shoes and handbags until I had made it to the exit. Once I'd resurfaced I knew that I had walked a long way to somewhere I hadn't been before. I decided to give up, go back the way I had come and head back to the hostel. One the way I found a small convenience store which had a big bottle of coke for 50p and a bag of 'Dove' (Galaxy to you and me) chocolates. After having a hard day walking around, unsuccessfully, I purchased said chocolate not caring that it cost £1.40. I made it back to my hostel wet, cold and a little annoyed.

I got out my PC, opened up the coke and chocolates and tried to take in all that had happened today. So far China doesn't seem too bad. On the plus side people leave you alone, the driving is organised, the people seem nice and people leave you alone. On the bad side people leave you alone because hardly anyone can speak English; add to that the fact that Chinese people keep staring at me (I don't mind the 'twenty to thirty' year old Chinese ladies staring at me … it's all the others that I have a problem with) and it can get pretty frustrating. All information is written in Chinese and it's very difficult to find anything, including supermarkets. Another major negative is that my blog is blocked by 'The Peoples Republic of China'. How am I talking to you then? Well I'll explain that mystery tomorrow.

Well I have another three days here and I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't want to move on earlier as Hong Kong is very expensive. There are the shops and I do need to try to get familiarized with certain Chinese signs ('supermarket being the first) . I think it's going to be a very chilled start to my stay in China, however it will be a steep learning curve.

Toodle Pip!

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