17 March 2022

Journey to the West (part 1)

(I finally dug out an old document that had some notes on blog posts about our 9 month travelling around the world that I never got around to publishing more than a decade ago, so I'm going to try to finish it)

In his book about travelling on the train through China, Riding the Iron Rooster (1986), Paul Theroux states in the final few pages:

 “[T]he main reason Tibet is so undeveloped and un-Chinese—and so thoroughly old-fangled and pleasant—is that it is the one great place in China that the railway has not reached. The Kunlun Range is a guarantee that the railway will never get to Lhasa.”

It’s no big surprise that they managed it, and I have to agree that it is an amazing feat of engineering, affording us spectacular views of Tibet from the comfort of a train carriage.  The down side, in the view of Tibetans and anyone sympathetic to their cause, is that it simply allows the Chinese to hasten the pace of their plantation and China-fication.  As I’ve already mentioned, Tibet feels in many ways Chinese.

At the entrance to the station, I finally found a person who actually used the scanning machines that we’d been putting our bags on before every train journey (and sometimes even to get to the ticket office).  It was probably due to the train being a much higher profile train, and the trains were pressurised with oxygen.  They found two cans, my shaving gel and my shoe deodorant.  Pressurised cans were not allowed, so they took the foot spray off me; pity the people sharing my carriage.


Announcements during the journey gave us a great piece of Chinese propaganda, as they gave us full details surrounding the building of the Qingzang railways in three languages.  One particular highlight was details about how the workers toilets were specially heated to avoid them catching something from the cold.  Another was that it was a miracle that no one died during construction (thanks to the heated toilets I presume).  Generally speaking, if you feel the need to announce no one died during the construction of something, I usually assume many people dies. And they had a theme song for the railway.

I've still got that t-shirt in 2022

 It was beautiful and uneventful though, and after 26 hours, we landed in Lanzhou, and promptly booked a train out there a couple of hours later that would take another 22 hours, and bring us into the capital of China’s other restless province, Xinjiang.


It was yet another uneventful ride, trains in China tend to be less fun than Russia.  We’d come a long way in 48 hours, going from tracks laid over 5000m to tracks that are below sea level (some parts of Xinjiang, around Turfan, are more than 150m under water, but more on that another day).  Audrey was getting pissed off with rail staff (and anyone in general who is meant to be in the service industry), and I couldn’t blame her.  They have slogans everywhere about “serving the people”, but most of them do anything but that, preferring to while away their working hours playing games, chatting and generally ignoring the passengers.


We arrived in Urumqi at 11:30am.


Katie Tam said...

Beautiful pics!!! They'd make love puzzles!!! (Hahahhha)

Katie Tam said...

I'll read the words later. Lolol