My latest journey started in Shenzhen, from where we were to catch the thirteen-hour sleeper train to Guilin. This was a Friday, as my plan was to arrive in Guilin on Saturday morning, spend the night, and then take the sleeper train back to Hong Kong via Shenzhen in time for Monday classes. Looking at Wikitravel, it looked like there was about enough in Guilin and vicinity to last for about two full days, though actually being there, it was obvious that this trip could have easily lasted for at least a week.
Like I said, it all started in Shenzhen, land of the Special Economic Zone. With this being my third time to China, I wasn't particularly thrilled about roaming about, but since the train was to leave at 5:25 p.m. and three of my friends had not yet seen Shenzhen, we decided to make Friday before the train a Shenzhen train trip.
Other factors made it desirable to see Shenzhen that day. I was lucky enough to be granted a multiple-entry Chinese visa (meaning I could enter China as many times as I want during my visa's validity for no more than 30 days per entry). I'm not sure whether it's because I've gotten a Chinese visa once before or they've got a soft spot for me because I'm ethnically Chinese, but many of my friends were only allowed to apply for double-entries. Since Shenzhen is Hong Kong's land gateway to Mainland China, it just made sense to see Shenzhen on the same entry as Guilin since they had limited entries.
That day was odd in a couple ways. First, I had never gone long-distance overnight on a train before in a foreign country. I've been on long-distance trains and I've been to foreign countries and I've been on long-distance trains in foreign countries, but never overnight. This teensy weensy fact that this journey was my first sleeper train ever in any part of the world created this sort of aura in my head.
What also made this journey special (and this first Shenzhen leg odd) was that there are certain unwritten stipulations in my study abroad experience set in place by my sponsors--my parents. I am to learn Cantonese to the extend that I can speak decently with my mother. I am to travel as much as especially to see places that I have not yet been too. I am to travel to Guilin, because it's beautiful and easier to get to from Hong Kong than from California. Besides, many a poet over China's several-thousand-year history has posed Guilin as China's national treasure (though not necessarily in those worlds).
So because of that, the day kind of floated by. To start, I forgot my Shenzhen map in my room so we had to get a new one (which wasn't nearly as good) when we got there. I'd only been to Shenzhen twice before this trip, but my natural sense of direction took over as my friends noticed I wasn't even looking at the signs when I went from one MTR line to another and another, and then through immigration, where I knew where the shortest immigration lines were and where to fill out the health forms to enter China, and to crook my neck to the side so they could take my temperature.
In Shenzhen, I took them to the same place that I had street food the time before. We found some good stuff, and I maintain that while I've had my fair share of complaints about not-so-good food at restaurants, I've never felt poorly about street food--plus it's way cheaper.
But before that, we went to two places. The better one (by far) was Lianhuashan (莲花山) Park, which was an easy walk from the current northern terminus of Shenzhen Metro Line 4. There we took a brief-but-enjoyable hike (which was worsened by the heat) to a lookout point. After breaking many points along the way, it probably took us half-an-hour to hike to the that lookout. It was (very recently) paved as an open space, with the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in the form of an impressive statue looking out at the same view as the people over Shenzhen.
The park was great, minus the speakers that kept counting in Mandarin. It sounded like commands in square-dancing songs, so we figured it must be to facilitate some sort of similar activity. It was nice to get a proper view over Shenzhen though, because down on the ground, it is not nearly as noticeable how developed Shenzhen is, especially if you live on Hong Kong Island, where grass gives way to a sea of skyscrapers.
But before that, we went to the Chinese Folk Cultural Village (中国民俗文化村), which was meant as a showcase for China's fifty-five minority ethnic groups. While interesting as a concept, the way the park was laid out and the fact that the concept is never fully explained to foreign tourists who know little about China's ethnic groups, combined with the price of entry, we probably could have done without it.
As we finished up with our Shenzhen day trip, we made a run from street food to the train station, arriving just fifteen minutes before departure, physically getting onto the train just five minutes before it left the station. The pictures in later posts don't really show the conditions of the sleeper trains. There was nothing wrong with them, but they are very old style and according to what I've read, the trains being put on China's new high-speed rail network are a lot more modern.
I got the hard-sleeper class, as did all but one of my friends, who got a soft sleeper (for nearly double the price) because he got his ticket later than the rest of us. In the hard-sleeper compartments, there were six beds total, with three stacked above each other on each side, illustriously named top, middle, and bottom (上,中,下) on our tickets. The beds appeared clean and we were given linens to stay warm. Though I didn't see it first-hand, I was told that the soft-sleeper compartments had four beds--two on each side--and were equipped with doors that closed. The floor was not so clean though, and when walking from one train car to another, you could see the grime originating from the bathrooms (with pooper stooper toilets). On the bright side, I didn't get sick off of this trip.
The duration was something I was afraid I wasn't going to deal with well, actually. My flight to Hong Kong from Los Angeles happened also to be thirteen to fourteen hours long, and by the time that plane was about to land, I was more than ready to just get off already. However, this trip was quite bearable. For a few hours, I wrote blog posts on my computer while on my bed. (I only brought my computer because I put myself under the impression that I was going to study in some fashion while in Guilin.)
The hours following, the group socialized in the diner car of the train as we winded down for the coming day. Getting to bed a bit before 11:00 p.m., we were due to wake up before the train was to arrive at Guilin at 6:42 a.m. the next day. So we tucked ourselves in and right as we went to sleep, I saw one of the train attendants with a flashlight crouching in our compartment neatly moving our shoes to one side.
After the constant clunking of the wheels on the tracks (especially since I was in the bottom bunk), we woke up at 6:15 a.m. to find the train going seemingly in the opposite direction. While one of my friends thought that we'd missed our stop and were heading back, I assured them all that trains work by turning around at terminal stations, giving the illusion that you're then going in the wrong direction. (Newbs!)
The train screeched to a halt at around 7:00 a.m. and we, in all our lethargic glory stumbled off the train and into Guangxi Zhang Autonomous Region (province equivalent).
To skip all the meat of the story, I'm going to continue by going back to Hong Kong, leaving you watering at the mouth for my favorite trip so far, Guilin.
Sunday night, I found myself in a different train car than the others because of a possible mistake when we bought our train tickets in Shenzhen. It wasn't a big deal though, as the main objective was just to get back to Hong Kong, hopefully in time for my 2:00 p.m. class (as my 9:30 a.m. class was canceled that week). As expected, the train was just like the last with pretty much the same exact ammenities.
That night, I read for a while before going to sleep, and waking up well before when the train was supposed to arrive at 10:30 a.m. (though it arrived closer to 11:30), I did my Cantonese homework. Starving and knowing I wasn't going to get the opportunity to eat before 5:00 p.m., I heard the train attendant selling Guilin noodles (桂林米粉) passing by. I bought it, and though it wasn't nearly as good as what I actually had twice in Guilin, it was fulfilling. I ate with ease as I convinced myself that it had been boiled at some point, because by the time I'd gotten it, it was a bit hotter than lukewarm.
Needless to say, I got to class on time and in one piece, though I actually got lost trying to find the immigration counters getting back into Hong Kong. I blame the signs.
Not yet have I have I ever been late, much less absent from a lecture or a tutorial here at the University of Hong Kong.
Copyright © 2009 James Philip Jee
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2 years ago