22 August, 2005

The Red Flag flies proudly and prominently all throughout China.

A moment earlier the train had been passing through a city. Now there were cows grazing in a forest.

A small station we stopped at, complete with station master.

The Great Wall stretches into infinity.

Construction appears to be everywhere in this country.

Highways abound, some a lot more heavily used than others.

There are utterly massive apartment complexes, most of them brand new or under construction.

Some of them seem to form cities unto themselves.

Older buildings still remain however.

That's our train passing by another million man apartment complex.

The Beijing rail station where international trains wind up.

Yes, you will find these everywhere in Beijing. Along with KFC.

We have arrived.

22 August, 2005

Day 37. Despite being in a train compartment with three complete strangers and despite the fact that none of them wanted to keep the fan going to keep the heat from becoming unbearable, I was able to sleep quite well. I really think there's something to the theory that the motion of the train is the secret. It might be a cure for insomnia to install little train rocking simulators to the beds of those afflicted.

When I finally got up I noticed that there were two pieces of paper on the table next to my head. One was a voucher for breakfast, the other for lunch. Breakfast had been from 7 to 8 so that was impossible. Lunch however was 11 to 12 so I had that to look forward to.

I looked outside and was struck by the difference in what was now visible. It was no longer desert, no longer small little towns isolated from the world. What I saw was lots and lots of activity in one form or another. There were farms, houses, industry, traffic, shopping areas, you name it. What I had seen in eastern Russia and in Mongolia were people existing and living their lives in much the same way as they had lived them for centuries. But here I saw people moving forward, building, and just being very active. Everyone I know who has been to China has told me how fast things are changing. And I could see it with my own eyes now. And this wasn't even Beijing yet.

The landscape changed from farm to forest to mountains to city and back and forth. At one point our train stopped at the base of the Great Wall towering high above us in the mountains. The history that was staring us in the face was simply awe inspiring.

We got our free lunches by walking all the way up to the restaurant car and presenting our pieces of paper to a guy who ceremoniously presented us with a container of rice and some vegetables. There were no tables free so we had to walk all the way back with this. But it was a nice welcome to the country. And as the afternoon began, we started to see the signs of Beijing.

Everywhere you looked there was construction of some sort. Huge apartment buildings, multi-lane highways, schools, etc. It just seemed to go on forever. It made sense that it would. Beijing, after all, is absolutely huge with a population of nearly 14 million. But what really struck me was the modern look it had. We all have our perceptions of what a place should look like. And the way China has been portrayed to me had me expecting teeming masses of people pushing and shoving everywhere, peddling all kinds of crazy food, and not being overly hospitable. Instead I saw a city that looked more modern in places than New York. I saw all kinds of Western chains and people in modern dress. And I felt nothing but friendliness - and curiosity - from the people milling around.

We were met at the train station by our travel guide who had a great deal of trouble finding the van that took us to our hotel. After a bit of a long walk, she finally tracked it down. By the way, if you ever want to see some real fun, check out the entrance to the train station where all kinds of people mob the entrance looking to carry bags, give cab rides, and whatever else they do. It was like arriving at the Oscars the way we were mobbed.

We passed McDonald's and KFC on every other block it seemed. Air conditioning was in use everywhere. Drinks were sold with ice! This was really one of the last places I expected to find these kinds of Western values.

I was thrilled to discover that I had broadband in my room and the fastest connection since leaving home. Beijing looked to be full of surprises and all kinds of places to explore. But having access meant finally getting some significant work done which kept me inside for a few hours. Besides, I would be here until Friday so there would be plenty of time for all sorts of stuff.

We went to a tea-themed place in the evening called Real Brewed Tea. The RBT apparently was close enough to the word rabbit that they made a rabbit their logo. I had New York style beef spaghetti. I must remember to find out where they sell that in New York.