Our train tickets arrived at the University the previous night – China train tickets have a very efficient system and they are easy to communicate with via email so you can book your sectors online, pay for them and they courier them out to wherever you specify. They also give you an emergency phone number in case the tickets are not there waiting for you.

I was sorry to leave Hangzhou where I felt at home and where I made so many friends and enjoyed my Mandarin course in December. It was nice to be able to show Maurice where I had lived for the month before moving to Beijing.

The 24hr trip to Xi’an on the train started off at 11am and was the clearest day it had been since we got to Hangzhou. The air had been very polluted the previous two days.

You see first hand travelling on the train how much manufacturing and production is done for the 1.2billion locals and for all over the world here in China. I know they get very bad press for the pollution however we wouldn’t be able to afford the vast array of products we take for granted if the production was in our own country.

I know the labour force is vast and costs are low here but the locals also have to put up with the pollution and they realize that the pollution is damaging their country so they are doing things to try and ease the effects by millions of electic vehicles – buses, cars and bikes and scooters, solar systems on new and old buildings and the greening of so many areas as well as the electification and upgrade of their entire train network plus the increase of energy efficient fast trains and the installation of subways with electric trains in most major cities. You can see that over the last 40years the Chinese have been increasing their standard of living and its very evident in their ever growing middle class.

We really enjoy the train travel and we are well serviced with food and drink if we want it with carts going up and down the corridors and cleaners emptying the bins and the restaurant car next door. I don’t know if China train tickets did that specially but we have had the restaurant car next door on all of our long trips so far.

We passed through Hefei which is a huge manufacturing centre and we have never seen anything like the concentration of high rise housing already there and also under construction. It was a city of about 9million and it seemed that they were going to house another few million! There was an enormous port and large barges going up and down the river.

For most of the night we could smell smoke and see the hundreds of lines of fires burning off the stubble after the rice had been harvested. As we got closer to Xi’an there was a long limestone mountain range and along the way were hundreds of rice paddies where the rice had been harvested and they were burning off the stubble. They went for kilometers and you could smell the smoke in the train and see the fires in the night miles away. There were also hundred of rows of hot houses and crops of every kind.

It was an interesting 24hour train trip and the train personnel all stand to attention at each coach and then when they get on the train they face the door and stand to attentnion until the station disappears. They were very efficient and helpful staff. They take your paper ticket away and give you a hard plastic generic one and then give you back your ticket when you leave train.

The English signs always amuse us – The sign in the toilet stated “please flush tap to clear closet pot”.

We shared our compartment with a lovely man – Mr LI – with my basic Mandarin and the Pleco translator we understood that he was either a mine manager or owned the mine that he was going to in Urumqi in the far north east which was a two day trip for him from his home in Hangzhou. He was really friendly and must have been well to do as he had two children ($6300 for a second child) and he showed us pictures of them. He bought Maurice a beer later in the evening and shared his lychees and some delicious round blood red small fruit which tasted a bit like mulberries and red wine. Maurice was clever and put “another beer” into his Pleco translator wanting to know if Mr Li wanted another beer. Well Mr Li thought Maurice wanted another one and they almost had a fight trying to get out to buy the beer. Mr Li insisted on going and brought back two beers for Maurice which he didn’t want so we left them on the train for him the next day.

Our other companion was a nice lady who got off in the middle of the night and she insisted on us having some of her watermelon and she chatted to us as well asking the usual questions – “where are you from, why are you in China, are you here on your own, how old are you (not considered rude here in China). They all give Maurice and me fewer years so we are not unhappy!

My tonal pronounciation is getting better. They expect me to always to come out with English so shouting does help then they listen! The pleco helps with vocabulary too.

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