Sleeper Bus and Plane
After our quick tour of Changbai Xian, our guide dropped us back at the bus station for our return ride. The bus was this cool sleeper style which I have never seen. There were three rows of seats with two aisles in between and each row was set-up in two levels like narrow bunk beds. It was much more comfortable than the ride on the way here, so Sinead didn't get sick this time. In fact, she was asleep when the bus stopped somewhere along the way and police boarded the bus and called me to the front. They asked to see my passport and I just explained that I was traveling with a friend. I think they were mostly concerned about any funny business with North Korea, but somehow I convinced them that I was a good guy. We arrived back in Song Jianghe with a little extra time before our flight, so we hung-out in the town square. Some older people were dancing on one side and young people were playing in the rest of the concrete square. We rented roller blades and I showed-off for the kids a bit before we got back in the taxi and headed to the nearby air strip.
Tour of Changchun
We arrived in the capital of Changchun, the capital of Jilin province, around 11pm. We were met by an older man who is friends with Sinead's dad. He was very friendly and eager to practice his English a bit on me. Since it was so late, though, he just took us to a hotel that he had arranged and got us checked-in. He sent his driver around in the morning to give us a tour of the city before we boarded our next form of transport: another train ride through Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning, and on to Jinzhou. I think we spent more than half our waking hours on this trip in buses, trains, planes, or taxies. It sounds a bit crazy, but I always feel like "getting there is half the fun." Anyway, today's tour of Changchun was cool. This whole northeast region used to be dominated by the Manchu people who had their own language and culture and actually ruled "China" during the Qing Dynasty leading up to 1911. Later, Japan set-up a "puppet state" there called Manchukuo, so some of the buildings we saw on our drive around town date from the Japanese occupation era. I don't really understand how these Manchus declined to the point where they make-up only 10% of the population today and the northeast is one of the lesser developed areas. Clearly there are many things about China that I don't really understand.
Reception in Jinzhou
Somehow I thought out afternoon train ride was going to be just a few hours, but of course nothing is that close in China. The train was a bit behind schedule on the 500km ride, so we arrived again after dinner. This time the welcome committee was waiting for us at a restaurant, so we hopped in a taxi and headed over to this local eatery. We had eaten by now and Sinead's parents had already eaten as well, but still they ordered-up a bunch of food and drink to welcome us. I did my best to use any Mandarin that I could remember to tell a bit about myself and about our adventures in China. Soon more people showed-up and we had ourselves a regular Asian drinking party complete with multiple rounds of cheers and beer guzzling. I did my best to keep-up with this, but I have almost no experience with chugging glasses of beer, even small ones like we had. It is definitely something you have to practice in order to get all that liquid down the throat. Anyway, at some point I managed to make a little toast in Mandarin to cap the night so that we could all head home. I tried to get some of the group to go for karaoke, but I was also happy to retire to the hotel after all that drinking. Unfortunately, the first hotel we went to was not officially authorized to accept foreigners (or they were just fresh out of the special check-in form?) so we had to look around a bit. China...
Motorcycle Ride to the Beach
My final day in China involved more transportation challenges: over two hours on a motorcycle, a few more on a bus from Jinzhou to Dalian, a taxi, and then a plane to Hong Kong. We started off the morning by buying the bus tickets for our return to Dalian. Sinead would like me to point-out that I never managed to buy any bus or train tickets on this trip although obviously I have on previous trips before I ever learned any Mandarin. Then, she arranged for a motorcycle guy to give both of us a ride (yes, three people) to the waterfront. Since I was the third of the three sitting on that little seat, I quickly realized that this was a pretty dangerous venture. Luckily it got much better once we got out of town because the highway happened to be the newest, smoothest road I have ever seen in China. When we arrived, we found that the government was charging some exhorbitant amount to get to enter the seaside park. Since we only had a short time before we had to return, we just wondered around this little town a bit and took spy photos of the forbidden concrete park (see right).
China is such a fun place to visit because it is changing so much and the country varies so much from place to place. If I can manage to improve my simple base of Mandarin, hopefully I can come back at some point and explore in a bit more depth. It is definitely easy to get a good mix of city, town, nature, adventure in China. Modes of transport can be a lot of fun, and this time we really packed the schedule with moving from one place to the next. The last bus we took back to Dalian is definitely the nicest I have ever taken anywhere. There were only three seats per row, and they were all leather, so it was like an all-first-class outfit. It seems to be popular with business people and the ever-growing middle class. I also thought this sign from a bathroom somewhere can kinda sum-up how China seems these days: "A small step in front of the urinal, a big step for civilization"
11 September 2008