Crossing into China (Sun) 16 May 2010

Despite of their best intentions, the second Chinese character for "China" is missing...

After a two-hour border crossing from Mongolia, we’ve arrived in China! (LT 22.09)

Pompous music was blared out from speakers on the immaculous station as the train rolled in.

The country and station name was spelt out in bright red lights. A welcome speech was broadcast over the speakers, telling you where you were, what train you’d come on…and that you shouldn’t get off the train.

As we stared out the windows at this wonderously peculiar welcome, the speakers then started broadcasting elevator music and I found myself humming along to this.

"Entry Hall"

This was all evidently an attempt by the Chinese to out-do and out-welcome their Mongolian neighbours, eager to display the civility and advancement of the motherland – spankingly clean station; very polite and smiley customs and immigration officers; elevator music; welcome messages etc.

It was all very strange and yet, I was very excited. More than I’ve ever had, I was extremely happy and excited to be in China. I can’t really explain why, other than the fact that I craved being somewhere where I could be understood and vice versa! Or maybe it was another step closer to home…

It was almost 11pm now and I hadn’t peed since Mongolia. The thing with crossing borders is that you spend hours upon hours sitting around waiting. You’re not allowed to get off the train while they do their checks. The train sometimes stops in the middle of no man’s land between border stations for undetermined periods. While all that happens, all of the toilets on the train are locked. So if you forget to anticipate a border crossing and sprint to the toilet before they lock the doors, or if you drink a lot while waiting, you’re pretty much doomed for the next six hours….which was pretty much what happened to me.

I paced the corridor pressing my thighs together, willing myself to NOT wee.

In an additional display of Chinese hospitality, we were each given free meal vouchers for breakfast and lunch in the restaurant car the next day. Whoopee!

"Exit Hall" - Sprinting towards the Entry Hall to get to the toilets, I was denied entry and was directed to the "Exit Hall". WTF?

Finally they let us off! We raced to the station toilets….and that was it.

The train went off to some shed to have its bogies changed and we were left to hang out in the waiting hall until it came back.

The waiting hall was stressful. They only thing to look at was a supermarket selling over-priced snacks and drinks and that was it. We had to wait for over 2 hours.

Although it was dark and the town surrounding the staion looked deserted, we asked if we could venture out. The official didn’t look pleased and told us that the outside is “dangerous”. We stepped out anyways, but everything was closed and there was nothing to do or see.

We also found out then that at some point over our continent-crossing journey, we’ve messed up our watches and have adjusted them by one hour too fast! So all the times I’ve noted in my journal, going back who knows how long, are actually wrong! So there you go – that’s the Great Trans-Siberian Time Warp for you.

*

While we waited, we realised how much we missed our train already. We couldn’t wait to get back on and back into the safety of our little compartments, which have been our home for the past 5 days.

I thought this is probably unlike prisoners who are released only to realise they rather prefer the relative safety and predictability of their prison life!

After shutting down for so long, tomorrow we will be dumped into the chaos of Beijing and we’ll have to think and navigate again.

We’ve all really enjoyed waking up having no where we need to be, nothing we need to do and knowing that we’ll be doing nothing but eating, reading, drinking, sleeping and looking out the window.

My four-person compartment - all to myself!

I like coming back to my compartment, with only life’s little necessities, knowing where everything is, and what I’m going to do.

After just 5 days, the train station and 2 hours in the waiting hall was stressful enough to send us scurrying back into our little world.

I love my carriage. And I love my little compartment! They’ll have to pull and drag us off tomorrow!

*

At 00.57 Beijing time, the train finally starts off to another blare of pompous farewell music from the speakers! Into China we go….

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