Hong Kong to Shanghai by Train
29 April 1998 by Jim Monan
[Reprinted from Vietnam News courtesy
of the author. For those of you who travel across the Pacific between Asia
and the west coast of the US/Canada. Sounds like a great side trip, if
you have the train bug. - Ed.]
Hangzhou - It is known as the "through
train" presumably because it does not stop for immigration and customs
checks at the border with Hong Kong (it does so inside China at the city
of Changping). For twenty five hours since leaving Kowloon we have been
lazing in the luxury of the four-man compartment and during daylight watching
the myriad wonders of the Chinese countryside unfold before our eyes.
This travelling diesel-driven modern
caravan wends its way slowly northwest from Hong Kong to the Shanghai,
great city at the head of the Pearl River.
From Guangzhou, which the British thought
sounded like Canton, it turns northeast and with speeds of up to 140 kilometres
per hour on new track speeds through the waterlogged province of Guangdong
and into the neighbouring one of Jiangxi. At the northern Jiangxi city
of Xiangtang it heads eastwards and eventually into the province of Zhejiang.
From the provincial capital Hangzhou at the mouth of the Fuchun River we
eagerly anticipate the last few hours before arriving in the city known
to former European residents as the Paris of the East.
After the heavy industrial development
of the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, mountainous and green
landscapes followed us up through Guangdong into Jiangxi where the famous
Long March to Shanxi had begun fifty years earlier, culminating in the
unification of the Chinese peasantry and the success of Mao's revolution.
Zhejiang forms much of what is known
as the Water Country in central China. It is a delight of rivers, canals
and lakes that are fringed by villages and houses the edges of which find
water lapping gently against the front steps of dwellings. People often
travel by boat, under bridges; reminiscent of Venice. The Chinese art critic
Xie Jin wrote of "rustic villages lying drowsily along the river banks,
old trees battered by wind and rain [and] a small boat drifting at leisure.....".
The province also flourished in pond after pond of lotus, and tall pagodas
which characterise many of the hilltops between Quzhou and Jinhua.
The train itself, modern and totally
Chinese made, had fifteen coaches including one for kitchen and restaurant,
and one for the staff. Of the others, one was first class accommodation
-- two people and beds to a compartment-- four had second class berths
--wide soft seats and four beds. The remainder were ordinary beds as opposed
to what the brochure called "soft beds" on which we laid our bodies at
night. The windows are large and afford great views of the passing landscape.
No expense had been spared on decor
and comfort. The seats were in a royal blue heavy flock material and the
backs covered in spotless white lace. The curtains and even the towels
were in matching blue and white. The floor throughout, compartment and
corridor, was laid with a heavy pile maroon carpet which made visiting
the bathroom and toilets at the end of our section and the restaurant in
the middle of the train an experience akin to walking on lush meadows.
The sheets, pillows and duvet covers provided as bedding were crisp and
white. The train throughout was fully air-conditioned and individual bedlights
permitted the luxury of reading at night without disturbing our fellows.
A few idiosyncracies: In a total of
around 1,000 passengers we only saw about one dozen non-Chinese. The menus
were only in Chinese but we luckily found one waitress who spoke good English
and brought our noodles, fish and vegetables which were fresh and well
cooked and cost around a mere three US dollars per person. The drivers
also had this technique of slamming on the brakes when a station was near
causing jolts sufficient, if not to knock you off the seat, at least to
move you six inches along the blue flock.
The prime idiosyncracy of the trip
was a toilet door which bore the instruction in English "No Occupying while
Stabling." We pondered long on this one and came to the conclusion that
it had nothing to do with horses but was a message suggesting that while
stationary the toilet should not be utilised. VNS