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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


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