Tuesday, June 10, 2014

China 2014 part 5 - Harbin


The taxi was fast enough to have gotten me to the 6:30 train, even with a fuel stop, and if about as expensive as expected, a source of two more half-yuan bills.  Qingdao is a paradise for old money; those willing to hunt in rural Shandong may even be able to find old 分 coins in circulation; they'd be roughly half as valuable as the Russian 10-kopeck piece, but that's not quite extinct yet itself.

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0390. (mostly for Wikitravel) The north train station is served by these buses, but until the metro is finished (it was supposed to be done this year), the easiest way to get up from the city center is by taxi.  From the main rail station, it's about 55 RMB and a minimum of 30 minutes, even on the expressways.

v17. Empty train station with mid-'00s eroge soundtrack music on the loudspeakers.  I think this is the main theme from "ツンデレ娘: "あなたなら きっと、一人で死ぬ"".

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0391. In the super-plush cabin to Harbin.  I only sprung for first-class; this is a little much, but it's ten hours sitting down, and I'll pay it back in spades later -- the Harbin-Xi'an and Xi'an-Chengdu legs are hard sleepers on K trains, and the first of them is 35 hours in a middle bunk.

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0392. China: pastorals and power plants.  There's more open space here, but this train goes through the Beijing-Tianjin corridor to get around the bay and go north; nothing but industry there.  Industry and amazing d-drum slammy death metal bands, but that kind of goes without saying.

v18. Through the countryside outside Cangzhou, backwards at 300 km/h.

Coming in to Tianjin, the ground is just ripped up with drought.  Like in Beijing those eight years gone, this country's on a knife's edge.

North of the capital corridor, the hills at least can run wild and green.  They stand like mountains out of the plain, but then I remember those giant walls of rock from the winter, and need to be firmer about what gets described as a "mountain".  In any likelihood, I'm not going to see those again till I get to Sichuan.

Wisps of cotton on the breeze.  Smaller, from the sick dry soil, but I can almost feel myself back in Siberia.  The land was dry there too, but it's had fallow time to shrug off the poison, and there's a hell of a lot more of it, in absolute terms and especially relative to population.

About four hours to go now, so we must be getting on to the 东北.  The sky's a dull, soft grey, like a rain's coming; if it isn't, it's just the wash of pollution out from Beijing.  We'll see when I finally hit the ground.

Headed for Shenyang, and the whole of the country's covered in rice fields wherever there's water enough to allow it.  No terraces (because no hills, anywhere), just flat paddies from one horizon to the next.

v19. Farmlands of the Dongbei.

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0393. Out into the fields.

It's a perfect pale gray out without a hint of rain.  We're running straight north this last leg, and I can see the sun to the west -- a yellow-orange smudge through the gray.  It's not Beijing bad, but it still doesn't much hurt to look at.

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0394. Paddied fields, towards Harbin.

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0395. Farmlands, past a flood.

Harbin presently, but I'm going to need to hop a bus to get in, and it'll be dark by then.  Fortunately, I've got a compass -- the biggest lesson I took from Russia -- and should be able to find my way in the dark.

- Harbin -

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0396. Welcome to Harbin; in front of the giant sterile west train station.

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0397. Lights on Jiahong Road.

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0398. Cathedral square at night.

The hotel is an insecure pile (somebody took the bolt out of the deadbolt at some point), but I've got the door trapped, and if I'm worried about this, I'll never handle six to a compartment.  The wifi doesn't work (pass locked, not accepting hacks) but I can check that at the desk later.

The air here's smoky and toasted; not so bad as Beijing so long ago, but worse than Wuhan this time.  Nowt to do but stand it -- that and wait for rain.  I'm at the very northernmost outpost of the D/G system; from here back to Guangzhou, it's all along back roads, and I can't I can't blame the backcountry for being itself.


If I can get a bus map or tourist map, I can do the Unit 731 museum.  If not, I must be content with the cathedral and the tiger park, and then the flood memorial and the river in the near six hours I have to kill tomorrow between checkout and reasonable train check-in.  It's early, but I still need to get breakfast, and hopefully some supplies for later; this air works up a powerful thirst.

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0399. An interesting warning.  Harbin gets most of its visitors in winter, and most Chinese aren't very aware of what happens when a lot of water vapor -- like from hot showers and an electric kettle -- meets a glass pane with subzero temperatures on the other side.  Outside the Dongbei, the populated parts of China don't go in for winter much; the desk clerk in Qingdao, wearing a suit, was using a space heater in what for me was shorts-and-shirtsleeves weather (albeit a little bracing).  They'll get it back, though; Guangdong at the end of May is going to leave me little more than a puddle by the time this trip's done.

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0400. This astroturf garden was in complete darkness last night.

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0401. Along a shopping street to some Russian-style architecture.

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0402. Back end of St. Sophia.

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0403. Blue's; if you're in Harbin and for some reason want to get stabbed, this is probably the place to go.  It's also the #1 foreigner hangout, so someone'll be able to talk to you in Russian while you wait for the ambulance.  Also, for some reason, it's in a listed building.

It was closed when I went by at about 7, and not open when I came back at like 3.  My feet are too badly damaged to go out tonight, so I'm not gonna go in and check the sitch.

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0404. Wall art at a crossing.

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0405. Billiard club on Jiahong.  I didn't go inside, I can just still read Cyrillic/Russian-when-it's-obvious-cognates-from-other-languages-or-super-easy.

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0406. Jiahong Bridge.

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0407. Bridge detail; still Russian.

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0408. Building near the station.  Because of the way development happened here, there's a lot of Stalinist architecture still left in Harbin.

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0409. Like this.

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0410. Front of the main train station.

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0411. Sculpture-cum-light fixture.

v20. Hotel workers doing dancercise for morale purposes.  There were some other workers at a cellphone store doing similar further up the block; the practice is probably a Japanese import that hasn't been stripped away from the non-cult-building parts of the kaizen business philosophy yet.

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0412. Old-style corner and V-sign sculpture on a karaoke place.

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0413. This is probably the only place that "russkiy" gets translated as "western".

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0414. Flood memorial sculpture on the Songhua right/south bank promenade.  The river suffered a major benzene spill about ten years ago, and they've really worked hard to clean up the river and make the waterfront (and Stalin Park, a little further on) presentable.

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0415. Castle on the far bank.

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0416. Old building on the water.

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0417. The cablecars from there go to the castle from 0415.  The Swan Castle attraction, on this side or the other, is nowhere near finished, but the cablecars are running, and if you have problems hiking through construction sites, what are you doing in China?  It's probably on schedule to be completed for the '14-'15 winter ice carnival, so if you go to Harbin at a normal time like a normal person, you'll probably be able to ride a moving escalator to the gondola rather than kicking paint cans out of the elevator doors, and have the opportunity to get harassed to buy overquoted fragile trinkets or visit the snack bar.

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0418. Upriver from the cable car.

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0419. Down to the promenade.

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0420. An old decker, now a floating restaurant.

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0421. River ferry circling north.

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0422. Broadside.

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0423. Stadium north over the trees.

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0424. Skeleton of an old building on Sun Island.

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0425. Squat sculptures in the park.

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0426. Nice greenery, moving north.

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0427. Derpy Bear, the mascot of the amusement park on the island.

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0428. Water park and swamp.  China, folks.

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0429. An ornamental causeway across a pond.

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0430. Lake and pagoda above.

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0431. Almost a normal Songhua flood plain view.

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0432. Trees in bloom.

v21. A perfect storm of cotton.

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0433. Flowers on the path.

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0434. Closed bridge off to the north.  When this is open, it will save a lot of time for idiots who want to hike through Sun Island to get to the tiger park.

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0435. Bridge from the south.

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0436. Screw this, let's find a bus.  I got an 88 a couple blocks on, and went up a couple stops, but not far enough.

I hiked on through a windowframe-making street, not taking pictures, though it's the closest I've gotten to the real China so far.  Why?  Because just being there, let alone gawking, is disruptive enough.  You can do it, too, even in the legendarily-aggressive Dongbei: let others pass first, stay out of the way, smile when you make an expression, never look judging, and in all ways be neutral and pretend like you belong there -- while moving through and out.

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0437. Grey skies east.  There's occasionally patches of blue, but mostly this is it.

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0438. Finally here.

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0439. Park seal on the front gate.

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0440. On the other side; that says "tiger", 老外.

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0441. Mascots by the parking lot.

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0442. Big 'tiger' silk burner.

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0443. Lazy tiger in a front pen.  Most of the tigers here are caged breeding stock; a few are rewilded for introduction to tiger reserves, but the #1 mission of this station is to maximize the gene pool of the critically endangered Siberian tiger.  It sucks for the current tigers, but it's needed to enforce absolute outbreeding for a Siberia, Manchuria, and Amur country full of healthy tiger populations in the future.

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0444. Through the Jurassic Park-esque front gate.

The camera was outside the car for that shot.  That was a risk too much inside, even though, as will be seen, the tigers were in general not mobile or interested enough to go for a bit of foreigner hanging out through the bars.

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0445. Ranks of pens.

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0446. First tiger sighted.

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0447. Bothered by the intrusion.

v22. A couple tigers sticking to the shade.

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0448. Close-up frame.

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0449. Lolling in the landscape.

0450. (DNCO).

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0451. High up, across the bus.

v23. Walking into focus.

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0452. Further on.

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0453. Tigers hugging the fence.

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0454. Guarding a thicket.

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0455. King of the forest.

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0456. Back of the other one.

v24. Looking for a reaction.

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0457. Sitting up.

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0458. A pile of lions in the next pen.

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0459. Sooo sleepy.....

Visitors should combine a trip through the tiger park with a visit to the ice carnival.  When the weather's hot, these thick-furred, flesh-torpor-susceptible animals tend to lie around as still as possible.  No charging the bus.  :(.

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0460. More pens.  Even without video of cows getting torn apart, this isn't real great for Western animal lovers.

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0461. Hanging out in a corner.

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0462. The one by the fence again.

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0463. Just wandering.

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0464. Scads of sleepy tigers.

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0465. Buds hanging out.

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0466. Huge, but mostly flat.  It should be 一张虎, rather than 一只虎.

v25. On patrol.

0467. (DNCO).

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0468. Alone in the wasteland.

0469. (DNCO).

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0470. ...and that's how it stuck.

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0471. A little less flat.

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0472. King of the mountain.

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0473. Checking the yard limits.

v26. Keeping pace.

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0474. Leftovers.  I had the money, they had the chickens, but they weren't selling.

v27. It's like they know they're being videoed and stop mid-roll.

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0475. A hill bivouac.

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0476. White and normal tiger in the breeding area.  Mandatory outbreeding, again.

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0477. Another of the couple.

v28. Restless in the pens.  The pacing is a red flag; these animals will snap from stress if they don't get some yard time real soon.

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0478. One of the growlers.

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0479. Mid-roar.

v29. Ceaseless in circles.  SPCA folks should probably not press play, and just see what they can do to help set up an adequately-funded breeding base in Russia, where land's at less of a premium.

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0480. Loner in the yearling pen.

0481. (DNCO).

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0482. Not quite that close.

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0483. An albino through the bars.

v30. Just bone lazy, all of them.


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0485. Giant old lion.

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0486. Another of the gate, heading out.

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0487. Tiger-drawn cart.

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0488. A nice peaceful building, hiking back through the university campus to the bus.

The bus didn't quite get me back to the Hbf, so I hiked the last of it, and got another two caps -- in a mix of 中文 and русский язык -- bringing today/Harbin to five total.

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0489. Chinese ornament on a newer building; I couldn't remember if I'd gotten one of these on the way out.

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0490. Alongside the cathedral.

Today logged over 41000 steps; my stride's somewhat short of a full meter, so that's not a 40k.  But it's a 30k without a doubt, and my feet are so badly battered that even if the 731 museum was open on Mondays, I'd bag it to regen and do that hike to the station as late and as slowly as possible tomorrow.  The bottoms feel like they've been bastinadoed, and the tendons are strained, cramped, and probably abraded where the laces wrap around.  This is a bad scene, but they and the socks have near a full day to regen, and then I'm naked/in slippers for a day and change heading to Xi'an.  I can do it, but I'd better be able to wash and dry my kit in Chengdu; a lot of these socks were minimum-qualifying when I set off, and I've been kicking the absolute shit out of them.

Tomorrow will be the end of the front leg and the start of the back leg; the trip's about half over, and in terms of cities, it's six down, five up.  I've been going east and north; now it's all west and south.  I've pushed the envelope on easymode; now it's time to do some harder difficulties, and see how I measure up.  It's been ten days; another ten, and I'll be out of the mainland (about) and in the full-on relax part of the program.

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0491. The oracle has it; Spain (collected first) over Argentina in the World Cup final.

Hapi is doing a promotion of caps colored for various World Cup qualifiers as a local sponsor, which tends to suggest that I, as a roving beercap vacuum, truly enjoy the Mandate of Heaven on my travels.  I plan on making a nuisance of myself tomorrow on the way to the train asking various small operators 请问, 你们有 什么国 的 哈啤? and showing off the two I've got so far to explain.  The first crates have just gone out, because they weren't in QD, but fortunately it's not one country per major city, and Xi'an and Chengdu don't really have major local brewers.  In the Pearl region it'll be hopeless -- too many locals -- but north of Guangzhou, I feel like I've got an even shot.

Observant people may have noticed that Hapi predates Qingpi by three years, and via пиво probably introduced the "pi" phoneme in 啤酒 to Chinese.  So how is 青酒 the first Chinese beer and brewery?  Well, at the time, this wasn't China.  Manchuria, including all of Heilongjiang, was a Russian province, and this was a Russian city, built out of a tracklayer's camp on the Trans-Siberian, which originally ran through here to Vladivostok (because why the FUCK would you do that huge detour around the Amur Mountains all the way to Khabarovsk when there was a straight shot).  Even now you can get a train to Vladi on those old beds, if you don't mind a 20-hour trip, and even now you can see in the obviously-transliterated name of the city that the Chinese didn't come up with it.  I'm generally skeptical of irredentism elsewhere, but for me, in spite of my Germanic sympathies, Hapi is first -- but that conviction won't change the geopolitical historical record.


My feet feel much better, though the tendons are still tight; fortunately, I've got nowhere near as much hiking in the plan for today.  Check out in a few, see the flood memorial, eat some big cheap food, stock up on provisions, and then in to wait for the train.  The only problems are the rain, and the like nine hours between checkout and boarding.  Oh well.

Time well killed, and some food in at least; it's like 5 hours left, but I've waited longer.

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0492. Comic by the elevator; recourse against lawbreakers.  There was one of these in Vladivostok as well, but nowhere else; northeast Asia and elevator postings go together?

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0493. Chinese-style end of an official building.

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0494. Into the mists above the flood memorial.

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0495. Memorial column.

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0496. More of the memorial square.

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0497. Modern mall complex opposite.

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0498. Russian-style bus shelter.

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0499. Public newspaper.  Harbin -- and probably other Chinese cities off the tourist track -- puts up these boards so that even those without the yuan or so for a paper of their own can stay informed.  The rampant commercialism aside, this is still a communist country.

Neben mir saufen die Jungen Bier; fressen sie Jaegerwuerst -- war hier richtig von Russen statt Deutschen eingeseidelt?

0500. (DNCO) A long shot at a long trek.  From Harbin to Guangzhou on a T train (non-express) is about as long a route as you're likely to get in China, outside of direct Shanghai-Wulumqi service maybe.  The longest possible hack is probably from Kashgar to Fuzhou, but they won't book that one directly for spoke-and-hub reasons...and maybe not at all given recent events.

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0501. In a middle berth.  Open corridor, six bunks per "compartment".  It's not called a hard sleeper because the bunks are hard (though they are), but because it's fucking hard to sleep in these conditions.

heading west-southwest

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0502. Barrow in a midnight rail stop.

It's hard to sleep, I can't sit up (my trunk's somewhat longer than the gap from my bunk to the upper one) and there's still about 25 hours left to Xi'an.  I'll probably be spending most of this leg napping -- that and wishing the Chinese rail system used Russian cars and Russian bunk-booking procedures.

There's not a lot of pictures, partly because I can't sit up, partly to not offend my carriagemates, but mostly because this part of China is not real photogenic.  The land is entirely consumed in feeding and housing its people -- no space for anything else.

Before dinner I battled with an Asian toilet -- shovelclub with a flush -- and didn't lose.  So much for that.

The landscape now, through these tunnels and into sandstone hills, is a lot more scenic, but I still can't sit up.  Less than 12 hours left, and I have the hope -- obligate diurnalism and all -- that I'll be able to sleep most of the rest of the way to Xi'an.

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