Thursday, March 27, 2008

Of Beijing, Blogging and Trains

“Beijing, China: Teenage Naivety strikes again (AP)”

Headlines really should have been screaming that, for whatever reason, I formerly maintained the elusion that blogs from mainstream hosts such as Blogspot or Wordpress would be readily accessible in China. Instead, the Great Firewall of China steps in and a generic message reading “server taking too long to respond” appears on your screen. Paradoxically, is accessible, so I can update my blog, as will be obvious to you. I just can’t read it. Actually that’s not strictly true. Through the usage of a site called, even the notorious Naïve Teen can read all that the blogosphere has to offer.
Despite the lunacy of the internet control office, Beijing is a wonderful city. Whilst tourists generally come to see relatively ancient, ornate sites such as the Forbidden City or Temple of Heaven, the Russian-inspired structures on Tiananmen Square, such as the Great Hall of the People, are some of the captivating buildings in the capital. Not for their beauty, which is yet to be discovered, but more for the way they make Beijing feel such more impressive, in the linguistic sense of the word.
This is not a knock on the genuinely beautiful buildings immediately to the north of the Square, but the Communist-era structures have so much more historical relevance that from the perspective of a history lover, those are the sites to see.
Recently, many of my blog posts have been written aboard some form of transport or another and this trend continues for I lie aboard the K601 train to Taiyuan, jittering and jerking here or there. My only previous experience of China’s sleeper trains was on a school trip to Xi’an when I was living in Nanjing a few years ago. On the –Nanjing-Zhengzhou leg of the trip, we were lucky enough to have a reasonably private hard sleeper compartment (think a soft sleeper compartment without a door and topped with two extra bunks). On the way back, all the way from Xi’an, we were delayed 2 hours on the tracks in a much more open carriage. Not much fun.
But today, I have opened a new chapter in my experience of train travel. I am travelling soft-sleeper, posh class. Key differences? There are doors, and there is considerably more space. That’s about it. On the newer Z trains, things are meant to on a scale more comparable to the Oriental Express, so if I get the chance to check them out, believe me when I say I will.
As we speed towards the greener areas of Central China, I will miss Beijing, the fervent metropolis that is, but on the other hand, I do like my lungs aren’t full of sand. Photos to follow tomorrow, and no, none of my lungs.


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