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October 1, 2001

We're just about to leave

We're just about to leave to catch our 28 hour long train to Beijing. I don't know how available internet access will be in China but I'll try to update this when I can.

October 12, 2001

Finally I've found internet access

Finally I've found internet access in China! The situation in China has been stable since the US attacks on neighbouring Afghanistan and there don't seem to have been any protests (even in Muslim areas). We're back in Beijing now after spending some days down in X'ian at the Terracotta Army and the nearby mountains, but I'll fill in the details when we get back to Hong Kong in a couple of days.

October 16, 2001

Got back to Hong Kong

Got back to Hong Kong yesterday, and it really feels good to be back in civilisation! We've confirmed our flights and we fly back to London tomorrow evening. As I didn't have a chance to update this while I was travelling in China, here's Part I of our China trip.

Part I

We caught the train from Kowloon Station and watched as Hong Kong's skyscrapers slipped past the windows until the Chinese border. There, things instantly changed. The station was no longer polished and shiny, but old and rusting, and we passed a building site with virtually no machinery, just manual workers. As the train continued into the Chinese countryside, we were shocked to see dozens of people working in each of the fields by hand raking the soil, or groups of men pulling a plough. There was very little machinery - only the luckiest communities seemed to own one old tractor. We went through villages where they were seperating the wheat from the chaff by hand at the side of the road as donkeys pulled carts past. Apart from the incredible poverty, the most striking thing was how many people were around - you rarely saw fields with no-one in them. Most of the rivers and streams that the train crossed looked horribly polluted, with foam and green algae covering the surface.

We arrived in Beijing the following evening and got off the train to find ourselves firmly in the mid-latitudes. It was definitely Autumn, and we'd long left the tropics behind somewhere along the 28 hour train trip. The train had deposited us in Beijing's West railway station, a huge Stallinesque building, full of enormous waiting rooms, long dark corridors, and, apparently 1.3 billion Chinese, most of whom were busy spitting on the floor. We set off to find an ATM, but of course most of the signs were only in Chinese, and no-one spoke any English. Finally, we found a closed bank and tried their ATM, but of course it only accepted Chinese cards. We had Hong Kong dollars, and so I stopped a girl who appeared to be of less Mongolian descent than the others, showed her the money, and tried to ask where I could get it changed. As you can imagine, she totally misunderstood, stared at the money, and looked at me wondering what I wanted her to do for it. In China it only takes one person looking at something to create a crowd, and soon lots of passers-by had gathered around to stare. I now realised that I was standing in the middle of a mass of Chinese as I held out a HK$500 note - an average week's wages, and several of them propositioned me in Mandarin. Obviously, they were not directing me to the bank, so I got out of there as fast as I could. After an hour or so of searching, it soon became apparent that there was nowhere to withdraw or change money in or around the station, so our next idea was to get a taxi to an ATM machine. We took our bags down to the taxi rank, and tried to find one that spoke English. We were lucky. Two large guys who appeared to belong to the Russian mafia had a suspiciously well dressed girl with them who spoke English. They ordered us to, "Get into the car. Let's go!" Nina and I looked at each other, decided that this was not your normal taxi company, and told them we'd leave their kind offer. We found our way to the bus station, figured out which bus went to the centre of town, and got on board. Luckily, two educated looking girls sat down in front of us, they spoke English, and one of them kindly exchanged one of my Hong Kong notes into Yuan. They also told us where to get off to find a bank, and basically, saved us. The bus stopped at Tiananmen Square, and we were awed by its size and the mass of people in it, even at this time. Then we looked into the bus on our other side to see a boy throwing up all over it. We knew then that China was going to be different. We got off at a Bank of China, withdrew some crisp, new currency, and feasted on Big Macs.

October 17, 2001

We're just about to leave

We're just about to leave here and head over to Hong Kong airport. Our flight (BA 28) leaves at 2345 local time and arrives at 0545 UK time, so that means it takes... way too long!

We're in the airport now

We're in the airport now (lots of fast, free internet access around Hong Kong) and I'm pissed off because McDonalds wouldn't take all the coupons I'd saved up here in Hong Kong. So I got revenge by hiding my empty cartons around the store.

October 18, 2001

Our flight arrived this morning,

Our flight arrived this morning, and I'm now staying with Chris in Bristol.