After a sleepless night on what was effectively a metal tube tied together with some wire, we arrive in Hailar, Inner Mongolia, and I swear it is hotter than Haerbin which is strange considering we are further north! It was after this train ride I decided sleeping on any bunk other than the bottom was not wise! The view from the train is predominantly grassy, although we did get very excited when we saw some horses!
Our first stop on this trip is an anti-nazi war memorial site full of signs in Chinese and translations in Chinglish!
After this it was a bus ride to a Mongolian yurt camp and a traditional greeting with Baijuo and singing by the Mongolians. We receive the cup of baijuo traditionally in the left hand and with the right hand dip the ring finger in and then flick the liquid up to the sky, down to the ground and out in front of us to our ancestors…then you down the remaining double shot of the spirit…do not spit it out tho or throw it away, as this is considered an insult! Then it was a trip up to a very colourfull prayer circle covered in red ribbons where we were each issued with a red ribbon and told to select a stone, then we walked round the circle three times and made our wish/ prayer! After this we were ‘treated’ to a traditional meal of blood sausage (intestine filled with blood and other random bits), fried lungs and some stomach… which didn’t smell particularly pleasant, but luckily tasted of nothing much at all!
Having filled ourselves with food we hoped we would never see again it was then on to the bus for a 3 hour journey to the Russio-Chinese boarder to the city where the first station of the Trans Mancurian Railway was built.
The town looks kind of like a toy town, very grand and colourful and very brightly lit at night, but some what twee at the same time, like a wanna be Disney town. The hotel was fantastic tho…and had western flushing toilets…YAY!!! It was a buffet dinner which was nice, but later on we (or rather our stomachs) decided that was not the best idea for us. Wandering the town at night we discovered a small plaza where people were renting roller skates and kiddy cars and spinning arround on various other wheeled contraptions.
After a well-earned sleep in the delicious hotel our complementary breakfast was less than delicious, and I don’t think I will ever get used to having the same cold potato starch noodle for breakfast as well as dinner. They did have some nice hot soya milk and seeds and, surprisingly; bread and jam!
After the bizare breakfast it was time to say goodbye to the snazzy hotel and the western toilet and make our way to the Russian boarder which has the Trans Siberian Rail Road running right past it. On the way we stopped off at a Russian doll emporium in the middle of nowhere, there were big ones, small ones, even some with shops inside! We decided this bizare pitstop was a good opportunity for some bizare photos before it was back to the bus for the boarder.
At reaching the boarder checkpoint we discover an old steam train, the first train which both the Russian and Chinese leaders travelled on to visit eachother’s countries during the Second World War. As well as a steam train there is also a plane sitting around, given as a present from the Russians to the Chinese as a peace gift; well it was more like half a plane but that was hardly surprising considering it was being clambered on by lots of small children, and probably had been for the past 60 years! We attempted to visit the gate so we could actually see into Russia, but we weren’t allowed as we were British. It was odd not being able to go somewhere because of your nationality! So we set off for another activity as it started to rain.
We arrived after a while at a lake, the only salt water lake, the 5th largest in China and the largest in Northern China. Here we spent a couple of hours scanning a market and contemplating buying tacky knock off souveniers and I had a go at Zorbing and spent the rest of the time quadbiking for free, as compensation for not being able to see the gate…pretty good compensation I thought! Then it was time to get lost while trying to find a restaurant in the middle of shanty towns and a haze of ramshackle high rise buildings- it was basically just in someone’s house! We found it eventually and it was a welcome break from breakfast and the previous day’s lunch. Another long bus ride took us to another nowhere for some rather disssappointing and uncomfortable horseriding in the rain, I really felt sorry for the boys! We did however have some delicious hot soya milk with dry fried rice sprinkled on top. Some of us also decided it would be fun to dress in traditional Mongolian dress…it was!
A nice long bus ride back to Hailaer past donkeys and horses was long enough for some of us to nap, and others to take photos of those napping, and our Chinese tour guide to take video footage of us taking photos of those napping- oh the wonders of modern technology! We arrived at another restaurant with swanky crystal decor on the walls and neon lights everywhere. We did get a shock however, when we looked out the window and saw a sprawling shanty town below hidden by the bright lights and glamour of the impression of wealth Hailaer and other cities all over China like to portray to the rest of the world. Then it was back to the train station to endure the staring all over again.
Yet another train journey with only 2 hours sleep! Woke up at 5am by a bumpy stop in a random town, naively thought I could get back to sleep…but then my Japanese friend Yoko started talking…and didn’t stop until we arrived in Haerbin 6 hours later! I didn’t even know it was possible to talk for that long!
This train journey was the longest and most tedious yet, I realise this will probably not be the worst, as I will eventually have to make my way to Hong Kong!
We arrive at Haerbin station at 11.30am, making good time considering classes start at 1.30pm! The bus from the station to uni takes us along the old familiar ramshackle potholed road with car mechanics, concrete barns filled with potatoes and buses filled with sacks of plastic bottles waiting to be recycled by their collectors.
On turning the corner leading to the motorway I notice a small wizzened old man in a grass hat sat on a wooden cart, poking his mule with a stick and yawning! I realise that even in a country as busy and bustling as China; even when there is work to be done, there is still always time for a break!