Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, February 09, 2009

Harbin to Beijing Express 

The piano is melting. Time to go home. The weather really warmed in the ten days I was there. When I got to Harbin ten days ago, it was still winter. Today felt a lot like spring. Not exactly warm, but I carried my parka in my backpack and wore my insulated vest.

I can't say I really like these new D trains. They are not fast like the Shinkansen. But it's a much shorter trip than the one I took going north, mainly because this train only stops two or three times between Harbin and Beijing. So it is certainly a big advantage over riding the hard seat for twenty hours. The airplane style seats are better than the old style. But there's no dining car, just a car with a few small tables you can stand by and eat either a piece of fruit, or a prepackaged meal that has spent some time in the microwave. And sitting for a long time in any kind of seat gets old pretty quick. I definitely prefer the soft sleeper. But it must be said that the D trains have done a lot to alleviate the transportation problems in China. Speaking personally, I don't prefer them. But in terms of facilitating the rapid transport of passengers, they are a stroke of genius. The travel situation will be greatly improved because of these things.

Just before I went left Beijing, I took the subway to the Bookworm in Donsishitiao to pick up a new Lonely Planet guide. I had given my old one away. But when I got there, they were sold out. My only choice was the Rough Guide. I was hesitant, because I had never used it, but I finally decided to get it, because I needed something, and I figured I would never be able to do a comparison between the two unless I bought this thing and used it for awhile. I like it actually. Far from perfect (a little short of information), but much better than I was afraid it was not going be able to give me the information I needed. Sorry about that sentence; I'm not in the mood for writing right now, and if the guy in front of me leans his seat back any further, this laptop really is going to be in my lap. That's what I get for my addiction to large screens. Anyway, as I said, the Rough Guide is lacking some information. There was not even a mention of the large Ice Lantern Festival on Sun Island for which Harbin is famous--just a reference to the old ice sculpture display at Zhaolin Park (where the Ice Lantern Festival used to be seven or eight years ago, according to my friend). Still, I do like the way they have all the key locations in one table, with both Hanzi and Pinyin. And the maps are better than Lonely Planet, I think. The other day, I was sitting in my favorite Russian cafe, talking with the staff, and a guy from Holland asked me, "Do you speak English?"

"A little," I said. He came right over to my table, because he was looking for a location that was not in his Lonely Planet guide. I found it on my map so that I could help him find it on his map. So basically, I would say that I like the layout of the Rough Guide. Now all they need is some information. I wasn't that interested in the Ice Lantern Festival anyway--quite expensive, but still...they should at least let people know it exists. It draws tourists from all over China. Ran into one of my students from Beihai the other day, believe it or not. And I also met a fellow expat from the Haidian Church. Many people come here from all over the world for the Ice Lantern Festival. But the Rough Guide still hasn't heard of it. If I had not lived in China for five years, I wouldn't have had a clue.

Harbin is an interesting city, and it played a very important role in the development of modern China. But that is past. Harbin is not a "happening" place. It is a "happened" place. But you could say the same about Xi'an. Xi'an is very important, not presently, but in terms of the tremendous contribution is continues to make to a greater understanding of history. In this sense, Harbin is also very important. But I will say more about that later. I need to put this thing away.

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