Steam in China - October 2004
by Ameling Algra
Oct 18 I departed for my latest (14th) China trip. I flew Hainan Airlines (more on this airline later in this report) on a ticket for Euro 519. In China, I spent a total amount of E 230 on travel, food, accomodation (single rooms).
My main destination was Yinghao. Easy to reach, says Rob Dickinson but he may underestimate the problems if one is not joined by a native Chinese speaker.
After my very early arrival at Beijing Airport, I took a taxi to Beijing Xi, arriving there at 6.20 so ample time to get a ticket for the 8.10 to Zhengzhou. On arrival there, I decided I needed a bed so went to the Tian Shuan Hotel next to the railway station. On the room door, there is a ''safe ejacuation card''.
After a long night, I decided to afford myself the luxury of soft seat on the ''tourist train'' to Luoyang (and Xian). In the waiting hall I found out that it is one of the few trains with a timetable that has changed: 11.36 dep instead of 10.30.
In Luoyang, I took a bus to Mianchi where I had to change buses. That is where the problems started: no bus driver was willing to take me on as there is supposedly nowhere to stay for a foreigner in Yinghao. Finally my rescuer came, as usually it was a teenage girl who took charge: telling me to stay near her, phoning about hotels in Yinghao and finally convincing a bus driver to take me on. She apologised for her excellent English and I went off for the next bus ride.
On arrival in Yinghao, it did not turn out to be easy to find the hotel in spite of the correct map in Rob's report. People sent me from one place to another. At last it turned out that it is the slightly curved building right at the junction, with China Telecom on the left and a copy shop on the right side. Go through the iron gate, the hotel ''reception'' is on the back side. Adequate room, with bathroom but no shower or hot water. Mattresses are a bit hard.
About the line and operation: not much to add to other reports. Not having been spoiled by Shibanxi, I found it a delightful little line. The only problem was road construction, causing complex detours by the minibuses, and one day through traffic was completely impossible.
Trains often derail on the ''main line''. On one occasion, this lead to two trains running in sight of each other. At the intermediate station Huoying, the station building has a fainted Mao picture which might be a challenge to photographers. And on the northern side of the station, there is an orange tree hanging dangerously over the line (probably not for longtime!)
As mentioned, locals are friendly - if they are not miners who consumed too much of the too cheap beer. The fact that some crew don't want to be photographed, might have something to do with the apparently large Muslim community.
On my last night in Yinghao I bumped into Jan Willem van Dorp, who had not been able to find the hotel and was staying in the small establishment across the street - very simple communal toilets. He convinced me that for an experienced Jingpengist a new visit would almost certainly be very disappointing. So I decided to go to the nearest location, Pingdinshan. Had I known that the Xingyang narrow gauge was working (still or again) I would certainly have gone there instead.
The surprising thing about Pingdinshan was the clear sky and shining sun - I did not believe that would ever happen! There is still the one diesel GKD 3B 0003, running with long trains on the ''main line''. The new colour schema of one of the passenger trains makes a nice change. I saw it on both routes but could not find a regular pattern. Passenger trains were SY, and on the last day one was JS. Hardly any QJ seen in operation (only one with big deflectors), but lots of very clean JS. Overall, traffic levels seemed rather low compared with previous visits. A nice video scene is the inspection of the uniforms of the train crew (about twenty) half an hour or so before departure of the passenger train.
Bus 34, connecting JinXiu Hotel and shed, also goes past the bus station. Go west from bus station to jinXiu Hotel, or north from hotel to bus station.
Then back to Zhengzhou & Beijing, where I spent the last afternoon riding ''subway'' line 13, and buying an illegal DVD of a documentary about an illegal president fighting an illegal war. Watching the DVD will be less fun knowing the outcome of the Nov 2 election....
Is a new airline flying from China to Europe and back (Budapest). As far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with the airline; the Boeings are second hand (Aer Lingus) but fine enough, the staff is helpful though they have not yet heard of black coffee. The other passengers were all Hungarian & Chinese, so far they don't seem to be very succesful in getting passengers from Western Europe. Both ways the plane was not even half full, so there might be some interesting offers in the near future. Check www.malev.com .
Planes departed early in both directions. Arrival in Beijing was at 04.55 AM. The banks were still closed but there are banknote exchange machines (also at the luggage belts). But beware: changing excess money on the way back did not prove to be easy as the receipts were printed ''erpte, belgium''.
The buses into the city centre did not run either.
The flight back leaves Beijing at 02.20 AM which leads to a boring long wait at an airport where everything is closed.
I used a lot of bus travel on this trip. In general, I find seating even in the smaller minibuses more comfortable than hard seat on the trains. Also, the high running frequency is an advantage, and unlike some other third world countries, the bus stations are almost always centrally located.
The main disadvantage is the hopeless cruising for passengers. On my Luoyang-Mianchi trip for example, the journey started with an hour long trip through town. When we were at the bus station again, some angry passengers left the bus. On its way to Mianch, the assistant almost forced unwilling passengers into the overcrowded bus. Justice came in the form of the police who stopped & fined the driver. But on my way back the not overcrowded minibus which did not cruise was als fined, so I don't suppose the police will really help change their attitude.
Even worse was the Luoyang-Pingdinshan trip. It took our minibus 45 minutes to leave the bus station, as the exit was permanently blocked by buses trying to get in some more passengers. On the other hand, the Pingdinshan-Zhengzhou run was completed in just over two hours, without any stops in a very comfortable bus (with toilet)
Ameling Algra, email: firstname.lastname@example.org