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Steam in China, October 2009

by Ameling Algra

Jixi, Huanan

October 19 2009
I left for my 30th China trip. KLM sold me a ticket Brussels-Amsterdam-Beijing Harbin and back Beijing-Amsterdam-Antwerp for less than Ä 450,--.
Flying from Brussels makes the trip more complicated as I live near Amsterdam Airport. But it does save some 100 euros this time (often more). But this time I was not sure the money was worth the hassle.
And flying through to Harbin on the same ticket (China Southern is member of Skyteam) has its advantages: the airline is responsible if I miss my connection. But I am not sure I would do that again either.
The flight from Amsterdam was full but KLM recently introduced "economy comfort" seats (more leg space, more incline of the seat) which made the flight quite comfortable. From December 1, these seats will cost Ä150 each single journey almost doubling the price of the ticket. Of course, one can always hope that the plane is fully booked and these seats are not sold out so you get one for free on check in.
The plane left Amsterdam an hour late and arrived Beijing an hour early just before nine. Formalities were quick as always so at 9.30 I was at China Southern's check in counter, only to be told that the 12.00 flight to Harbin was changed into 17.00 and that the 10.50 flight was fullÖ.. So a long wait at the airport.
Finally at 17.00 on to Harbin, airport bus to the railway station and overnight in four star Kunlun, RMB 256 through C-trip. Too late to book an onward bus journey.

October 21
Next morning at 6.30 to the bus station which is straight across from the railway station. Booked a bus to Huanan at 9.00, or at least I thought I did. Back to the hotel, nice breakfast, and on to the bus. Comfortable ride of about five hours but it seemed the city we were going to arrive in had grown considerably since last Christmas. So checked the lettering on my ticket, mistake, I got a ticket to Jiamusi. Luckily in the right direction. Arrival in Jiamusi was at 13.55, at 14.00 I was on a bus to Huanan, 15.30 arrival Huanan, into the Huanan Binguan RMB 120 as usual and contacted my taxi driver from last trip for the next morning 05.30.

October 22
As usual, he was already waiting for me so we went to the narrow gauge depot, to be told that there were no trains running and that operation would restart in six days. The taxi driverís service was excellent. He even phoned an english speaking friend who confirmed what I already understood: no trains till next week.
So back to Huanan bus station, bought a bus ticket to Jixi on the morning bus leaving 08.20 (afternoon bus is at 14.20), had a nice breakfast in the hotel and left.
Arrival in Jixi around 10 am, to the JiXi Fandian where I found out that water was leaking on my pillow, on to the National Territory Resources Mansion for RMB 140 a night. Afternoon in Chengzihe so only a morning "lost".

October 23-26
Several days in JiXi, with bus 24 to Didao and bus 3 to Chengzihe. A previous report did not find the old blue buses to Zhengyang. They have been replaced by new comfortable buses, very frequent and clearly lettered as mentioned in my Feb 2009 report. The road to Zhengyang used to be very poor but is a good sealed road now.

Went into Zhengyang mine. Nice backdrop with two coaling towers. Excellent video of a train leaving from below the towers with its headlights on just after sundown.

For years, my biggest fear in China was being confronted with asian toilets.
But nowadays even this very public toilet in Didao is of the western variety

Saw Berndís group and another group of mainly English. One piece of advice: it is nice that everyone wears dark coats, but could you please paint your white hair black like the Chinese do?
Also met Bruce Evans & Rod Clarke (hope I got your name right).
Intended to go to Hengshan as some reports seem to find it very steamy but Berndís report stated only one loco there so decided to give it a miss.
About electrification: the billboard in Dongchang advertising electric locos has gone but trackbed and everything else seems to be ready for the poles. So I donít expect steam to last another year.
There is a lot of construction work going on in Didao complicating pictures in the washery.
The most surprising thing about JiXi was the temperature, way above what was to be expected in October (reaching 20 Deg Celcius). After one overcast day, temperatures became more normal Ė and later cold in Huanan.

October 27
After a last morning in Chengzihe, took the afternoon bus to Huanan (13.00), arriving there 14.30. Unpleasant surprise at the Huanan Binguan: only a suite available, containing two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large living room. Luckily the next night a standard room became available again.

October 28-30
Three days narrow gauge. As motor cycles are out of the question, my photo opportunities are somewhat limited. Chasing the train to Xiahua and from Xiahua to Huanan is easy and I actually like the flat rural line which reminds me of Polish narrow gauge. The billboards on the tender of some of the locos made for a nice change. My taxi driver usually turned up with adequate info and then had breakfast with me at the hotel. Higly recommended, tel 13512610147. No English (and even after 30 visits I canít be bothered with learning Chinese), but no problem communicating. Nice to meet Bruce and Rod again. First day snow storm, next two days very cold & strong wind.

even though the line is straight and flat, interesting shots are possible

Oct 31, Nov 1
Back to Harbin by bus, a comfortable 5 hour journey this time and then the next day Harbin-Beijing-Amsterdam.

Ameling Algra

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© 2009 Ameling Algra