Sunday, 9 November 2008

Beijing weekend

Kind of depressing to arrive in Shanghai to witness the brown murky waters and the gray skies. It was mostly natural though, a rainy day, but still. Cold too. Anyway, Shanghai has its share of nice restaurants and I was looking forward to a feast until I eventually got queued all the way to the ticket counter at the railway station and found out they wouldn't have tickets for the faster evening trains but only for one leaving in the afternoon, and what's worse, a hard seat for that! Stupidly, I took that ticket then.

Now here's my information piece on train travel in Asia.
  1. Use the train rather than bus if possible in countries other than Malaysia, South Korea, and possibly Japan. In Japan it's pretty much the same but the bus is cheaper.
  2. Never ever take a hard seat for a journey of over 3 hours in China! If that is all that's available, forget point 1 and take the bus.
Anyway, I rushed to the vegetarian restaurant whose location I was most certain about, the one on Nanjing road, and ate quickly. The food was really good though. Then back to the railway station and to endure 17 hours on a full train, on a hard seat, with lights on all night and no hope of sleep, to be filled with anxiety of actually getting the tickets onwards to Hanoi and to get to work within some reasonable hour. So what to do? Study Vietnamese of course. :-)

The train arrived around noon and Beijing railway station unsurprisingly doesn't sell tickets to Vietnam. They suggested the west railway station, but I didn't have time to go there, heading to work instead. Afterwards it was on to a new vegan club event, Fridays at the Vegan Hut. Great to see the folks again and of course the Vegan Hut food is excellent. Then I just went to the office for the night -- being happily homeless, after all. Saturday morning and "rushing" to the agency that supposedly sells tickets to Hanoi, almost certain in my mind that they wouldn't have any at such short notice. Rushing through Beijing is kind of funny, especially if you do it in public transport. It just takes hours and hours. I got there at lunchtime and to my utter surprise, they did have tickets! Brilliant, on my way to Vietnam! :D

For lunch I had to go to the new vegan restaurant north from Xizhimen since a Chinese author was to interview me for a vegan book. Don't really know what the book will be like, but the interview went nicely, she asked me all sorts of usual stuff like why did I go vegan etc and even more odd stuff like what's my view on life. Quite interesting actually. And the food was amazing, and so great to see more friends there as well.

Later at night it would be a friend's birthday, so I ordered a birthday cake from the vegetarian shop, verifying once again that it really is vegan. Those just look so fancyful I always have my doubts. Anyway, they made the cake in time and I went to a third of my selection of four great restaurants for the weekend. That was 我行我素, because I happen to really like their "meat" pies and the "west lake vinegar fish". I got plenty of the "meat" pies to go too. But the birthday party didn't really happen in a large degree, went to a bar with a couple of friends and had the cake at her place.

Next day and rushing to the office to pick up my stuff, lunch with the vegan family and their super cute vegan baby, and on to the train to Vietnam! The ride took two days and was pretty much ok. The train goes nonstop until Nanning, there everyone is ordered out of the train for half an hour to a nice waiting room, then taken back to the same train, so it's ok to leave the luggage there. At the border town of Dongdang on the Vietnamese side there are the formalities, in a confusing manner and for some reason in the middle of the night, but it works somehow. And then another Vietnamese train takes you the rest of the way to Hanoi. It's not quite as nice as the Chinese train but not too bad either.