Same same, and not so different

DSC00008Waking up by the familiar yelling and pleasant bright light flowing from the lamps some 30 centimeters above my face I felt that this day would not be so different from the other days spent on the train. After a instant noodles breakfast and some reading the family below got ready to leave. Having the now docile kids leaving with risk of getting a untrained pack replacing them and the fact that luggage compartment now was mine, mine and only mine sort of balanced each other out. The fact that the mother beat all previous chinese in the art of glaring made me think that it was a good thing in the end.

I finished reading No Logo (good book, although I get the feeling it might be a bit outdated, or ?). Walking to the restaurant and back for the umpteenth time I felt that perhaps I knew that part now. The power outlets were occupied and after playing old school RPG until my battery died I started reading “48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene instead. It sounds worse than it is, it is a compilation of Sun-Tzu’s “Art of War”, Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and similar works. Nice anecdotes describing historical persons that either transgressed or observed these “Laws” while detailing them. So far fun reading, I doubt that I will have much practical use of how to raise in a renaissance court though.

A group of four twenty-five-ish chinese broke my solitude by invading the sleeper. It didn’t take long until the now all too familiar “Helloooo?” was heard. Being a nice guy I returned it and instead of a giggle/smile this time I got some stuttered response. After some oiling of their pronunciation we started conversations about anything ranging foreign policies to student loans. I was given a lovely strawberry bread and instructed in how to eat the seeds chinese seem to eat to pass time.

With some training I think I actually managed quite well eating the things now, although I still spend more energy breaking the shell and getting out the edible part than I think I actually gain from eating it. The chinese proved to be students in different fields and had different ideas of thing although when the historian gladly explained how chinese hated japan(ese) no-one to my surprise countered this statement.

They also brought up the cultural revolution without and when paging through my lonely planet the historian happily bursted out that Chairman Mao was a great leader after spotting the portrait above Heavenly Gate of Peace on a picture. I decided not to confront these statements but added that in Sweden we didn’t have such a recent history, which perhaps explained that most swedes didn’t hold a grudge against, say russians, despite wars back in the days.

These things didn’t overshadow the fact that it was fun and interesting conversations and the chinese were very friendly and helpful, we kept talking until it was time for dinner-noodles. I for example learned that the information boards (this direction only in chinese) wished me a pleasant journey before the text was eaten up by pac-man.

After dinner I read some more and then fell asleep rather early again. Waking up around midnight though, I seized the moment to do some blogging and charging my camera while my fellow train travelers were asleep. Tomorrow it’s back in Beijing and I might try to catch some Kung-Fu show if available there, some pedicure and pay Dragonfly massages another visit. Apart from that I have no real plans except to gather my luggage and gauge how much I have to throw or give away to satisfy the tight limitations on weight and volume for my flight back home to Sweden. I can almost feel the salt breeze of Gothenburg January weather thinking about it. After my perhaps last visit to a squat toilet in a while It’s time to catch my beauty sleep.

On the train again

IMG_7807Waking to the sounds of “Safety Dance” I jumped out of bed ready as ever. Quickly packing I realized that perhaps I was even up a little too early, by a coincidence I knew that Apple just had released a sweet ultra-portable called Macbook Air, so I took the extra minutes to surf some geek porn.

After checking out I walked to the bus station and realized I still was a good 20 minutes early. After about 18 minutes the first living soul not sitting in a cab honking at me showed up and bravely tried to start a conversation. I showed my ticket, he said something and I smiled. He said something again, I said english, he said something, I smiled and then he pointed at the bus-stop and nodded.

When bus 89 arrived I realized that this was a top of the line bus with air condition (as in open windows) and those 3.4 € seemed not completely worth the fresh morning breeze of Lhasa. The conversation guy was very friendly and made sure I got to the right coach, filled in my health declaration and so on. The conversation was however still limited to me smiling but we both seemed happy with this arrangement. I thought that being extremely early would increase my odds of placing luggage before other people. Little did I know that this was exactly the thought of the rest of the passengers as well. So no luck in using the shared compartment there.

It eased my mind to see that the guy opposite me (and arriving after me) had some sort of construction in the ceiling reducing his already rather slim occupy-able space with approximately 25%. Throw in an obese chinese mother with a glaring disorder and two screaming kids and you have a lovely 48 hours ahead. I praised my preparation skills for downloading a snes-emulator and Secret of Mana to pass time with when not reading. There is also the little things as realizing that drinking with a straw is far easier than lowering your head between your knees and tilting the bottle the maximum 10-15° upwards before it hits the ceiling in order to be able to drink.

As the regular mantras are called out from the train personnel a guy now also hands out plastic oxygen tubes to put into your nostrils. I gladly accepted these, would make a good addition to my bathroom accessories. I decided to watch the documentary about this railway that I got from Kong at Spinn Cafe. I knew this railway was teh shit but It raised my impressions even further watching and now and then lifting my eyes to confirm the narrated story with what I could see outside the windows.

The challenges and how they were overcome when building this railway are simply astonishing. The main concept is that due to the permafrost the ground is rock-hard in winter and when summer comes the up till 50% ice that ground consists melts. This causes the surface to become soft, and certainly deformed under pressure such as railway tracks. The solution? Cool the earth so it never thaws. Where not possible, build bridges over land having concrete pythons deeply inserted in the ground and having the ground raise and fall like ebb and flow during the seasons. The labor was some 200 000 workers for a planned six years, but beat the plan by one year and with zero deaths due to altitude sickness, SARS or the plague (these three were the main concerns regarding the workers health).

At dinner I tried the restaurant on the train and ordered some rice and chicken plus vegetables. I got the food but it was not as warm as one could except. Now the usual swede (including me) would mutter about this but inform the waiter that everything was fine. Just fine, thank you! In the light of discussing this with Yang I instead decided that when in China, do as the chinese. So I called upon the waiters attention and explained that my food was cold. After a brief misunderstanding she excused herself and came back with a warm dish and sincerely apologized for the mistake. I didn’t feel as awkward as I thought I would and perhaps will I take with me this strange custom back to Sweden.

I decided to play some Secret of Mana after dinner which proved to be the perfect way to domesticate the previously mentioned noisy children. They simply stood behind me and looked over my shoulder in silent awe. I think this proves how good I am handling children. After some time the power outlet died though (same thing happened before so this time I didn’t suspect my charger of being assassinated by the evil chinese outlets with their unfriendly sparks) and I figured I’d go to sleep early.

Slacking in Lhasa

IMG_7790I woke up during the night for due to some retarded chinese couple crying/howling in turns. In addition my body had apparently gotten used to lower temperatures or something since it took some hour to fall asleep again. Next time I woke up by Yoon-Ki knocking at my door, it was time to grab some dumplings for breakfast.

After breakfast Yang and Yoon-Ki would head off to the train station to get tickets, this would take about an hour so I’d chill at the hostel surfing. After about three hours they show up and explain that if they’d know that it would be half the hassle they gladly payed the service fee (1.5 €) I did. It also proved to be a full train so they will leave one day after myself.

Yang had had a laugh when Yoon-Ki was trying to figure out the cost for the bus. Chinese use one hand to count to ten (e.g. six is the thumb right out and the little finger straight out) but Yoon-Ki wasn’t sure what the driver was gesturing so he asked repeatedly how much the fare was. The driver kept doing the same gesture with growing frustration and finally a girl behind him explained that she was the one to give money to. The driver had simply gestured “backwards” rather than a count.

Yang, like any lady out traveling it seems, wanted to check out the local markets and bring some souvenirs back home. I knew the streets by know so we took a long stroll near the Barkhor area. Resisting any urges I managed to only buy two pieces of bread that would be nice to have on the train. To listen to two chinese haggling long and well is also something that I’ve checked on my list, Yang is an awesome haggler but I don’t comprehend where she gets the energy for it.

Back to the hostel for some slacking and drop of a bunch of knives Yang had bought. The fare of the bus to the train station was a staggering 0.1 € so I figured I would cancel my booked car from the hostel and save 3.4 €. However the travel agent girl was first busy and then nowhere to be found. Well, not much of a loss anyway.

Dinner at Pentoc again, love those fried noodles with yak meat and vegetables, this time with interesting discussions regarding promiscuity, marriage and other cultural differences. When strolling home I stopped at the supermarket to ensure I would go neither hungry nor thirsty on the train. Back at the hostel Jue-a had dropped of my beanie in the reception, sweet! I spotted the travel agent but didn’t have time to ask her to cancel my ride before she apologized herself for not letting me know earlier that she had been unable to set up a car for me. I said I would let it slip for this time and that I probably could make it with the local buses or a taxi.

I was expecting Yang and Yoon-Ki to drop for a last chatting session and was therefore a little surprised when I found two elderly ladies knocking on my door. The wondered with a lovely old british accent if I knew about a chinese girl who supposedly was traveling with a korean and a swedish guy. I explained that I probably was the swedish guy and pointed them to Yang’s room.

Next time it was Yoon-Ki and Yang at the door, they explained that the old ladies had been the ones Yang had helped to the hospital for rather bad food poisoning the day before. They had given Yang a bracelet and sincere thanks and also mentioned that they had been unable to sleep this night due to some cats making sounds. It might be that there were no retarded/drunk chinese couple after all.

After some beer and clementines, music lessons by yours truly and a chinese action show we said our goodbyes for this time. I set my alarm rather early since I wanted to catch the bus at 07 and thought that a little more margin than last time wouldn’t hurt.