Part 3, China

26 Sep 1999, Trans-Siberian railroad


I would say konnichiwa! to the pretty girl in my cabin, if I just knew Japanese. But unfortunately I don't, so I have to settle for a mere hello.

The 30-hour trip goes by quickly reading my books and talking about travelling with Yoko. The Chinese people downstairs are very glad and funny, although when they hear that I am from Finland they immediately say: "Ah Finland: St. Petersburg!". During the night - at the same time as my Chinese visa is checked - the bogeys of the train are also changed to more narrow ones because Finland, Russia and Mongolia use different track width than most countries - including China.

We go past Gobi desert, which is fascinating but not that spectacular as one would think at first. When I wake up in the morning, the scenery has changed totally different. Forests, corn fields, people...lots of people. Well, this IS China - it's supposed to be crowded. 1200 million inhabitants! In Mongolia they have a little bit more than 2 million... The towns that pass by look - I have to be honest - miserable to me. And the houses, well they don't look like houses. It looks like all of them don't even have proper roof and everything looks so dirty. My first glimpse of China is not very positive.

But the closer to Beijing we get, the better my feelings get. And finally when we stop to see the Great Wall and the staff of the train is getting more loose, I'm as excited as ever. Although it is a bit awkward to hear them play the theme of "Titanic" by Celine Dion here. :-)

Finally on a Monday afternoon I step out to Beijing west railway station and soon I'll realize that the capital of China is very fascinating. I'm really glad to be here!

27 Sep - 04 Oct 1999, Beijing

Forbidden City

"Beijing - a nice city! The first thing that struck me was the amazingly big size. Distances are enormous and something seems to be happening everywhere. The streets are unbelievably beautiful at night. New, futuristic, high buildings are everywhere along the main one time I cycled one street about five kilometres and all the time there were these modern office buildings on both sides of the street. The amount of restaurants is about ((Irkutsk * Ulaanbaatar) ^ Moscow). You can't get hungry in here - unless you get diarrhea as I did today - and food even in a middle class restaurant is very cheap. Having my own hotel room is real luxury - great place!"

That was what I wrote about Beijing after my second day there. I also had a simple solution for diarrhea: go and eat in McDonald's - no fibre whatsoever! And a miracle - diarrhea was away and I still had 7 days to explore the miracles of real Chinese cuisine! Yep, food was the best part in Beijing. Remember that I had been in trans-Siberian train, Irkutsk and Mongolia. After that the food in Beijing was more than like heaven. Good breakfast for $0.40, lunch for $1.00 and one of the best dinners I've ever had (with tea, Coke and a large beer) for $1.70. I could spend a year in China just because of the food!

When I went to "Bank of China" to change some money, I got the smallest paper money I've ever seen; one mao which is worth about 0.12 American cents.

Two days I spent cycling around the city and found myself all the time needing much more time to make a "small" distance on the map. Before this trip Athens, Budapest and Berlin had been the biggest cities I'd ever seen and I didn't understand that a city can be THIS big. It was good that facilities for cyclists were good, but still the traffic was too much for me. I survived two days and miraculously didn't have any kind of accident, but it did cause a little stress.

Great Wall
The Great Wall in Jinshanling

On my third day I wanted to see the Great Wall and I wanted to avoid the most touristy places - so I went for I hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Which was nice. The staff of Lü-Song-Yuan hotel was really nice and wrote me a letter to be given to a farmer near Jinshanling, so that he could take me to Simatai. But after all things went so that I joined a tourist group and got a local guide through them so I never needed the letter.

In Jinshanling I didn't see anybody but a few Chinese tourists. Well, even there I got some women who followed me and then tried to sell their books. Actually one of them was of some help and I bought a book from her...only to get it lost afterwards in the aeroplane. But the Wall was awesome! It's astonishing that they have been able to build a wall in such a hard terrain and if it was not there, it would be impossible for normal people to go and seen those mountains and hills. I also have to say that I was surprised about how difficult and hard work climbing the wall was. After one hour I was exhausted. Fortunately after one and half hour we began to go back down and reached Simatai two and half hours after leaving Jinshanling. According to my altimeter we rose from 340 m to 615 m. Unforgettable!

When I came back from the Wall it began raining. Perhaps this was arranged, as well as all the factories being shut down already earlier, because of the anniversary on the next day. Friday 1st of October was the celebration of 50 years of communist rule in China. You can imagine the roads were crowded on the evening before the 7-day-holiday!

Tank in Beijing

On Friday the centre of the city was closed - what a pity. The military parade with 500.000 performers was "invite-only" so we normal people could see it only on TV. Then again, television coverage was really good: national day parade on channel 1, national day parade on channel 2, national day parade on channel 3, etc. In the evening it all changed: national day fireworks on channel 1, national day fireworks on channel 2, national day parade rerun on channel 3... Unfortunately I also missed what was supposed to be the biggest fireworks ever. They had some minor fireworks earlier and I thought: "Ok, this was it. Not very impressive actually from the nation that invented gunpowder. I'm going to get some sleep now." A big mistake!

It was a "long" weekend, with Saturday and Sunday immediately after the national day. Actually most Chinese people had holidays until next Thursday. I spent the weekend by eating in as many restaurants as possible and most of the time I absolutely loved the food. On Sunday access to the Tian-an-men square was opened again and - I swear it must have been the most popular place on earth that day! I don't know how many people there were, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was more than a million. Walking even short distances took a looong time. Below is a picture:

Tian-an-men square
Tian-an-men square on 50 years national day weekend

On Sunday evening I decided to go and see the famous Chinese acrobatics . This proved to be a very good decision and I have to say that everyone who goes to China should try it. It really looks like those people can do just about everything with their bodies!

My last day in Beijing was Monday and all I had left was to do some shopping. I'm not very experienced in this and I was also surprised to see that everyone else seemed to be doing the same - until I realised that the Chinese still have four days more off work. Well, despite the enormous crowds I got about everything I wanted and early next morning it was time to <sigh> go home.

05 Oct 1999, From Beijing to Hämeenlinna by Air China

Dasvidanya! Bayartai! Zaijian! Sayonara! Auf wiedersehen! Adjö! Näkemiin! Goodbye! It's time to go!

After eight days I'm leaving China and going back home. I hate to say this, but I must admit I've been waiting for this for a couple of days. Strange - I've never had that feeling while travelling before - am I getting old or what?

Finding the correct terminal in the airport was not too easy - they had just opened a brand new terminal two days before and the airport bus took me there. Of course no one spoke English there and it was really foggy, so finding my terminal was not too easy. But I managed and after that...all I had to do was to sit in a Boeing-747 for about 10 hours and I was in Stockholm. Another quick flight and miraculously I was back in Finland on the afternoon of the same I day I had left China. This felt really funny considering that it had taken me about three weeks to get in there.

The End!

That's it, the end of the story! Needless to say I enjoyed every minute and can recommend the Trans-Siberian Railroad to anyone who doesn't need luxury and who doesn't mind that there is not always a common language with local people. If you are unsure, go!

© Mika Perkiömäki -
Last modified: Wed Dec 29 23:32:14 EET 1999