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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



May 5. BEIJING  Our last day in Beijing, finally.  It was the Monday after the May Day holiday so the city was starting to show some signs of life. The SARS scare was still real but the panic phase was over.  We spent the morning getting our bags sorted out and separating out things to mail.  We checked out at noon and left our bags at the hotel while we went to the post office.

The International Post Office was located near the Friendship store, among blocks of diplomatic compounds and some of the older embassies.  It was still a National Holiday so a foreigner we asked for directions warned us that the post office might be closed.  But fortunately for us the Chinese are far too industrious and practical.  The post office was operating on limited hours and more of a skeleton crew but was still fully functioning.  They are supposed to do a customs check on packages going out but the clerk only did a cursory look at our stuff before directing us to the packaging department.  They have quite a system set up.  Since they need to "approve" your package they don't let you package your own stuff.  We had to pay extra for the packing supplies but it was pretty nominal.  A very helpful woman sized up our things and quickly sorted them out into a box for the US and a box for Mongolia (We were sending our sleeping bags to Mongolia so we didn't have to lug them around China.).  A few big staples and some plastic strapping and no one was going to be getting into those boxes. We filled out the shipping forms and our boxes were off!

Walking from the post office past a row of embassies we noted the guards in front of each one, just like we'd seen in the northern part of the city.  We passed by one embassy that had guards with machine guns and helmets.  Wondering which country that belonged to we looked up and saw the American Flag.  Those guards were going to be good and sure no North Korean tried to seek exile at the US Embassy.

We made a final run to Citibank to stock up on cash for our trip and went to a electronics store to get a larger memory card for my camera.  We found a 512meg card at a reasonable but higher price than the US.  It was made in the US so what could we expect but not having to download my pictures daily was a big convenience.  With a 512meg card I could take about 10 rolls worth of pictures without needing to download.

The day was rapidly getting away from us but we made one last tourist run to the park just north of the Forbidden City.  It was full of the national flower of China in full bloom and consequently had quite a few people.  We went to climb the small hill and get a view across the roofs of the Forbidden City.  It was a hazy day but the view really made an impression.  The Forbidden City was a quiet contrast to the tall buildings that were starting to pop all around the third ring road.

From the park we walked north to have one last meal at the Pass By Bar.  Just outside the park we saw a row of barbers lined up on the sidewalk.  They were busy cutting their clients' hair or giving them a shave.  I had to wonder who was responsible for sweeping up all that hair.  

After a leisurely dinner at the Pass By Bar we cabbed it back to our hotel and grabbed our bags.  As I sorted out my things for the trip Rob was talking to the floor attendant who was using a small phrase book to improve her English.  In particular she wanted to know how to pronounce temperature, fever, and other words related to the SARS outbreak.  I heard Rob sounding out "Can I take your temperature" and she would repeat it.  He gave her about a 10 minute lesson in pronunciation before dragged our bags to another cab and went to Beijing's West Train Station.

It has been many years since I had seen the cities West Train Station but I know it was no where near the size of the monolithic structure that now stands there.  It was more of a "trainport" with large waiting rooms for each train and announcements directing people when to check in for their train.  After we had our temperature taken we filed into the waiting room.  We had a soft sleeper ticket which meant a special waiting room.  It was nearly empty but as we filed out the "gate" to board our train we saw a crowd of people making their way to the hard seats.

The soft sleeper is a more luxurious way to travel in China with our own four person compartment equipped with lace curtains and a lockable door.  The beds actually are not so soft but we ended up with an entire compartment to ourselves so we had room to stretch out.  It was the first time that I had traveled China in a soft sleeper so I couldn't say whether they had changed but the bathrooms were pretty much the same.  They still opened up right onto the tracks except now they had a slight curve which meant you didn't see the track ties fly by as you hovered over the toilet. 

The trained pulled away exactly at 9:10 and we were off for Pinyao in Shanxi Province.    

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30