Monday 31st July 2017
Today we were up early as we had to meet Ben and his ballet company in the foyer of the hotel for our next leg of our journey. Beijing to Taiyuan by train. We were able to go to the Beijing West train station on the bus with Benny and his group. They have a translator called LuLu who is great. She took us to collect our tickets which is located on the outside of the station. Something went wrong with the purchase of these tickets and Ben had to buy them last night. All good though, it was great to see what I have to do at the next train station when we will be on our own. There were people everywhere, everyone in a hurry as in all big cities around the world. You have to show your passport and ticket to get into the station as well as have your luggage scanned twice. It is all pretty self explanatory with the main things like Gate number and carriage and seat printed in English. You just need to know where to look on your ticket. They allowed a lot of time to get to the train as we met at 6.30am for a 20min bus ride and our train didn’t leave until 8.40am. Lulu indicated for every 5 minutes late we left we needed to add an extra 5 minutes on. So for every 5 mins late we left it took an extra 10mins to our trip.
All went well and we got on the Speed train with ease. They travel at up to 200km an hour. We have powerpoint for charging and there is a lot more room in the seat than on the plane or our suburban trains. It was very comfortable. There wasn’t a great deal to see outside the windows as the pollution was very thick. Maybe about 100m in distance before the smog blocked your view. The trains are very clean, the carriage has been mopped twice since in the first hour. It is a 3.5 hour train ride to Taiyuan, where we will leave Benny, pick up our train tickets for our next journey and go to our own hotel. We will meet him after he does a few things for the afternoon.
Off we go again, another adventure. Find the ticket office. After finding a map we spent the next 10 mins trying to find the ticket office on the map with no luck. A German tourist with a translator asked if we needed any help and shared his guide for 10mins. The guide took us to the ticket office. We managed to find the right queue and get our train tickets for the next two legs of our journey. Then off in our next taxi. The taxis have upgraded from the little red Toyota Corollas in 2005. We had an chat with the taxi drivers son on the way to Taiyuan. I think he understood a little more of what we were saying but was a bit too shy to talk much. The driver didn’t seem to understand at all. When we got to the hotel, which is very nice by the way, the bill for the taxi was 22.40CNY and Colleen gave him 30CNY. He was very happy, I thought he was going to do a little dance.
Our new hotel Bing Zhou is very nice. Amazing what you get in China for less than $100 a night. Definitely a 5 star hotel. I will try to use out the Recreation facilities tomorrow. They look really good.
We finally checked in just after 12:30pm and Benny came to join us by about 1:15pm and we headed out for lunch. This was an interesting experience. We finally found a little Chinese style cafe where we had a meal of pork chop, large pork meatball, tofu, fish, beans and paprika, celery, carrot and a funny bean/nut, mushroom mix and 3 huge bowls of rice. It was so difficult with no language skills but we muffed our way through it. We entertained the staff there but figured the food was safe to eat as the staff were eating there.
We then headed back to the hotel for a rest as it is about 31°C today. After a nice relaxing afternoon and a bit of organisation for our time with Ben in Beijing we headed out for dinner. We asked for a recommendation from the hotel for a local restaurant. We decided on a Hot Pot Restaurant and as we couldn’t understand the directions, one of the reception staff walked with us to the restaurant. That’s what I call service.
Now tonights menu was challenging. They had lots of things to choose from but only about 5 pictures for each section. We ended up with 3 hots pots – 1 mushroom, 1 tomato and 1 tomato & vegetable. Then we chose beef, ox strips and tofu, cabbage and lettuce. The meal also came with 3 sauces – peanut, soy and chilli, and oyster. Then they turn the jet under the table on and place your hotpot on it. Now to cook our own dinner. Now getting to this stage was an entertaining ordeal for the staff as we had no idea what we were buying and it required a little google translation and guess work. One of the waitresses spoke minimal english but we managed to get something for dinner. With a lot of laughter from the staff, the other patrons and ourselves we successfully had our dinner. All the staff just looked at us and smiled. We definitely were their entertainment for the night. We had a fun night.