Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Beijing to North Korea (DPRK) - to another world

Waking to a busy, lively train while cramped in the top bunk of a sleeper is not most people’s idea of enjoyment and excitement but for me it is one of those days in the year that put a smile on my sleep. I had managed to survive the night without rolling off the bunk, kept myself warm from the onslaughts of air con blasts from the roof of my berth (thanks to my Vietnamese silk sleeping bag), and had manoeuvred my way up and down the three bunks twice during the course of the night without disturbing anyone, in pitch darkness on a moving wagon! 

As you can tell I was mighty pleased with myself! The top bunk is not many people's choice but it certainly means people won’t disturb you. I then sit up - bang! I hit my forehead square on the train roof! Good morning! Half crunch and that's the space in my bunk compromised. 
Then I need to manoeuvre out of the bunk, changing clothes and packing while the body is still waking up and muscles aren't quite stretched. It makes me wonder how I did this during the course of the night. Especially during my mid-sleep pee break!

Settled on the bottom bunk with my friend Emily we engage with the scene whipping past our window. Large limescale hills fill the background immersed in greenery, fields packed full of crops for as far as the eye could see. Small villages, packs of houses - neither the cottage kind, nor the high rise we had experienced through much of the country from Beijing so far, instead these were well-constructed brick/concrete abodes. The city had met the countryside. 

China is fast becoming a first world leader leaving behind its third world roots that I had come to understand as a child 20 years ago. It had leapt ahead. The train system seemed well designed, if somewhat delayed for a 14-hour journey, but the tracks are immaculate. Long roads of concrete embedded with thick iron railway tracks. Robust tunnels drilled into the descriptive countryside and above ground routes illustrating the countries commitment to sustainable travel. This is not a railway built for the sake of it; this rail network connects towns, cities, people, communities throughout the country with high-speed bullet trains and quality night sleepers that spreads travellers between air and land. 

For always the beauty of train travel is the opportunity to digest the scenic offerings of the country, take in the culture of locals travelling to visit friends and family and taking a step back from the chaotic nature of air travel and the stress of security. Though everywhere in Beijing they do rank their security of utmost importance, as we enter Tinnanamen Square and so too the train station our bags are scanned - though to be honest as I took a second look I wonder if its actually more routine than security caution! At which point it was just a hassle than stress. 

Beijing train station is huge and the two-storey departure lounge reflected the sheer size of the country and population. As we waited in our departure hall with hundreds of others taking the same train it certainly does dawn on me how well organised this country is, especially in comparison to near neighbour - India - whose chaotic platforms and deteriorating departure halls are a stark contrast. Yet both developing world leaders, as part of the BRIC countries, what's interesting to see is how each Chinese person is reasonably supported by the state, something India has failed to do - perhaps the nugget of communist capitalism, or a future for China to be weary of?!

See India travel post.