Day 13 (28 Dec 2009): A Train Affair [Guangzhou – Nanning]

For your convenience, please refer to The Journey for the itinerary and the latest updates.

Weather: A little cloudy

With the laundry cleaned and my bags packed, the only thing missing from my list was some USD. Greenbacks almost always give the best exchange rates around the world. The Axis of Evil might hate the US government but they adore Benjamin Franklins. I didn’t have to go through any of them in my trip but dollar was still the currency to carry.

I began my quest for USD with a metro ride during the rush hour. Bad decision as I felt like squashed tuna inside a can. I was really glad when I got out of the cabin.

I first went to CITIC Bank’s branch at CITIC Plaza. They could exchange RMB to USD but I needed some in the first place. I asked for directions to the nearest Citibank ATM.

And I ended up being given the directions to a Citibank branch 15 minutes walk away. I mentally counted the approximate amount of RMB that I would need and withdrew them. Citibank was not able to change RMB to USD and the only place that would do it (according to them) was the Bank of China down the road. As the CITIC Bank was too far away, I went to Bank of China instead.

The guy serving me didn’t really want to change USD for me. Perhaps it was something about capital control in China. I somehow managed to convince him, saying that I would need USD in Vietnam and I couldn’t get them anywhere else. Reluctantly he made me fill up a form and went to photocopy my passport. Another form later (because I managed to screw up the first), I had my US$200. He was helpful enough to give me the 10 twenties that I requested.

I reached Alan’s apartment in time to say farewell. They were going out for their final classes and I would do more research before going to the train station.

Not before saying goodbye to someone familiar.

Bye Bye Chen Fala

I was early for my train so decided to take some pictures.

The obligatory train station shot

Reunification of Motherland

I couldn’t help but wonder whether that the words were meant for Singapore as well as for Taiwan.

Something less controversial on the other side:

Reinvigorate China

My train

Train no.:
Dep: Guangzhou 16:52
Arr: Nanning 06:23
Time taken: 13h31m
Distance traveled: 809km
Cost: 179 RMB (Hard Sleeper middle berth)

Goods to be loaded on

The hard sleeper class that I was traveling in was organized in open plan configuration with six sleepers in each ‘compartment’. It’s similar to India’s 3AC class without the berths along the corridor. Mine was the middle berth which cost less than the lower berth but more expensive than the upper one.

Chinese Hard Sleepers

My bed for the night

Little boy in the next compartment

Rolling through the countryside

Where the term 'Samsui women' is derived from

All the berths in my compartment were taken up. Besides me, there were a group of three female friends heading home to Nanning, a traveling salesperson from either Zhejiang or Jiangsu and an older woman with Beijing accent. The Nanning girls spoke Mandarin with the same exact accent with Malaysian Chinese and that left me quite amused.

The salesman was quite surprised to find the group of friends were speaking Mandarin among themselves. He asked them why they weren’t speaking their dialect and their replies were that they each had their own dialect (despite all three being native to Nanning). The topic was then shifted to Vietnam. The three friends had been to Vietnam before for work. Both the salesman and the older woman were surprised to learn from them about the availability of luxury goods in Vietnam. I half-suspected that they still believe that the Vietnam War hasn’t ended and the Vietnamese are still living in tunnels.

The train attendants would walk around the aisle during dinner time to sell pre-packed meals (I saw boiled chicken and rice), peanuts and fruits. The most popular item had to be instant noodles. There was hot water at each end of the carriage and that was often the cheapest food around.

I went up to my berth shortly after dinner time (around 8pm) and thought about my trip ahead. It would be
an epic, I told myself before nodding off to the rumbling tracks underneath the carriage.

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