Travel from Jinzhou to Lanzhou – All that Glitters Is Not Gold

Today we covered a lot of ground. Our options were either to travel by bus three hours back to Shenyang and take two flights to reach Lanzhou or to drive six hours (450 km) by bus to Beijing and take one flight to Lanzhou. It was decided to do the latter. So we departed at 6 a.m. flat (once again) and set off by expressway to Beijing. We stopped in a rest area at 8:15 for breakfast. It was a Chinese breakfast but it turned out unexpectedly well. Coffee can be hard to come by outside of the major cities, but we managed to score some (volcanically) heated cans of Nescafe. Surprisingly palatable under the circumstances. We also had Chinese tea, steamed buns and then a really tasty tortilla-like roll-up with egg, meat, onions and seasoning. It was very satisfying. Resuming our journey we passed underneath the eastern end of the Great Wall at Qinhuangdao where it descends out of the nearby mountains and reaches the sea, right at the boundary between the provinces of Liaoning and Hebei. That is the only noteworthy feature of an otherwise unremarkable drive. We will not miss our bus driver—his antics behind the wheel were not much appreciated by his passengers. At one point he was leaning on his horn to try to open a wedge between two slow moving vehicles ahead of him. Nothing was happening ahead but we were nearly blasted out of our seats by the horn. Rob wondered out loud if his horn only sounded on the inside!

map of Gansu province

Not long before we arrived at Beijing Airport Rob received a text message informing of us of the Phillies’ exciting 9th inning two-out  5 – 4 victory over the Dodgers on the double by Jimmy Rollins – aren’t modern communications wonderful?! We arrived at the airport around 12:45 p.m., with time to spare for a quick (shudder) Burger King meal (perhaps not the end of civilization but close to it!). It is a long way to Lanzhou – 1800 km southwest of Beijing, squarely in the center of China. The 2:30 p.m. flight was slow to depart, and it was nearly 5:30 when we arrived, but still light. By this time it would have been nearly dark in Liaoning. Strangely, the entire country is on the same time zone despite its immense size. By traveling so far west we pick up light in the evening but lose it in the morning.

We were met at the airport and loaded onto our new bus to bring us into Lanzhou, an hour’s ride away. Lanzhou is a reasonably attractive city with many colorful lights located on both sides of the Yellow River (Huang He in Chinese). Our hotel, the Hot Springs Hotel, stood up proudly near the banks of the Yellow River. Its gleaming lobby and attractive exterior made it look quite promising. When we went up to our rooms we were all unhappy for a variety of reasons. For me the clincher was that there was no shower enclosure – water from the shower is designed to run all over the floor. That violates my lower limit of acceptability. I just don’t feel it is necessary.  Moreover, a variety of products for sale in the rooms suggested the hotel might rent rooms by the hour. When we met downstairs for dinner at 7:30 p.m., we all voiced displeasure. Pip Gilmour, our series producer, is a decisive gal. Whereas I would have toughed it out for the night and moved in the morning, she determined we would move out that night.

Lanzhou hospitality

Lanzhou hospitality

First we had dinner as guests of my very dear colleague and friend Li Daqing. He is an extremely friendly and hospitable man, and dinner with him is always a memorable affair. His wife Guo Lei and his workers always attend his dinners, which was held at a restaurant just around the corner from our erstwhile hotel. My colleagues basked in the warmth of his friendship. Anyone who is a friend of mine is a friend of his. The food was abundant and superb. We drank ba bao cha, eight-treasure tea, a wonderful local specialty with fruits and flowers. We also drank Chinese beer and just a little bit of baijiu, the often dreaded white alcohol that so many Chinese, including Daqing and his workers, love to consume. Guo Lei does not drink, and so she is the designated driver. Daqing never pressures me to drink baijiu, but I drink a little bit out of courtesy. They provide us with very tiny glasses, barely thimblefuls.

We returned to the hotel at 10 p.m., packed our bags and moved. We have settled in at the Lanzhou Friendship Hotel. I always stay there. I have never considered it the lap of luxury but at least the bath water does not spread across the floor!

Everyone appreciates that great things are in store in the coming days!


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