Monday, October 04, 2010

The Orient Express along the Silk Road

Yup, I've been so bogged down at work (and feeling tired) that I've been lazy to continue updating over the past week. I'm also only on day 10 of sorting through my pictures so far. I do blame my inactivities due to the already cold weather here =\ Anyways, the next leg of my Silk Road trip includes a visit to LanZhou. At this portion of the trip, we were hopping between cities on train. The train was very well kept and was only reserved for us N.American 'foreign' Chinese as the local tourists were unable to ride these. The train has a total of 12 carts; with 8 cabins, double decker beds on each, two waitresses who split 7hr shift schedules, and 2 washrooms on each cart.
There were also two carts for kitchen, eateries; a cart for karaoke/majong, and a shower cart which was exceptionally clean. Being on Russian trains and sleeping in its cabins before, I find the Chinese train (called the Orient express) was much better in terms of safety and cleanliness. The trains and cabins were kept the same for us throughout our Silk Road journey; you can imagine this as a cruise ship on land where we can leave our luggages yet do daily tours on land before returning back to it at night. Because of this, I got to know the waitresses to the cabin easily (normally people just ask them to do work), but I enjoyed talking to them, treating them as friends and find out more about their jobs, their inspiration, and routes they have taken on the train.
Ms.Wong, who was only 20 and been to many parts of China onboard the train already - would later tell me that these trains were 40 yrs old, directly imported from Germany, once only hosted China's mayors as they journeyed from city to city, and the cooks preparing the meals now were the same ones who cooked for Chinese mayors. She also showed me how the stations refilled water onto the carts during each major stop which was quite interesting. When finally arriving at LanZhou, we find a huge industrial city, and it was also famous for its beef noodles. In the beef noodles, the soup is the most important factor here as they use cow thighs and special recipes to cook it for 8+hrs to get the full flavor out. However, despite having 3 bowls of beef noodles in one lunch - I liked the texture on Turpan's noodles, tenderness of Canada's beef, and Shanghai's soup base more. Nonetheless, it was still interesting to experience the taste of where all beef noodles originated though. Aside from eating, Lanzhou isn't really meant for tourism. There is a huge Apple factory that makes those iPads/iPhones, a temple overlooking the Yellow river sitting atop a mountain, and many old military dormitories hidden in the mountains evacuated because of erosion (although there were still people living in it until they get kicked out). With this in mind and not having much anticipation, we headed back onto the train and headed off to the next city - only to find myself very much surprised at what I saw..... (To be continued)