The slick Shanghai transport system gets me easily to the Hongqiao Railway Station, the central hub of China’s east coast high speed train network CRH.
The waiting rooms are like modern airport lounges.
Elevators and lifts convey one seemlessly around Shanghai, and much of China, in stark contrast to London where one can get off the tube at Victoria station and have to carry your bags up two flights of stairs as there are no lifts or elevators.
I was there for the seven hour trip to Qingdao.
The new CRH network for China’s east coast is a fantastic feat of engineering. Most of the network is on new elevated tracks some 10 meters above the ground and the sheer amount of track reminded me of a Thunderbirds episode where there was this enormous machine that ploughed through the jungle flattening trees and hills before it and leaving a jungle highway behind. Perhaps china had a machine that lays thousands upon thousands of miles of this raised track.
The original thunderbirds episode was called Path of Destruction, and globally ecologists believe China is on just such a path.
This new highspeed network is perhaps the single biggest financial and engineering project in the world, easily surpassing the Three Gorges Dam project, and yes the railway minister was recently sacked for corruption. I discount the building of those cities in the sand in the Gulf as they will one day disappear back into the desert through sheer unsustainability and no Gulf ministers will ever go to prison for corruption, but more likely be awarded his second super yacht moored in Cannes.
The region between Shanghai and Qingdao is the market garden for Shanghai with mile upon mile of glass houses or plastic houses. As with everything in China it is probably a statistical record of some sort.
Arriving at Qingdao train station had the feel of arriving at a seaside train station in England.
Many of the train stations in China are new but the early nineteenth century German built Qingdao station is wonderful piece of Germanic construction, solid and spacious.
Outside there were the taxi ranks of these idiosyncratic three wheel cars with either go faster stickers or ferrari badges. I discovered that they were not only locally built but only had 200cc petrol engines.
But I walked to the Golden Lampstand hotel, there are such strange names for hotels in China.
In the centre around the station there were literally hundreds of little hotels and even more small restaurants that spilled out onto the pavement. These restaurants all had the ubiquitous barrel of beer outside along with the multitude of coloured plastic bowls of shellfish and fish.
Qingdao is famous throughout China for it’s beer. The brewery was built by the Anglo-German Brewery Co in 1903 and now every year Qingdao holds Asia’s largest Beer Festival.
Young, and not so young, couples mainly from Beijing, pour out of station with their suitcases and head straight for the seafront, met by hawkers and peddlers from all over china, selling maps, boat trips and hotels, or a photograph with your loved-one with the ocean as a backdrop. In China there are so many chinese tourists that luckily for me they don’t need to bother with the odd westerner or big-nose.
The sea air obviuosly brings out something as I had not seen so many smiling faces before. Young and old bought buckets, spades and little nets on a stick, clambered over the rocks and were absolutely absorbed by their findings.
From the way they paddled in the sea, threws stones or photographed each other, there was a childlike air of wonderment of the sight of the beach and ocean.