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Xi'an – Urumqi Train
18 April 2019 (Thursday)
This 24 hour and 17 minute train journey appeared to include one Western passenger only. I stroll out of my first class sleeper car and into second class and did not see anyone else.
I occupied a lower-bunk in our four-bunk compartment and in the beginning, passengers came and went, but finally stabilised. A young mother with a little girl did not stay long. She was replaced by another mother with child. I gave each child a small stuffed koalas and took their picture in exchange - I can unfortunately see that I am going to quickly run out of koalas on this journey. A young Chinese man departed shortly after sunrise. A young Chinese woman that introduced herself as Jean - with sufficient English to hold a conversation - was preparing to take a government exam in Urumqi the following day.
Jean's current government post requires her to work 9 hours a day 6 days a week. She did not understand why this was necessary and wanted out. When I told her that I am from Australia she replied: life is hard in China. Jean also thinks Urumqi will gain greater significance, as China focuses on the West and the Belt and Road initiative. She sees opportunity in Urumqi. I wished her success in getting the job when we parted.
The train compartment was pretty civilized with clean sheets and pillows - and even one Western toilet down the hallway. This arrangement is to be appreciated, as I am not expecting this level of quality as I travel further West - dirty old Russian trains are my expectation for the Stan-countries with my one hope only - they don't break-down.
After breakfast, three police questioned me. One spoke some English. Urumqi has serious ethnic problems with one million Uighur sent off to Chinese "re-education" camps - not peasants but the educated classes - in the past few years. The police took pictures of my passport, wanted my Australian mob number and a picture of me in the end. I assured them that I was a tourist, showed them my photos and asked if I could take their picture. Not a chance.
Met Gao Liang, a young Chinese electrician in the dining car. He was also abandoning the East to look for opportunity in the West. I think he got off at Xining - see the map. We did not share a common language and so we communicated by our smartphones for at least an hour. He pointed out caves along the way and told me that 30 years ago the locals in this area lived in them but they abandoned these caves for built structures. He wanted to know where I was travelling...
Spent the daylight enjoying the changing view, taking and editing pictures, and updating my journal after dark. My solar light and the compass - that Miwa insisted I take - came in handy.
Departing from Xi'an found farmland and hills and then mountains. So many tunnels connecting one village to-the-next-to-the-next. By dark we were looking at prairie and the next morning it was desert. Often completely barren of plants. Occasionally something beautiful created by nature but usually just dirt or sand. Camels would come in pretty handy in this landscape.