November 12 Saturday we travel by subway to China Railroad Museum way on the other side of town inChaoyang district. From the Sanyuanqian Zhan we take a taxi out to a far industrial area. The museum is in an unused railway complex. Maybe a Chinese person reading this can tell us why the big complex is closed and abandoned. Did they build it too far from people? Did heavy industry move to another city? We don't know why this big area is no longer in use. It is great for housing and displaying at least 40 locomotives, passenger and other cars under one huge roof with translucent skylights. Japanese, French, UK, American and Soviet locomotives before 1950, after all Chinese made. In front is a little switcher looking like a little black Thomas engine, heisede Thomas the children call it. Thomas car toys are for sale in the gift shop with Chinese railway collectibles.
Art District 798 is on the way back and is a surprise favorite place for Bruce since it is all one huge 1950's factory area given over to artists. Impressive with a lot of western 20's and 30's technology preserved and incorporated into ultra modern glass and masonry structures built in 1990's for trendy architecture and design offices, art studios and galleries. Built by East Germans in 1950s for an electronics factory, it is one of a few Bauhaus examples still existant found around the world. Delicious ham and cheese sandwich with fries and spicy pasta with coffee al fresco in late afternoon sun. 140K $22.
Bruce found the mother lode coal loading gantry surrounded by a network of conveyor belts, gas works tank, little pipes with steam condensate clouds, exposed asbestos pipe lagging everywhere. Inside one gallery lit by candles, Tibetan monks were making a big sand painting mandala, scraping metal funnels to jiggle colored pigments out the narrow mouth grain by grain into intricate pattern.
Grabbed a taxi and got back to subway station and the long ride home.
Sunday we traveled by bullet train to Tianjin the 6th largest city in PRC (People's Republic China) in a beautiful setting on the Hai River near the Bohai Gulf with a beachy climate and clean air the day we visited. Located at the Northern most end of the Grand Canal built in the Sui Dynasty 589-618AD, it has always been an important city. It was also the location of an incident in 1856 when Chinese tried to defeat British and French opium smuggling. At the end of the Second Opium War in 1858 China was forced to open Tianjin to foreign trade (opium trade). And it presently is one of five cities home to the most active Chinese criminal gangs.
Western nations have had concessions and garrisons in Tianjin over the previous century and it was occupied by Japanese in 30's until 1945. One of the world's fastest supercomputers is located at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin. In 1906 it had the first city-wide tramway system in China. The main railway station was built in 1892 and rebuilt from scratch in 1988. A bonsai friend of mine, Frank Bardella, lived here with his family before immigrating to San Francisco when he was eight years old in 1950.
I was excited to find large, in ground Lu Tian Pen Jing Fraxinus hupehensis Chu Shang et Su, Chinese Ash recently transplanted in the plaza in front of the Tianjin Railway Station.
Bruce is impressed by the size of the bullet train station in Beijing, called the South Railway Station and is about 16 stops down subway line #4 from Peking University. There is no parking problem, people get there by subway. The impressive stations are huge, cavernous, but beautiful and lit with natural light, many shops and cafes and seating for everyone waiting. Bullet trains are coming and going every 10-15 minutes. Our track was elevated on a raised concrete roadbed from Beijing to Tianjin so things can pass underneath.
There are perhaps three classes of seats, coach, business and first class with western style washrooms. There is a snack bar in the center of the train. Coach class has 5 seats across with an aisle in the center. Business class has 4 seats with a center aisle. The seats are built on locking devices which only take a few minutes to turn around, wash all the windows and go the other direction. It costs 55K $8.67 one way for coach to travel 69 miles or 112 kilometers. The train travels 178mph or 287km/h top speed, quietly and smoothly, only taking about 30 minutes. We pass farmland with smokestacks and groups of apartments to protect farms from being eaten up with housing like in the US.
Looking at California doing high speed, it will never be able to compete with what the Chinese have done. Our farmers are tying it up with lawsuits and the airplane mafia is unhappy, says Bruce.
The Beijing subways have a light board above each door showing the progress of the train. The tracks are sealed off from the people with big glass walls. Two sets of doors at the station platform line up perfectly so people can't fall off the platform onto the tracks. We've been working on high speed rail, spent billions of dollars paying 'experts' to study and going nowhere with it, adds Bruce.
November 14 Bruce's last day we started with French Toast at home. Bruce shopped and found German strawberry jam, organic eggs, fab bread. We had lunch at Pizza Hut International, a classy restaurant with full menu of international dishes with Chinese characteristics.
We had individual pizzas one shrimp and smoked salmon with mustard sauce and green pepper, the other popcorn shrimp with peppers and onions. French mushroom soup, cappuccino. We were stuffed! Afterwards we biked around Wudaokoulooking for smokestacks and found a gas station, visited my tailor and paid my bill. We ended the day with a full body therapeutic massage in a room for two 360K $57 1 hour.
Out the window the bright fall sky lights up leaves falling in big piles on the side of the hutong alley. Magpies swoop through bare poplar branches. Clouds of steam and smoke roil out of a tall smokestack in the near distance. I am planning a 3 week visit to California in December to visit my family. I just learned that Bruce has bladder cancer and will be going in for surgery on December 7.
Hui tou jian