The bus ride from Baiyin to Lanzhou is through some rather bleak landscape. Predominantly grey and brown there is much evidence that the people are trying to do something with it, in the form of ruler straight rows of young trees planted across the otherwise barren hillsides. Sandy roads weave between the peaks and ridges and tiered stone walls protect the main road from land slippage. Everywhere there are holes and caves. I speculated on what they might be - dwellings, evidence of old mine workings, evidence of planned levelling of the ground. It was all speculation though and I'm no wiser now than I was before.
There are frequent concrete drainage culverts and a great spiders web of power and telegraph lines running near the road.
After some confusion with prices when buying the tickets we had boarded the bus for Lanzhou at the Baiyin station and started down the forty-five minute route. The demarcation between the city and the surrounding desert was sharp and now, as we approached Lanzhou the demarcation was equally prominent. One minute we were driving on a straight highway through that landscape and the next we were passing a series of advertisements for mooncake and then into the city.
Looking up, Lanzhou was impressively modern. Skyscrapers in all sorts of designs towered above us and around us. At street level it was more typically Chinese. Rows of smaller shops with open fronts plied their trade. We disembarked and set about the tasks that we wanted to achieve. Lacking a map we set off in a random direction. We were planning to stay two days and needed to find rooms at a hotel. The first problem, of course, was how to find a hotel. We had Chinese to enable us to ask and didn't even know the written down symbols to recognise on the fronts of buildings.
Across the street I saw the word "Bookshop" in English.
We crossed and went in. After a lot of picking up and pointing, we left with a map of the city (all in Chinese), our current location marked on it, the location of a street with hotels also marked on it and a pocket sized Chinese-English dictionary: the latter to facilitate the "point and look hopeful" school of communication.
We went on our way but were distracted by a department store. The store occupies the first six floors of a very high tower and promised us cafes and bars on the sixth floor. Sadly all access to said floor was blocked as it was, we gathered being renovated. WHat was interesting was the electronics and electrical goods floor, at least half of which was devoted to 3D TV. There were, as far as I could tell, four rival systems on offer and huge demonstrations of each. It was impressive stuff and shows just how far China's revolution in consumerism has advanced.
What space wasn't taken up with 3D TV was largely kitchen electricals but also included a decent sized display of massage chairs retailing at around 3000 pounds.
We, of course, left the store without buying anything.
Not so the next, far tinier store, selling music and DVDs where we purchased a selection of DVD TV series. The packaging gives it away. None of this stuff is officially licensed. Inside an impressively put together box a smaller cardboard sleeve contains a plastic bag with a DVD in it. Boxed sets of TV series are in the kind of sleeve you buy in packs of fifty but then put inside a printed copy of a sleeve where the words Season 1 have the addendum " to 5" added in a different typeface. Most telling of all the two Hulk movies are packaged on a single disc and I can't see anyone involved in the second movie allowing the abomination that is the first movie to be packaged that way.
On we went, still looking for a hotel but now also looking for food. According to my map reading we would soon reach a junction where a right turn would put us on the road to the railway station, and into a district where I knew from the internet that there were some decent cheaper hotels to be found.
Parts 2 and 3 will follow later.
Dracula in Translation.
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