My original intention had been to fly to Guilin for my Spring Break but when I decided to break my trip in Xi-An to visit some other teachers who work near there it seemed more sensible to take the train. Baiyin is not an easy place to get to and, equally important, not an easy place to get away from. Plane or train, first you have to take an hour's bus ride to Lanzhou. Erika was also travelling out on the day so we shared a cab to the bus station and in Lanzhou tried to get a cab from the stand outside the bus station to go to Pizza Hut for lunch - in my case because I had taken a vow that for the duration of my trip I would eat no Chinese food at all, having no choice but Chinese food in Baiyin*.
I say "tried" because with the help of a friendly fellow traveller we discovered that the drivers had decided that as it was Chinese New Year's Eve they would run unmetered and charge ten times the normal price. Our friend told us that if we just walked along to the corner we would easily find a metered cab and not get ripped off.
He was correct and soon we were happily having our large pizza lunches.
At the station we were on separate trains and sent to separate waiting rooms. I found myself a little bewildered by the total lack of signage that was even in pinyin, let alone English and the total lack of anyone who spoke any English to assist me. In a bizarrely random attempt to help a station guard enlisted another passenger - who also spoke no English - to help me through the process of catching my train.
My Chinese is rougly at the level of "Hello, Goodbye, One beer please" and her English was on a par with it. However she was young and pretty and friendly and somehow, in spite of the utter lack of each other's languages I managed to find out that her name was Elen; she worked as a TV presenter on the local TV station; she was visiting her family in Xi-An for New Year, she liked the pop star singing on the televised New Year TV show and she didn't like noisy fireworks but did like coloured ones. We even managed to exchange emails and phone numbers. I never have that much success with women who I share a language with. It was quite a pleasant interlude.
Had I been able to I would probably have talked more with her about that TV show. It was, as I said, Chinese New Year's Eve which is calculated by a set of rules far to arcane for my poor brain to cope with and which this year was 22nd January. As a result outside the giant glass windows there were fireworks and explosions that looked like an invasion from Mars, inside people were handing out traditional plates of New Year dumplings and on the TV was the Chinese equivalent of our Hogmany shows with all the traditional elements - singing, dancing, comedy sketches, interviews with high-ranking military officers - that kind of thing.
Finally the crowd started to shift and mumble. I had no idea what signal had caused this but evidently the train was there so I followed my new friend to the gate and once through she escorted me to my carriage and my berth and when she was sure I knew where I was going said goodbye.
I settled into my quite comfortable bottom berth and went to sleep.
Ten hours later I woke in Xi-AN.
(*Well, there is one single branch of KFC, but there is almost no western food in the city.)