Wednesday, 4 April 2007

The start of another adventure!

And so begins another journey, I catch the 8 pm train from Nanjing to Shanghai. A journey that would normally take 3-4 hours depending on how many stops the trains decided to make on the way! However this time the journey would be completed in less than 2 hours – all thanks to the new high speed “Bullet” train, which has just begun to carry passengers across the flat plains of the Jiangsu province. The train will eventually connect Shanghai to the capital Beijing, in less than 5 hours – a journey that would currently take you 10-12 hours by train, be impossible by car, and once you’ve braved the journeys to and from the airports, probably the same time it would take by air.

The trains themselves are a testament to the ever-increasing confidence of this new China. Not content with a bustling flight service they have been busy improving the rail and road networks between the incredibly large city’s that span the eastern coast of China. Spotlessly clean with more legroom than an upper class seat on a BA flight, they whisk you along at over 250 kph, you can sit there in all the splendor of 1st class train travel, and think that you were anywhere in the civilized world – and then someone opens to toilet door!

Whilst I have no desire to discuss what happens in the toilets in China, anyone who travels here will quickly find out for themselves that toilets in public areas are best left to the locals. The advice I give to all visitors is to ensure that wherever they are in the country, they now where the nearest decent hotel is located – and never be more than a brisk walk or 10 minute taxi ride away! The reason I mention it in this case, is mainly due to the fact that the train I am sitting on, isn’t any older than 2 months, and the levels of cleanliness would put the NHS to shame (although I’m not sure that’s such a good analogy these days!), so how could the toilets smell so foul? Well one thought is that all Chinese toilets don’t have a U Bend, I am not a plumber so the need for a U Bend, isn’t something I could argue for or against! The fact that they don’t have a pedestal, a lack of disinfectant, poor diets?, I am clutching at straws here! What I do know is that regardless of how new the toilets are, you will never need to learn the Chinese for “Could you please direct me to the bathroom?” as your nose will inform you of the direction to the nearest convenience from over 50 feet away. A pungent smell that attacks the hairs up your nose, and quickly creates pools of tears to well up in your eyes, one thing is for sure, you either get used to it, or train your body to become extremely regular.

Back to the reason for the journey, I’m traveling to Shanghai, in order to catch an early flight to Tokyo. This will be my first visit; to a place I have always wanted to travel to. Voted the most exciting city in the world for 3 of the last 3 years, I’m just praying that someone’s definition of exciting isn’t because you never know if your going to get hit by an earthquake, tsunami or volcano! As the largest city in the world (in terms of the shear number of people – 17.5 million at the last count) I can only imagine a crowded, incredibly busy, and horrendously noisy environment. However I somehow feel it will be far more sophisticated than many parts of China. After all Japan has led the way for all of the other far eastern Asian country’s to follow. Creating a vast economic wealth, and dominated most of the consumable products we have now come to reply on so much, including cars, computers, TV’s, DVD’s players and games consoles. Yes they may rely on China to make most of them – but everyone knows where the real power is held, especially in terms of research and development. It’s a country that has enormous financial strength, yet keeps a strong hand in the manufacturing pot at the same time – an economic model that seems to have past over the heads of those in power in the UK recently!

Unfortunately my reasons for visiting Japan, are “Top Secret”, or at least that’s what I have been told, leading to visions of self destructing agendas, and exchanges of micro-film in busy train stations. Alas I don’t think that the journey will be as exciting as my imagination would allow, but at least it gives me the opportunity to visit another great Asian country, and outside of work I have managed to plan a trip to the Toyota Museum in Nagoya. I read somewhere that they have some very good examples of MG’s, Morris’s and Austin’s stored next to the 70 years worth of Toyota’s best and worst creations. I am keen to understand what inspiration MG provided Toyota with over the years, they obviously have a fondness for them, to have put them in their museum – I wouldn’t expect a Toyota Camry or Picnic finding much room in a Jaguar or Ford museum! I should get my chance to ask the curators, as a friendly supplier has kindly arranged a guided tour with one of the “Senior” people from Toyota – its strange the doors, a friendly white face can open, or is it the MG brand association that helps? Either way when opportunities face you - grasp them with both hands, and wrap your legs tightly around them before they slip away! Other highlights for the trip, Well mount Fuji, appears pretty high, as does the Sony museum, Elvis impersonators in the Park, Japanese punks, and hopefully some great Sushi and chilled Sake. Yes I did say chilled – I know James Bond likes his at a constant 98.4 Fahrenheit, but I have to admit that its tastes much better chilled, either way it certainly makes the Karaoke sound much better.

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