It’s day four, so that must be why we are up at 4:30am. I’m now slightly regretting staying up so late with our friend Bish. We need to get a train from Beijing West. Beijing West is apparently one of the biggest train stations in Asia. We are off to Xi’an today. The taxi is quickly summoned and has us at Beijing West train station within half an hour. We have 90 minutes or thereabouts to find our train and pick up our tickets.
If ever you decide to journey to China, I can heartily recommend China Diy Travel.net. They do add a little bit of commission, but most Chinese train tickets only go on sale 31 days before departure and it is very difficult to buy as a non-Chinese resident. They can sell out quickly, especially in the summer.
The ticket office is labelled in English so we have to put our baggage through a scanner first. We join the queue. People seem to be sent away and everything seems to be taking a long time. Every once in a while someone pushes in the front of the queue apologising, the hands clasped in a prayer, and is served early. This seems to be an accepted practice.
We are at the front of the queue and blissfully, after handing over our passports and ticket reference, everything is in order. Efficiently, our tickets are printed and we vacate the ticket office. We now have to go to our left and enter the main station.
Our bags are scanned again and we enter through a security gate. Passports and tickets have to be presented again. We are able to see our train listed on the electronic board. All is going well, and we have over an hour to make our train.
The sheer size of this station is overwhelming. We have to wait in an area before our train arrives at the platform. Then, 15 minutes before the train is due to depart, the board changes from red to green. There is a mad rush when this happens. We are in first class, which is a step down from business class, but is about £90 for a six-hour journey. Everyone has a seat, even in second class, there is no overselling for trains.
Given we have not had breakfast and as we have time to spare, we decide to try a McDonald’s. This is somewhat problematic for me as the meat-free meal consists of an apple pie and a drink. This is the all-day, meat-free meal, as vegetarian burgers are not sold here.
We are able to find our seats and settle comfortably. Seats are in a two-to-two formation, recline and have wi-fi and a charging point. The wi-fi is somewhat complex but eventually I am able to open it via the WeChat app. It’s a fairly good speed. As expected the train departs exactly on time and swiftly builds up a speed. I settle down to read a little bit more of Simon Rickard’s excellent book ‘Wolves. Battles. Bakes.’
This is one of the high-speed bullet trains, and an experience I always wanted to undertake. The announcements over the tannoy are quite funny to us foreigners. Many of them relate to the care of children, keeping them in their seats, keeping them quiet, not letting them run around or go near the doors and also reminding you to only speak in a normal voice when using mobile phones. It’s a refreshing change from the UK where travel on trains and planes can be tiresome for these exact reasons.
The hostess brings us a bottle of water and a package containing I’m not quite sure what. Something looks like peas, there’s something that looks like a thin square of jelly, there really is a bit of a cultural and language barrier here. Greg has chewed at said piece of jelly and thinks it might be something that you put hot water to. Certainly, many of the passengers are carrying clear flasks with drinks in. I’m quite relieved that we brought some chocolate, crisps and biscuits for the journey. The journey is really flying by. When the train stops, people pile off the train, puff quickly on their cigarettes and hop back on. My husband is laughing at some of the signage on the platforms one of which, referring to litter, says ‘No tossing.’ Little minds!
At X’ian, We are meeting Brian Bai. He comes highly recommended as a tour guide for the terracotta warriors. He is going to pick us up, whisk us there in air-conditioned luxury and show us around. The weather app shows it’s 42 degrees C but feels like 45.
I’m able to catch up on adding potential new members to the Wolves-news Facebook group I help moderate. It can be a bit of a thankless task, but I like to see it as an extended Wolves family. People help one another out with lifts, tickets at face value and general news and views about the Wolves. Topics can get heated, but we try to retain a respectful community. A lot of the posters are moaning about the lack of transfer activity at Molineux. Greg and I prefer to sit back and watch as we have seen bad times and these aren’t bad times! We also trust in Nuno and the board. We can’t believe not only the beautiful football we have been watching but the grace with Nuno, Fosun and Laurie Dalrymple have handled the media, fans and the atmospheric rise to qualifying for the Europa League. Everything seems to work in complete unity and works well on and off the pitch.
I wonder how some of these fans would have coped when we went bust in the 1980s, when players were training on the car park, when the club shop was an old wooden hut at the back of the North Bank. Those really were dire times. I remember the old jokes about Wolves’ sad times. In one joke, Tommy Docherty, the then Wolves manager, was said to have approached one of the refugee Vietnamese boat people to offer him a playing contract at Wolves. Having offered him a professional deal at Wolves, the Vietnamese boat person said ‘sorry Mr Docherty, I’ve left one sinking ship already.’ Boom boom. I remember my father coming home and we lost again to Aldershot and it looked like Wolves’ days were numbered. He’d been crying. Sad times. The actions of Councillor John Bird and then subsequently Sir Jack Hayward will never be forgotten for their respective roles in ensuring that there is a Wolves FC for us to follow today.
I understand that people want success at Wolves, but Fosun have said they have a business plan and they are sticking to it. They haven’t failed so far. It’s clear, that as players are leaving, better players will be coming in to replace them. Now we now hear Ivan Cavaleiro is off to Fulham on loan for a season with a view to them buying him. Better players! Only 10 minutes ago it seemed we’d not seen a better player down the Wolves than Cav. I chat to Greg – we both think that we would have kept Helder Costa and Cav. We’ve seen a number of Europa League games with Glasgow Rangers, and those two in our opinion could have carried on and done a good job for us. Likewise Leo Bonatini.
In my opinion you have to look at our squad and say who would you bring in that is better than the squad we have currently? Surely anyone we bring in is only to bolster or supplement the squad. We don’t want to bring in someone big-headed who might spoil the camaraderie. We are, however, just fans, we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, we don’t know about fitness levels et cetera et cetera. We trust in Nuno.
We pull into Xi’an. It’s sweltering. Again, just exiting this station reminds you how very vast this country is. Brian is waiting for us, carrying a sign with my name on underneath the meeting point as he said he would.
It takes about 50 minutes to get to the terracotta warriors museum. We are taken for something to eat first. I declined, I really don’t like the look of that dish. I’m not very adventurous. Greg tucks into his noodles – he’s really got the hang of the chopsticks.
Brian is really knowledgeable chatting to us about the history of the terracotta warriors, what they are made of, the paint, how they were found and how archaeologists from all over the world come and study them. It is blisteringly hot. I have to say I’m really not that interested in the terracotta warriors; this was something Greg wanted to see. We get out of the restaurant to walk to the entrance and we are suddenly being knocked flying by thousands of people, all seemingly carrying parasols to protect them from the sun.
More than five million people a year come to see the terracotta warriors. I am used to big crowds having watched Wolves, England and Glasgow Rangers in over 50 countries, but it feels like all five million are here today. I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the fact that we are the only Westerners here and we really stand out, but I decide to beat a hasty retreat into KFC and their air-conditioning.
Greg and Brian go and look around the terracotta warriors. Brian explains that this is one of the busiest times of the year because the attractions are cheaper for students as they are on holiday. Greg said he enjoyed viewing the warriors and learning about the construction, how they were discovered, how it had all been preserved, but he found it a very oppressive experience. He said it’s not one he would repeat again.
We are taken back to our hotel for one night via the drum and belltower and a few more sights and Brian tells us where to try a bite to eat later. We are only here for one night and we wander up what is called the Muslim Quarter, which is known for its street food. We settle on some noodles and retire for an early night with some snacks for the train tomorrow.
It’s been an exhausting day, but the hotel is excellent, staff don’t speak any English at all, but I can’t criticise as that’s as much Mandarin as I speak. Tomorrow it’s a leisurely pace to Chengdu and on to see the pandas, this is one of the things I’m most looking forward to.