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Steam in China, February 2009

by Ameling Algra

Jalainur, Jixi

On February 13, I left for my 28th China trip. Originally I intended to go to Shibanxi and Sandaoling, but I changed my schedule into Jalainur and Jixi, because of the imminent changes there. I flew KLM Brussels-Amsterdam-Beijing and Shenyang-Beijing-Amsterdam-Antwerp (last leg by train). Which sounds a bit silly as I live 20 minutes from Schiphol Airport, but flying from and to Belgium saves a couple of hundred euros!

Feb 14-16: Jalainur

Arrival in Beijing was on Saturday Feb 14 at 9.45 AM, and just fifteen minutes later I was walking to terminal 1 for the Hainan Airlines flight to Manzhouli (public joy ticket, 420 Yuan plus 200 tax). Waiting in the round terminal 1 building evokes memories of the happy gricing years in the previous century/millennium….
The plane left on time and arrived on time in Manzhouli, where the staff announced that the temperature was minus 31 degrees Celsius with strong winds and snow. After collecting my luggage, I hurried into a taxi; the driver was willing to drive me to Jalainur for 150 Yuan. A bit more than the meter fare, but I was glad to have found a taxi! He recognised the hotel used by Adrian Freeman from the photograph in his November report and got me there quickly and comfortably. I found the hotel barely OK (considering that given the poor weather, I might spend quite a lot of time in my hotel room) so went to the Jalainur Binguan instead – overpriced at 180 Yuan but comfortable and clean.
The weather improved slightly the next day so I went to Daqiao in the morning and the open pit in the afternoon, a session repeated Feb 16. Everything as it should be – I was lucky to see no diesel departure from the washery, and the pit was full of activity – and full of gricers, but it is a big hole so no problem.

Practical info about Jalainur
Hotels: the hotel mentioned and used by Adrian Freeman is conveniently in the centre of town (15 to 20 minutes walking from the pit), and cheap at 60 Yuan. But not very high standard, though everything seemed to work in the bathroom.
The Jalainur Binguan is the big red building at the station square of Jalainur Xi, clean, comfortable, friendly and helpful staff. But definitely overpriced at RMB180; hot water from 19.30 only.
The other option, used by many groups, is to stay in Manzhouli which probably has a much better choice of hotels & restaurants. But as it involves a daily trip to and from Manzhouli, and the Binguan really is OK, I don’t see any reason to stay there. I liked to be able to return to the hotel for lunch and a bit of rest and warming up, which would have been difficult when staying in Manzhouli.
The restaurant in the Binguan is also overpriced. Across the road there are several apartment blocks with stores on the ground floor. The first one is a decent restaurant. On the corner of the next block is an internet café.
Buses 2 and 20 run frequently into the town centre from where it is a 15 minutes walk to Daqiao or the pit. Or there are buses going there, albeit less frequent. Taxis in Jalainur are all metered these days so no hassle. A taxi trip from Daqiao or the open pit back to the hotel was RMB11.

Feb 17, 18: to Jixi

While some might find it adventurous to go to China without a guide, I find it too much of an adventure to use overnight trains – without a proper toilet, and with the risk of an entire coach angry at me snoring. So I decided to take the day train from Jalainur Xi (6.55) to Harbin (20.10), a long but not uninteresting ride in hard seat. Checked the Kunlun Hotel in Harbin which was full because of the Harbin 2009 Winter Olympiad, so got a room in the Longyun next to the bus station (RMB158).
Next morning, I went to the bus station. It is straight across the station square from the railway station, between the Bei Bei and Long Yun hotels. Ticket office on the second floor, ticket window for Jixi is window number one where I was told that the first bus with an available seat was at 11AM. So I thought I could get there quicker by train; went to the railway station and got a ticket for N1 to Mudanjiang leaving at 8.15. Unfortunately, since December the double deck coaches have been replaced by standard Y25 coaches – so no more soft seat. And the train was very crowded as well. In Mudanjiang, onto the bus to Jixi which left at 13.30 and arrived in Jixi some 2 hours later. Walked from the bus station to the railway station where I checked into the Jixi Fandian (RMB100 a night).

Feb 19-25: Jixi

I spent seven full days in Jixi which sounds a bit much, but I enjoyed every day and would have loved to stay longer! Some days the weather was dull, followed by snow at night. But then the next day sun again, and a fresh layer of snow. Chengzihe and Didao kept me busy all seven days – usually Chengzihe in the morning, Didao in the afternoon, with a lunch break at the hotel.

I quote what I wrote to the Steam_in_China forum the day I left Jixi:
One day in Jixi:
Left the hotel yesterday at 6.30 AM, a clear and sunny day. By bus 3 to Chengzihe (1 yuan). Just in time to see and film a loaded train from Dongsheng to the washery - steep climb. Then on to the servicing point, where two locos were being serviced. Heavy train with empties struggling along- against the sun but excellent video! Then on to Dongsheng where the parade was not as good as some other days - five locos present, wind blowing in the wrong direction. So after some shots I decided to go to Zhengyang. Go to the main road (concrete, on Bernd's map) and take a bus from there to Zhengyang - 1.5 Yuan. Arrive there 8.45. At 9.15, the "regular" spoil train arrives. Pushing the train, but a fine sight. I expect it to leave soon, but instead there is a train of empties from Dongsheng. Tender first, but a magnificent sight on the climb into Zengyang. The train of empties is the first to leave, now chimney first of course. And about 15 minutes later followed by the spoil train, also chimney first. Took the bus that was waiting at the level crossing, back to Jixi (2 yuan); in my hotel at 10.30, time for an early lunch (sausage wrapped in pancake, with vegetables) for 1 yuan. Pay the hotel for one more night (Y100). Then at 11.30 out again, to Didao (Y2.5). Lots of activity there in excellent light, then at 16.30 I call it a day and go back to the hotel (Y2.5), with 80 minutes of excellent video! Have a coffee in my hotel room, then to my favourite restaurant for an excellent and filling meal (Y10). Then it is time to shower, listen to some music and get an early rest. I wish I could have stayed longer! This has definitely been one of my most relaxing and rewarding trips so far. But along comes a sad feeling: this is gricing how I enjoyed it - no chasing around with taxis but relaxed walking around seeing all the activity. But I realise this may have been one of my last trips this way - there won't be much left next winter. Maybe I'll ''do'' Shibanxi and Sandaoling in the near future, and then it is over - nothing left but memories and - luckily - super8 and video to watch.

Practical info about Jixi
Most of this is already mentioned in other reports, but for convenience summarised here.
See my October 2008 report for a sketch of the station area.
Hotels: the Jixi Fandian near the railway station is very good value at RMB100 a night. Some others stayed at the Long Fu hotel around the corner – I did one night in 2005, but it turned out to be rather run down (and not cheaper than the Jixi Fandian). Most groups stay at the National Territories Resources Mansion (NTR Mansion), big hotel near one of the river bridges. More posh than the Jixi Fandian, also a suitable location, not really expensive (I was quoted RMB160 in December but saw RMB140 advertised in February). The room I had for one night in December was a bit run down.
Photo opportunities: around the washery at Didao Hebei they are easily found walking. Around the washery, nice industrial background. Or up the spoil tip, which I found a bit disappointing. Good spots with typical Chinese housing on the line to Didao (trains to/from CNR and to/from the power station – trains to the power station are pushed).
Around Chengzihe – see Bernd’s excellent map. The line to Zhengyang is nice, with trees along the rough road (the road is very busy however). Zhengyang itself is a nice location, further on I did not find any good spots (and it is not always easy to follow the line walking). To the west, I was not really impressed. It seems to be difficult to make good pictures/video at the big bridge (if you are lucky to find a train). And of course the washery, the line up to the washery, the line up in Dongsheng for shift change and he servicing point are all excellent.
Transport: taxis are not metered so may overcharge. And are not really necessary as buses easily bring you everywhere; from the Jixi Fandian or the NTR Mansion.
For Chengzihe: bus 3, fare 1 yuan, every three or four minutes, starts from near the Jixi Fandian and passes the NTR Mansion.
To go to Zhengyang I took a bus from the petrol station at the start of the concrete road to the east (see Bernd’s map), near the toll gate. Difficult to find out which buses take the rough road afterwards, but then there is always the English speaking Chinese young lady to help you… Buses to Zhengyang are big blue ones lettered as in the picture which makes sense as it means Zhengyang.

Cost to Zhengyang was 1.5 yuan. Journey back (into Jixi town) was 2.0 yuan. These buses are also very frequent, maybe every 5 minutes or so. There are also plenty of buses along the concrete road to Xinghua, but they are less useful.
For Didao/Hebei: bus 24 along the station road, starts at bus station near NTR Mansion. Fare 2.5 yuan. Very frequent – not all buses are numbered. There seems to be a definite overcapacity which makes travelling for about 40 minutes not unpleasant (I almost always got a seat with plenty of leg room).

And then back home
Feb 26 I left Jixi for the journey back home. Bus to Harbin, comfortable, 137.5 yuan, 5 hours and 40 minutes. Then on to D174, the high speed train to Shenyang arriving 17.24. Checked into the four star Times Plaza hotel opposite the railway station – luxury and a soft bed for RMB288. Next morning off to the airport, plane to Beijing and then on to Amsterdam. A plane reservation from Shenyang to Beijing seems silly – I should have booked Harbin-Beijing instead, or should have taken the train all the way to Beijing. But my reservation was made when I thought that five days in Jixi were enough – my intention was to spend two days in Tiefa, in which case a reservation from Shenyang did make sense.
The journey on the plane was comfortable but too long as always – the main drawback was that the announced movie (Slumdog Millionaire) was not shown but a rather sad Woody Allen movie instead.
Total cost of the trip: just under €700 for the two plane tickets, and a bit less than €300 for two week’s stay including all other transport. No visa cost as my multiple entry visa was already paid for by my October and December visit. So total cost less than €1000,--, not bad.

Ameling Algra

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© 2009 Ameling Algra