Thursday, June 2, 2016

Day 18 – 30 May Beijing to Shenyang

One of the primary requirements to apply for the Limca Book of Records is the log sheets of the expedition. It is a given format and has details of places of stay, attestation, mile-o-meter readings, etc. I get the format printed in A3 size before the start of an expedition and keep them in a stiff plastic folder. So it was with the Trans-Siberian. I had got them diligently filled and attested at every place of overnight stay till the last halt in Taiyuan. When we checked out of Home Inn in Taiyuan I remember Andy handing over the folder to me after getting it attested at the hotel front desk. During the drive I keep the folder beside me near the driver’s seat. Last evening I mentioned to Andy that we have to get the log sheet attested before we leave Beijing. When we returned from dinner I popped over to the car to retrieve the folder of log sheets…and it was missing. I hastily went to the room to check if it was there. It was not in there either.  Andy called up the hotel in Taiyuan to confirm if the folder had been left behind there. It wasn’t. I started reconstructing the details of arriving at Home Inn in Beijing on 28th. It struck me that I had taken the folder out of the car once it was parked in the yard. The folder had to be in the hotel somewhere. I must have left it at the reception at the time of checking in.

I could not believe that I could be so careless. It has never happened in the past. Andy was certain that had it been at the reception the staff would have noticed and called us to return it. Anyway, the folder had been misplaced and I have to reconstruct it and convince the Limca Book of Records team to accept the reconstruction. However, I have other supporting documents to prove the trail till now. More than all that was the tremendous feel of guilt and sadness. I had bothered so many people to attest the log sheets and they had readily done so. All though the drive from Beijing to Shenyang my mind refused to let go of that loss and I was uncomfortably quiet the entire day.

I changed the morning routine. The breakfast was bypassed. I had a cup of coffee with some bread left over from the purchase in Dali! Once Andy was done with the breakfast I brought the car in from the yard. Andy affixed the sticker against Beijing, which signified the achievement of another important milestone in the expedition. Many passersby stopped to observe the ‘strange ritual’. By 7.45 we were in the car and on the way. The distance was over 650 km. The highway roads remained steadfastly good, with exceptions of road repair and certain patches with poor surfacing. Two bio breaks and another for fueling were the only stoppages en route. This brought us to Home Inn in Shenyang by 2.45 pm. The Home Inn accommodation has been quite adequate wherever we have stayed and it is really budget. This one in Shenyang is just Yuan 104, equivalent of Rs, 1100, with attached private bath and two large twin beds!

Sightseeing in Shenyang will have to wait, I told Andy. Uppermost in my mind was the reconstruction of the lost log sheets. Andy took me to a printing cum photocopy center once the bags were put in the room. I got my work done without too much of fuss once we located the right one. The empty log sheets lifted half the gloom that had almost completely enveloped me. Sensing my mood Andy had left me alone in the car on the seven hour journey! Once the printing was done I realized that I have a stomach too and not just a heart. We saw a meat rice restaurant close by and feasted on pork steak and rice. It was not just the hunger, it was the preparation too. The food was glorious. It was a portion of tender pork ribs cooked in juicy steak sauce. With a cup full of rice in it I feasted as if I had been starving the past week!

Andy mentioned that the Imperial Palace in Shenyang would close to visitors by 5 pm. I did not have the legs to do a detailed tour of another royal palace. Time did not matter if it was to only walk around the perimeter of the palace. The city of Shenyang is the largets city in North East China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. The Qing dynasty that ruled China from the 17th to the 20th century hailed from here. The palace was where the Qing dynasty was founded in 1618, which reflects distinct Manchu style architecture, and hence, its claim to fame. Important is the fact that the Qing emperors were not considered to be ‘Chinese’ in the real sense. They were a minority from the North East, called Man, as against the majority Han. It is interesting to note that China has 56 communities, of which the Han are over 90%! Hence, the family size restriction enforced by the government applied only to the Han people and not to the rest. The Man also look different, I thought. Their faces are rounder and their complexion is not as sallow as that of the Han. Besides, they laughed more readily and seemed friendlier! The temperature in Shenyang goes down to as low as -30 degrees during winter and the streets are covered in thick snow from November to early April. Even this evening the air was decidedly cooler with a chill nip in it.

Besides the large imperial palace, Shenyang is also famous for Marshal Zhang who is revered as one of the greatest Army veterans of the time of Mao and Chiang Kai-shek. He brought about temporary truce between the two to fight the common enemy, Japan. The Marshal had only the interests of China at heart. He lost out with his ‘boss’ Chiang Kie-shek and was later ‘honorably settled’, a euphemism for exile. His mansion and working quarters are places of tourist interest. The stately statue of this proud son of Shenyang dominates the Square.

Once I got back to the room after the visit to the city I chose to spend the next hour and more to reconstruct the log sheets. I had most of the data in the laptop and the rough journal. The first ten days of the expedition in India and Myanmar was self-attested and the journey through China was attested by Andy in the reconstructed log sheets. I have decided to keep the log sheets in a flexible plastic folder in my overnighter so that I do not misplace it again!

Uwe, my new found friend in Germany, had given me the contact of Andrey in Vladivostok, to help me out with any issues I may have there. Prime among what I wanted done there was the servicing of the car before starting the Trans-Siberian drive. Andrey seemed confident that I would be able to get that done without any hassle. Besides, he agreed to get the car insurance done too, for which I sent him all the documents. Later he got back to ask if I already have an international car insurance. I didn’t and told him so. It was then decided that I would try and get the formalities done at the border, failing which Andrey would help me with that in Vladivostok. He cautioned me that I should get a particular form filled in at the Immigration without fail. He also told me that he would be willing to speak to anyone should I encounter any problem at the border. With friends like these challenging days turn out to be blessings!

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