■ 23:11 (UTC+08:00), 22 FEB 2018 | CHN HOHHOT, INNER MONGOLIA
Next Station: China is loved by many a station — and feared by many a microphone. I say this after going through two Shure USB mics — Mic 1 dying in Qinghai (after nearly 100 stations), and Mic 2 dying in Inner Monglia (just about another 150 stations). Thankfully, I had my “blue bag” (an extremely helpful gift from the rails) with me, with two wired microphones — the regular-sized ones, not unlike maybe the ones Teresa Teng used in concert (because they’re wired and they’re not shotgun — so they’re not really “reporter mics”). I was about to plug the USB mic in as I arrived at Hohhot Main Station — then the bloody USB connector broke. The useless lemon!
Oh well, it was time to look “reporter-ish”, then, instead of merely “documentary-ish”…
The one stop before this, when I did want to pop on the handheld mic (due to heavy winds), was Mt Zhuozi, or Zhuozishan, station. It was absolutely brilliant, with an old station building on Platform 1 harking back to the Republican era (1912-1949; this one was from 1936). Not only has the old station building been well-preserved, it’s also found a second life as a station museum. Some of the rail treasures they’ve there are from rail departments that have now disappeared (“Branch Railway Bureaus?” No longer there!).
Zhuozishan’s faster equivalent is Zhuozi East, and there, I got to do my very first Rail English lesson to China Raliway Hohhot, thus having done lessons for half of the entire rail network by regional rail bodies. (9 out of 18!) Everyone had my attention — even security crew! (Of course, there’s nothing “wrong/incorrect” about getting your Rail English right!)
Inner Mongolia is not a complete stranger to me — Tracy and I visited the place as early as summer 2014 (we started out in Duolun, a rather spartan-and-less-well-off part), and went out to Xulun Hor and Taibus Banner further west (slightly better developed). Our first proper introduction to Cosmopolitan-ish Inner Mongolia was from November 2017, when we gave Ulanqab/Jining a visit. (Both localities are known, and both have their own stations: Jining Main for freight, Jining South for Classic Rail as well as few HSR services; and Ulanqab for HSR traffic only.)
But this was the first time we’d come out this far out to Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Both Tracy and I were totally in love with horses, so we found plenty of that there. It also had an epic High Speed station.
And finally, proper station names!
There was also Baotou and Baotou East on the to-do lists. The food wasn’t exactly “all-Mongolian”, but I found more inland as in Beijing tastes more to my liking. Still, it was by a station which also had a fair bit of rail history inside the departures hall: old railway uniforms!
Baotou East had that seriously Sino-Sov appearance, but don’t let that put you off, for the interior of the station is actually not that bad. Especially the wall art…
The trip out from Jining South (not Ulanqab) was a bit odd, though. I’ve not really done my homework that much, so I thought we’d merge onto the High Speed line. Nope, but we got a Rapid Rail line nonetheless — at 160 km/h (100 mph). (The High Speed line would be optimised for 250 km/h, or 157 mph.) This would be running parallel to the new HSR line for the whole stretch from Ulanqab/Jining to Hohhot, until we’d hit Hohhot East Station.
Next to it, of course, was the High Speed line, part of the express rail link from Beijing out to Baotou, then further beyond to maybe Lanzhou…
And finally, plenty of Mongolian to learn, whether on the rails, or on the roads…
I prefer Welsh maybe a bit more. At least I know something in Cymru. Araf — Slow. Diwedd — End (I think). And stuff like that… Mongolian is just too different (but hey, that’s not a valid excuse!…) ■ ■ ■