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Full Circle

Day 73: Nanning

Michael Palin - Full Circle7.30 a.m. We are stopped outside the functional green-and-yellow concrete canopy of the station at Liuzhou, chief industrial city of Guangxi. Not a remarkable place. Basil tells me that the best coffin-wood in China comes from here.

After Liuzhou we are into the rough limestone scenery known as karst. Peaks of every shape and size are distinguished only by the degree of abruptness with which they spring from the landscape. We pass oleander bushes and cactus walls and bedding airing in the sunshine. Red-walled mud brick houses have replaced the grey stone. We're finally out of the mountains we've been amongst since we left Yichang eleven days ago. Mercifully we are also out of the coal measures. The difference is distinct and encouraging. The air is clearer, lighter and warmer. The pace of life looks slower. Bicycles lean against tall, wilting eucalyptus trees and their owners sleep beside them.

At Nanning station there is a fully operational 2-10-0 steam engine complete with smoke deflectors. It looks as though it has been made out of scrap metal. The drivers think I'm mad the way I stare at it. Clearly they don't have trainspotters in China. They tell me, with considerable satisfaction, that steam locomotives like this will all be in museums by 1998. Then, with a fierce opening of the valves and a jetting of white steam, the great beast heaves its way clear of the station, and snorts and snuffles off into the distance. I ask where it's going and am told that it's a local, running down to the coast. The coast! To my utter disbelief, the Pacific, masquerading as the Gulf of Tongking, is now less than 100 miles away.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 73
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Nanning
  • Book page no: 106

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