Saturday 19 April 2014

On obstacles and their removal...

Day 19 - on a bus somewhere between Chengdu and Xi'an - approx.  6743km traveled

Well it had to happen... everything's been going smoothly but as we sat down a couple of days ago to figure out our journey onward to Xi'an and Beijing, we discovered all the trains—there are a dozen or more trains a day but they serve a population of 1.3 billion—were full for days! Since we couldn't get full details or make travel bookings without getting back to civilization, we also couldn't book accommodation and the hostel in Chengdu, which was nearly empty 5 days ago, was suddenly nearly full.
We arrived back late yesterday afternoon and, after whizzing around to train and bus stations and our first night in a shared dorm, we've managed to get things back on track. We're now whipping along a very good divided highway, past lovely scenery, on an 11-hour bus trip, actually shorter than the train would have been.
This is my first trip of this kind since backpacking around Australia/NZ in 2005 and it's amazing what a difference a smartphone and prevalent free WiFi make:
  • the first time my bank blocked my card I was able to unblock it simply by replying to an SMS;
  • the second time they blocked it I was able to use Skype to call them from our hotel;
  • Google maps with a GPS is a great help in navigation, particularly now that I've figured out the non-intuitive way of caching a map (that's assuming you can find the address in Japanese/Chinese characters in the first place, of course);
  • at least in Tokyo, being able to search for transit routes made a complex train system manageable;
  • having a translator with me is wonderful, particularly in China where I can sort of draw the characters (Google Translate has a mode where it scans an image for text to translate which is amazing but unfortunately requires an active Internet connection);
  • we have all our notes, documents, and bookings in Google Drive and TripIt, which means they're all to hand and backed up online;
  • we can write blog posts and keep up on email during long train/bus rides; and
  • every Starbucks suddenly becomes an Internet café, much much nicer than any of the dark, dingy places I frequented for an hour or so every few days last time I did this (and I don't need to worry about shared computers capturing my passwords).
So that's been amazing, and I didn't expect things to have changed so much: I nearly didn't bring my phone.


Piersj said...

doesnt this only work with very high end android devices? looks like an amazing adventure

Julian Fitzell said...

Hmm... I have a MotoG so definitely not "very high end", though it is pretty new.