I was glad I already had a ticket out of Beijing
I met two English girls who had flown to the capital from Hong Kong. They spent five days looking at the sights and then wanted to go on to Xi'an.
"But we can't get a ticket for another five days. That means ten days in Beijing, and we've only got a fortnight!"
I shared the hard-sleeper section to Hohhot with Ruth and Claire, Australian and Canadian nurses; a Hong Kong Chinese girl on a two year world-tour; and a friend of hers from Beijing, who worked as a French-speaking tour-guide.
Lying in our bunks, I talked to Ruth about Bruce Chatwin's book 'The Songlines', and she remembered some incidents she had treating intoxicated Aborigines:
"One fella came in so pissed that I asked him, how much he had drunk. When he said four, I thought he meant bottles; but it was four flagons. That's how they treat alcohol," she told me, "just keep drinking until they pass out or have an accident."
"Another time an Abo came came in with a big cut on his leg. When we asked him what had happened, he said his woman had stabbed him with a flagon. Later, a woman came in with a wound to her stomach and she said that her man had stabbed her with a flagon."
It turned out that the woman had found her husband in bed with another woman, and attacked him with a broken flagon bottle. He in turn used it to inflict a wound on her. Both bleeding, they wandered around the hospital concerned about the welfare of the other one.
Then we talked about the Dreaming and land rights. From the top bunk Claire had an interesting Canadian tale:
"A German guy was deported from Canada for not having a valid visa," she said. "Then the cheeky son-of-a-bitch comes back and gets adopted by an Indian family. Now he's an Indian citizen and they're petitioning a land rights case for him!"
The girls were going to tour the Grasslands, I wanted to check the outward ticket possibilities first.
"The CITS tour is bound to be expensive and in FEC, why don't you enquire about the local rate?" I suggested.
"Yeah, we could spend half a day trying to find someone," Ruth said, and put away her guidebook.