Passport in hand, I’m ready to travel!

Relief panel of Tujia and Miao culture outside a nearly completed  government building in QianZhou

Relief panel of Tujia and Miao culture outside a nearly completed government building in QianZhou

JISHOU, HUNAN — In the eight years since I came here, the city has grown in leaps and bounds.

Previously, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) was near the central business district, about 20 minutes from campus. But Jishou is included in the national development of western China (that is, west of the Beijing-Shanghai-Hong Kong corridor), so many of the government offices have moved or will move to brand spanking new quarters in QianZhou, south of Jishou proper.

Really, to be completely accurate, I should say QianZhou has grown in leaps and bounds. While Jishou expanded some, it’s constrained by natural borders: a river running west to east and mountains roughly perpendicular to the river. Tearing down the CBD and erecting new buildings is not feasible, especially when it’s easier to build on land to the south.

So, the PSB moved to new spacious — no, cavernous — offices on the southern perimeter of QianZhou, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from campus, roughly twice as far away as the old facilities. The area is so new that taxi drivers don’t even know where it is. I had to help him find it, since I’ve been there twice already.

My passport was all ready with a shiny new residence permit, and the officer I had been dealing with reminded me to follow all the laws of China this year. I wasn’t aware I had broken any, but I suppose she’s trying to impress upon me not to go visit any more schools, or even look like I’m working outside the university.

Coming back to campus, I took the bus, marveling at how the city has expanded so quickly in just eight years. Back then, the land the new PSB offices sit on was weeds, trees and grass. Maybe some people were living there. It’s been so long since I took that road to visit Fenghuang, now connected to Jishou by a superhighway, that I’ve forgotten exactly what was there.

Now the main north-south road is lined with restaurants, shops, big office buildings, banks, car dealerships, highrise apartments, and massively imposing government buildings, some still under construction.

Even the bus was new. It took me a few moments to realize it was an electric bus — eerily quiet as it pulled away from bus stops, and with much better brakes than the diesel ones.

Sometime this fall, Jishou will be linked to China’s ever-expanding high speed rail system. A spur is now under construction linking Huaihua to the south to Zhangjiajie to the north, with a possible extension across the Yangtze River into Hubei province. Huaihua is already connected to Changsha and Shanghai to the east by high speed rail. The western line will eventually terminate in Kunming in Yunnan province.

The new trains will not stop at Jishou’s tiny railway station north of the CBD. A new station is being constructed in (you guessed it) QianZhou. Service is supposed to begin in October.

Until then, I have two choices to get to Changsha — motorcoach (5 hours) or standard train (7-9 hours). I prefer the coach, so tomorrow I will be in Changsha, and Sunday I’ll fly to Beijing, where I’ll stay overnight in the airline hotel for an afternoon flight to Chicago. I’m flying Hainan Airlines, a new experience. Details to follow.

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