Tag Archives: train

Toward Xi’an

Hemingway said it was best to start writing first thing in the morning, I think because the compulsion continues for the rest of the day. So here I sit in the bumpy van on the way to the train station in Luoyang scribbling away.

There were 2 news stories about China on the internet last night, one that they had approved a vaccine for swine flu, and the other that they were stabbing people with syringes in Urumqi. A very complicated country. The last two nights, I had dreams about playing basketball with Shaquille O’Neil in China, and about eating a snake. “Dream is destiny?” I don’t know.

The hotel in Luoyang was nice, and already we are leaving. Last night we went to “Snack street,” where dozens of food stalls lined the street under hanging red lanterns, picturesque scene, but not so appetizing after fasting all day, so instead I broke off and found a restaurant where I successfully presented a print-out sheet of translated food items to order. 

Trying to board this train in Luoyang gives me futile hope in the future for the Chinese, as people pack in beyond the boundaries of etiquette or common sense, gouging in front of one another ,disregarding decency and personal space, a truly miserable experience. The train authorities find no need to board passengers in increments to avoid bottlenecks.

Yesterday riding on the public bus, up and down what was presumably the main drag during rush hour, I struggled to think how the Chinese retain any sense of individuality, with 1.3 billion of them, packed in busses and trains, airtight, all of the same racial makeup and with hardly any immigrants.

A fellow traveler purchased two kung-fu swords in Shaolin, and had no problem bringing them aboard the train in cardboard boxes, something I imagine that would be prohibited anywhere else. The smell of smoke also leads me to believe smoking is permitted, and train personnel are pacing the aisle selling toys, socks, and snacks.

I’m not sure if parts of the USA where crowds are most common, like NYC, allow the same kinds of behavior as one finds in China, but I doubt it. Not the places I have visited anyway.
If I try and imagine a scene in Kansas City or Oakland where people bombarded a train car as they did here this morning, I can only expect it would lead to someone getting shot, a train official losing their job, family members separated, and news stories for days. In China, it is simply Friday morning.

I can’t decide, sitting here on the train, if the Chinese are curious about myself and the other Westerners, or if they don’t give a shit who we are and are probably just confused and annoyed by our presence. I’ve noticed the cell phones the Chinese use have standard English keypads, and assume that whatever process they have for translating text messages into Chinese is very arduous. They seem to have adopted the phone as an audio/music device with more ease than Americans have, and all girls have dangling ornaments on their handset.

The Chinese character system seems complicated enough, but to try and use a cell phone to communicate text messages I would think is hopeless. On an EXIT sign somewhere, I counted the number of strokes required to form the Chinese characters to be in the 40’s, while the word ‘EXIT’ has only nine.

The bus in Luoyang and the waiting area in the train station both contained hard plastic seats covered in scratches and dirt which looked easily 40 or 50 years old. The bus was rickety with ads plastered on the walls and hanging arm grabs .

The train is now passing a village of crumbling one storey brick buildings surrounded by farms, a woman in a hot pink shirt and black pants carrying a baby walked by and a man in a work helmet. The trees in the area indicate a temperate or deciduous climate and sandstone looking short hills tumble along.

We have three nights coming up in Xi’an, one in transit to Zhong Wei, one in Zhong Wei, one in a desert camp, maybe another in Zhongwei, then three in Beijing. I have now taken more long train journeys on this trip than I have in my entire life up to this point.

Just passed a landfill only a few feet from a field of crops. I can imagine the chemicals and waste seeping down into the soil, to be sucked up into the roots of poisoned plants.

Yangshuo to Yichang

Today was an exhausting day of travel.

We left Yangshuo on the 23rd on a bumpy, loud bus to the train station. Every twenty meters or so the driver mashed the brakes, and the horn screeched about every eight seconds. Chinese pop music poured through the cabin speakers, accompanied by videos of dancing and singing on a TV screen. We arrived to find a fairly comfy waiting room, which was soon offset by a cramped train car for 18 hours.

We arrived in Yichang on the 24th, where we waited for several hours to take another bus to board the boat. In Yichang, we stopped at a modern supermarket and I was suspicious it was an activity recommended by the Gov’t to display “the best” of China. After 18 hours on a train, it is easy to become suspicious of nearly anything. I took a walk around the surrounding area and saw older, more “traditional” shops, crumbling sidewalks, etc. I saw fisherman casting nets into the Yangtze and coming up empty. A Chinese man approached me and asked where I was from, and told me he was an engineer at a nearby factory.

Yichang Restaurant

Yichang Restaurant

We had a fancy dinner in a local restaurant. Our guides placed us in a private room, with a lazy Susan and fleet of waitresses. “It is very loud out there,” they said, referring to the main dining area. “There are many Chinese people.” Although the room was nice, I told the guide, “But we like Chinese people, that’s why we came to China.”

We boarded the “M.S. FORTUNE” (seriously) on the evening of the 24th, dirty and exhausted.