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August 24, 2006 - In Transit, China

In Transit

A pre-post note. On the taxi ride to the station I had a minor language victory. I was successfully able to get the “tomato/tomato, potato/potato” across for a few chuckles. It was in reference to the “r” sounds used in Beijinghua, the Beijing accent - nar versus na li.

The train left Nanjing at 1:53AM.

I was surprised to find my torpedo-tube waiting room almost filled when I got to the Nanjing Station at 12ish. After finding a chair as close as possible to the launch-door, I tried to settle in. Not so easy.

As with most transportation - be train or plane - these waiting rooms had much to be desired in terms of comfort, but that didn’t stop anybody from sleeping, except for me. I almost felt sorry for them. Three schoolgirls across from me asleep on the middle girl. Two old women next to me, laying sideways, face-down and draped over the metal armrest. A poor man down the row bent in half, head between legs. All giving it their best. All sleeping.

With no sleep in sight I did the next best thing, study.

I cracked my textbook, and in what I feel will become a common occurrence, I was surrounded. Not by one or two - but rather six or ten people. One guy took lead and started pointing at Hanzi characters - wanting me to read them. Some he was satisfied with, other he mimicked over and over.

I was their dancing monkey. Somebody send me some bells and a leash?

This poor monkey tired after a good 30 or 40 minutes and I feigned sleep.

The trainride itself was interesting - almost surreal in a sense - a slice of Chinese life. As soon as I got on I was slightly disoriented. It was dark and crowded and I had a huge bag. The bunks are arranged galley-style, feet toward the one aisle, and fortunately not as small as I had feared. The lights popped on after a minute or two of confusion and I was confronted with life on a train.

People sleeping, some two to a bunk - mostly children, tables full of food, cellphones in use, cards being played - in the dark, and all eyes on me. This, the institutional blue metal walls and stainless fixtures reminded me of a prison.


After slinging my big bag up onto the overhead rack I climbed into bed for the night. Soon the lights went out, music went on and I was asleep.

The next morning I awoke to breakfast. Kids running around, big canisters of hot water everywhere for tea and soup. And food coming out of the walls. I don’t know where it all came from and I was a bit embarrassed of my cardboard bowl of soup. There were hardboiled eggs and hot cereal. Chicken legs and tofu bits. Teapots and bottles of beer.

Over the course of the day this happened two more times, lunch and dinner, but snacks were never far from hand. Amazing. I couldn’t imagine this on an airplane..

I read The Good Earth on the ride, and sitting looking out the window I couldn’t help but realize the fitting nature. The landscape was incredible. Corn on every imaginable surface, and where the wasn’t corn there was a cliff or a house or a road. The houses themselves seemed to sprout directly from the earth - their bricks the exact color of the soil. Everything from the earth. Thanks for the book Susan.

After dark I was presented with my biggest my biggest hurdle. Getting off at Guyuan. I had realized that the stops that we had made were never announced - and if they were I certainly couldn’t distinguish them from the Chinese pop music being played.

Knowing that Guyaun was scheduled for a 1:37AM stop, I got up at midnight to find a conductor and confirm. I was answered by machine-gun Chinese. Nothing confirmed. I crept back to my bunk.

1:37 came.

And passed.

No stop. No Guyuan. I had visions of my waiban standing at the station waiting. Great start to the year.

2:00AM rolled around.

No stop.

I got up again, found my way to the bathrooms and noticed a train schedule. Gold. Fortunately I had remembered the characters for Guyuan. Time of arrival? 1:37AM.

This confronted me with two paths. One, the train was late. Two, I had missed a connection that I was unaware of. Perfect.

With that thought running through my head, I feel the train slow. Last chance.

I see the Guyuan Station sign float by the window.

I guess its good to be thrilled to see your new town, right?

Tumbleweeds... and no comments. How 'bout livening things up?

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