Night Train Romance

from: car 9 seat berth 15 Beijing to Xi'an train

No, not that kind of romance. The space is too cramped, there's no privacy and Julies' bunk is, like, right there man! Still, is there anything more sexy than riding the rails at night? I loved night trains in Europe not just for the money and time they saved me, but also for the unique perspective gained by falling asleep in Madrid and waking in Lisbon. Watching the sunset on the Cote d'Azur and seeing it rise over the canals of Venice. Dinner in Zurich and breakfast in Paris. This for the same price as a room for the night in a shabby hotel. The night trains in China appeal to me for a slightly different reason - they offer an fantastic opportunity for personal growth.

Having spent the last few years in a small town of 16,000 (more of a highschool size by Chinese standards)I became averse to crowds and the unendurable human things they would do. I didn't like going to the movies because people rustled their popcorn bags too loudly. I hated having weekends off because there was more chance of meeting someone on the hiking trails around Sedona. Now though, I am happy to report that two weeks in China and one hard berth in a night train have stretched my annoyance threshold beyond anything I thought possible.

Hard berth, or 2nd class sleeper, is made up of 10 to 15 cubicles per car and 6 beds per cubicle. It forces one to become quite intimate with the habits of your fellow travelers, of whom Julie and I have an excellent view from our third level bunks up against the ceiling. From up here with the luggage we see that those travelers are the Chinese, whose definition of what is socially acceptable is somewhat different to ours.* Directly below me we have an older gentleman who has just finished scratching the dry skin from the soles of his feet into the aisles and is turning his attention to the boy of about six who I assume is his grandson. With grandpas help, the boy is maneuvering into the position ideal for filling a used ramen-noodle bowl with urine. This is performed with such skillful teamwork (the boy can remain in a prostrate position) that I feel I am witnessing some piece of folk-type wisdom being passed down from one generation to another. Grandma is opposite them, beneath Julie, and is sleeping fitfully since giving up on whatever it was she was digging in her nose for. She snores now, not loudly, with her hand tucked under her head. This all takes place before lights out while the tinckly-whiney renditions of traditional Chinese music invade the air and food carts continue to trundle up the aisle.

Despite all this, no, BECAUSE of all this, I am grinning from above, ear to ear like the Cheshire cat. These annoying lapses of social grace that I had previously worried would make my trip unbearable, are in fact making it more enjoyable. More real. Instead of sending me off the deep end, all the burping, farting, toe-nail-clipping, loud-noodle slurping and spitting of my bunkmates only punctuates my constant mental refrain - I am in China. I really am in China. I can't believe I've finally come to China and I'm loving it!xxxxAnd isn't that the value of travel? The temples, art galleries, palaces and monuments are just the points on a map. The real journey is the one happening within, the real destination is personal growth. Now that is what I call romantic! That and the rendition of 'Moon River' now coming over the speakers.

~ Nigel

*'ours' being anyone not raised by wolves in the US and western Europe



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