Little Trouble in Big China

Thursday, August 9, 2007

30 hours

When planning my travels around China, I had completely underestimated the sheer size of the country. I had planned to go from city to city by train as it is cheaper than plane tickets. The first leg of my journey, from Hangzhou to Chengdu, I had expected to take no longer than a night and maybe part of a day. When I went to buy my ticket, the sales lady informed me that the trip was in fact 30 hours- two nights and an entire day on the train.

Feeling somewhat intrepid, I bought the tickets even though all my new Chinese friends all told me that I should have just flew. How bad could it be? I got the soft sleeper, the first class of trains in China, so it shouldn't be too uncomfortable. Besides, I would get to see some lovely scenery across China. Thus, armed with two books and a large supply of snacks, I headed to the train station on Saturday night.

The 30 hours actually weren't bad at all. I slept well, and time seemed to pass quickly, much more so than it does on long plane rides. I shared a cabin with a university student, a man and his son, and an old woman, none of whom seemed particularly interested in a conversation with me, so I kept to myself the entire time and read my book. My only complain about the train was the provided "entertainment". A television that incessantly broadcasted the most irritating Chinese television shows and the most insipid music videos in a volume that could not even be blocked by my noise reducing headphones. With the exception of sleep time and nap time, it was always on and could not be turned off. Terrible.

But the scenery was absolutely magnificent. Thus, I spend much of my waking, non-reading hours outside my cabin marveling the view. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered by noon on the second day that I could take non-blurry pictures even though the train was moving. A selection of my photos as follows:

A peasant village with mountains in the background.

A house from another village. If you click to enlarge it, you can see a man in the front yard and some crops lying out to dry in the sun. Also note the duilian, lines of verse on red paper traditionally pasted around doors for luck.

Because of the mountainous terrain in much of China's south, crops are planted on terraces, as shown here.

Sometimes, the train would duck into a tunnel and emerge on the other side to a valley straddling a sparkling river.

In the evening, the mountains were a perpetual, hazy arabesque on the horizon.

And in the twilight, the mountains were reduced to enormous dark shapes in the expanses.

The next morning, I woke up to an attendant checking tickets a little after 5 am. The train arrived soon after, and I stumbled my way to my hostel at 6 am with the streets dark and the sky rainy. By 7, I came down to the lobby after showering to grab a small breakfast, and by 8, I was on a van to see the largest Buddha in the world with five foreigners that I had just met. More on that soon.


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