PART194 the last leg back

Friday, 13th, August, 2010.
Awake again to the rhythmical sounds of the train, the sun is rising and I go
back to sleep.


“Tim get up, people want to sit down” Sarah
chimed through my dream and woke me back up. We were arriving soon in Beijing.
I got up stifling the urge to grumble “ It’s my bloody bed they can sit on
their own ones” I put my shirt on, Splash face, lav, sit down, acknowledge that
I feel like I have been on the train forever and that I might have train
madness. Check out window. Landscape has juristically changed. The sky it a
bright gray compared to the blue sky of the south and as we slowly chug into
the outskirts of Beijing we see an almost evolutionary story. Shacks and
building material sites turn slowly into small old houses with dirt roads. Then
into larger houses with tarmac roads and cars. Then the odd flat block comes
into view and eventually we are in Beijing. Cars, tall building and lots and
lots of people.


We get off and have a little argument about
directions just to blow off some train steam. Stow our bags in storage and go
to KFC. We sit and I watch with curiosity a young waitress with a incredibly
small head cleaning the tables. Her KFC hat loosely moving around on her head.
Then a tall girl with large breasts giggles past on her way to the loos. God
certainly makes us in many shapes and sizes. Eat burger; grow gloomy at
prospect of getting back to Xin Zhuo from Beijing. Nothing compared to our journey
up here but still a three half hour journey and then another one and a half
hour journey. Looking out of the KFC the air was visibly dirty and gray, busy
people rushed past the windows heads down.


The fast train to Tai Yuan (the capital of
Shanxi province) is very modern and very fast but we were not able to savor the
delights of this modern thingamabob because we got the ticket when we arrived
in Beijing we never got a seat ticket, instead we got a standing up ticket. We
hauled our luggage onto the train and found a small alcove with a hold and a water
dispenser and set up fort there. A few more people joined us here, including a
monk. The journey went slowly but quicker than I imagined it to( I imagined it
would go on forever). We were also by the loos and the never ending jostle of
passenger going too and fro, pissing, shitting filling up their cups with hot
water, drinking pissing, it went on and on. They began to appear to me like
dumb animals mindlessly gorging and defecating. Never ending. To me their
humanity was invisible and all I could see was cattle stepping on my feet, uselessly
carrying on their basic requirements for life. They were selling set meals and
pot noodles as well which were ferried past us by stuedesess, empty plastic platters
ferried back our way and into the bin behind me.


I leant against the wall sideways so that I
would not have to keep moving out of the way for people to come by. I closed my
eyes but every time I did I would fall half asleep and begin falling over. This
crazy cycle of quickly falling asleep and then catching myself falling went on until
I could not take it anymore and went and sat down in the loo for a while. Even
the stench was better than the corridor outside.


I went out again into the corridor and some
people moved out of the alcove and I was able to take up a comfortable leaning
stance without having to move for anyone. “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, we
are about to pass though Chinas longest tunnel which is…” came an Australian
accent though the speaker. I didn’t have enough time to hear how long because I
had already began preparation for holding my breath. Slow breathing and relaxing
and most importantly clearing the mind, the mind needs to be empty when holding
the breath, it’s no good having all those silly thoughts like “ Holy hell I
could really use a snifter of oxygen right now” or “ of my God I cannot breath!”
whistling around in the old dome.


So preparations complete the tunnel came…..and
went in about 10 seconds. If that was the longest tunnel in China then either
the train was going incredibly fast or long tunnel making isn’t the Chinese’s
strong point. “Stick to walls”. Then another tunnel came along “This is the one”
I thought resolutely as I sucked up a lungful of air. It wasn’t the one at all.
It could barely be called a tunnel. More like a blink of darkness. The tunnel
never came or went and I was not best pleased about it, I was well up for
having a go at Chinas longest tunnel. (I looked it up on the internet
afterwards and found out that China actually has the world’s longest tunnel but
it was nowhere near our travels)


We arrived in Tai yuan and by a merciful
stroke of luck the train on the next platform was leaving for Xin zhuo( Sarah’s
home town) was leaving in 10 minutes. Although in theory getting from one
platform to the next may appear to be an easy task, in practice it wasn’t. Add
hundreds of heavily luggaged Chinese folk without even having heard of the
words “please you first” and plonk them directly in front of you, slowly
shuffling up a platform then things become a little tricky. We did make it with
time to spare and even enough time for me to help an old lady with her large
bag down the steps. Glowing with good deeds we got on the train to Xin Zhou.


The northern Chinese are different from the
southern Chinese. As we got on the old, dimly lit train, The weather beaten
faces of the bigger and broader northern Chinese turned my way. The women
stouter and fatter than the stick like delicately featured women of Haikou. I
felt at home and not two minutes into the journey and Sarah was already talking
with some locals who had friend connections and school connections “oh I went
to the same school as you 20 years before you where there” laughed a rotund man
with a square face. A young student with a wispy most ash was cajoled by his
grandma to speak English with me. A heavily accented announcement in English
crackled through the speaker welcoming me onto the train and telling me that “
re rill alive ah Xin zhuo un won haf or” Passenger craned their necks over
their seats to look at me as if to ask  “what
did he say?”


The country side rolled past as we left Tai
Yuan. Trees lined the railway track with a layer of dust on their leaves,
giving them a sick look. Old dry cracked mud village houses zipped past and
Corn plantations went on for miles. Yellow drooping corn with tall sunflowers
dotted amongst them. The isolated Sunflowers now in the dying evenings all with
their heads bowed looked like caring shepherds looking down on their flock of
corn. Everything was a reminder that this was not an easy place for things to
live. The ground cracked and dry, large valleys shot down into the earth with
crumbling walls eroding away slowly. All the houses, in fact everything was covered
in a fine gray dust.


We nosily arrived in Xin Zhou an hour later
ahead of schedule and Haohao Sarah’s younger cousin who she grew up with and is
basically her little brother was there to meet us. With a shaved head, a smart colorful
sports collared shirt, a gold chain around his neck and tight black jeans gave
him the look of an English hooligan. We walked along the row of taxis who all
shouted hellos and encouragements to get in their taxi. Haohao forcefully
pushed a tall broad man out of my way “Hay he is our foreigner” the taxi driver
shouted at him angrily. “come and take my aero plane” shouted a driver jokingly
as he lent against his 3 wheeled bike with a double covered seat at the back

we traversed the taxi line and reached the end. We saw Dad coming toward us
from the main road. I almost didn’t recognize him, much thinner and also
looking much younger. He didn’t have the old chubby waddle that he used to have
and he was smiling. He has recently been diagnosed with diabetes and subsequently
was cut out all alcohol, meat and sugar. Only eating vegetables and a large
array of supplements. He looks so much better and from the short time back he
seems more energetic and happy. We arrived home and I felt relieved after the
long journey. Eat, shower, and sleep.

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