Real China on the Rail: Innocent Tolerant

From Kunming to Chengdu, September 15-16th 2010,

It had been just about an hour or so after we left Kunming Station. A man in blue uniform approached me and spoke in Chinese while handing me a piece of paper.

"I'm sorry, I don't speak Chinese. Do you speak English?" I apologized.

He shook his head and said something again in Chinese.

Just like on the way to Kunming from Hekou when we were asked to show our passports, I thought he wanted to see my passport, too. So I gave him my train ticket and my passport. Yudi, sitting across the aisle looked rather worried. "I think just wants to see our passports."

Yudi took his passport out and gave it to the man. He turned the pages, return them to us, and looked to the front as if delivering a speech. And you know what? Suddenly, everyone was looking at us!! I've mentioned before here, that the seats are arranged back to back. Now, the passengers siting at the back, got up. They knelt on the seat with their chest against the back seat. Both hands on top of the back seat, head looking down, just the way a kid looks into a pool. They looked at Yudi, and then turned their head to me, look back again at Yudi...  At first I was terrified being looked by everyone like that. But their faces were far from evil. They literally looked like kids watching a new fish swimming to and fro in their pool.

When we got down in Chengdu, Dina told me a similar story. Dina and the other 6 of us stayed in 1 cabin with hard sleepers. When the train attendant knew they couldn't speak Chinese, he turned to his head to cabin next to theirs. Soon after, 3 heads, in 3 levels, popped out from side of the cabin partition. They looked into my friends' cabin as if there was a new panda species inside it. Because I had experienced the similar thing, I could imagine how it their faces must have looked.

I don't know whether it was because of the weather or the aircon. I asked Yudi's help to take my backpack down from the top rack so that I could take out my coat. I already intended to lay my backpack on the floor. But the lady next to Yudi stood up. She tapped her seat with her hand and pointed to my backpack. Oh, she was telling to lay my backpack on the seat instead of on the floor.

I knew that thank you in Mandarin is "xie xie", but I didn't feel confident to pronounce it. I just said "thank you". She smiled back at me.

In the afternoon I saw that the man sitting behind me was gone. I thought he might already got off or went to the canteen. I seized the opportunity and lied down on his seat. He had been sitting there alone. So when he was gone, I had the 3 seats to myself. Hah... so nice it is to be able to stretch.

When I opened my eyes, he was sitting on the seat across the alley. I saw him and he saw me. I was ready for another !"#$%&!! but he didn't look at all like that. He looked as if there wasn't anything wrong. That made me feel embarrass, instead. I got up and returned to my seat.

A young man approached me with cards in his hand. I guessed he wanted to play cards with me. I told him that I can't. Some men across the alley laughed as if teasing him. I insisted that I couldn't and tried to give a pleading look. He moved to the seat across Yudi. One two men joint. Soon there was a group of people, including Yudi, playing cards so loudly and cheerful. The sweet lady next to Yudi joint in also.

By night fall, this sweet lady appeared to me a different person than the one who had offered her seat to put my backpack on. It looked like that she was speaking harsh to the men sitting in front of her. "Now they are going to quarrel," I said to myself.

To my astonishment, they kept on playing cards till midnight and this lady still seemed to be speaking harsh. But the other men looked as if they were discussing about a good restaurant. Okay, so who says Chinese speaks softer than Vietnamese?

Past midnight, I thought the lights would turn out and everyone would go to sleep or at least turn to silence like when I was riding on the Vietnamese train. On the contrary, the man next to me was getting into an exciting conversation with the woman sitting across us. They woman said something, the man nodded. The woman said something again, the man nodded harder. And then the man handed his cellphone to this woman. There was a picture of a baby boy on the screen. The woman looked at it. They got more excited.

Around two three o'clock in the morning when I was ready to give up my sleep, everything seemed to die down. The sweet but harsh lady next to Yudi was asleep. She sat with 3 other men including Yudi on that seat. Yudi who sat by the window was pressed like sandwich. But the 4 of them to be in total peace.

The cellphone of the man sitting next to me rang. He grabbed it at once, he face rounded. Then I heard a child's voice. Sounded so. I wondered, where on earth does that child live? In the States? Shouldn't any child be in bed by this time of the day?

And then this man got up and went to the end of coach to smoke a cigarette. Several minutes later I saw him picking up the phone again, still at the end of the coach. I couldn't resist the temptation to steel his seat. I moved my butts and let half of my body lean on the window. Ah! How does this feel!! For a moment I was back to paradise.

Suddenly I opened my eyes and noticed this man was sitting next to me, on my seat. I hurriedly stood up to exchange  seat. He signaled me with his hand to sit back. So, there I sat until we arrived in Chengdu.

In the meantime, the sweet but harsh lady had already moved to the seat across Yudi, by the window. She put her head on the table in front of her and slept. The other men the rest of seat left to them. But none seemed to feel annoyed.

I got off the train in Chengdu as if stepping out from fairyland. I have seen China.

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