An Ode to Train Rides - Passage to Lanzhou #2

Sensations on a Chinese Train

The recycled cabin air thickens as the sun rises. Why can’t the windows be opened? The man sitting beside me is dressed in a checkered long-sleeved shirt, with proper pants and a belt. I feel discomfort just by looking at him.

The uniform smell of instant noodles processing within their plastic cups wafts from down the alley at noon. The preferred or only flavour is “sour vegetables”, printed in bold red Chinese characters on every cup.

The train conductor is dressed in a standard blue uniform and bright yellow gloves. He stomps down the aisle and shrills at those who are about to miss their stop. A passenger in bed hollers back, furious to have been woken from the commotion. In between the calamity of stops, he sweeps up the mangy blue carpet and empties the trash.

Vertical space is precious within this metal box, and skinny bunk beds connected by a flimsy iron ladder are compacted in columns of threes. The top bunk is approximately 2.5 metres off the ground, and requires some agility getting into. Train rides do bear a delicious, dreamy quality to them, and all the people sleeping in the mid and top bunks were comatose from whence I took a nap, and even after I woke.

Chinese trains mostly use hard, flat mattresses with thin cotton sheets in the sleeper carriages, which lends a worn and crumpled quality to the environment – a feeling of age with nostalgic undertones.

The cabin finally cools as it submerges underground, a final break up with the desert flat land we have roamed the past few weeks. I look forward in anticipation to what lies beyond – to more fluidity, humidity and familiarity, an entirely new chapter in culture and landscape as we delve from the far reaches back into the heart of China.

Part 1 can be viewed here: The Passage to Lanzhou: #1

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The Passage to Lanzhou: #1

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