And now on the train. A short-batteried iPod and mysteriously depleting phone in my pockets and I’m just glad I got a chance to grab a couple of books from the Zhi Mian office. No problem with them running out. In my previous China notebooks there must be a lot about train trips. What can I add? Thirty hours to Jiangyou. In our little hard sleeper compartment there are also two girls. I don’t know if anyone’s at the very top but I think not. One of the girls is taking her first (sleeper) train trip. When the woman came by to exchange tickets for plastic chits she (the girl) asked how much it cost. Maybe she assumed it was some sort of upgrade to her seat not just to the physical ticket. Holly and I both have bottom bunks facing each other, which I’ve never had before. And no one else is crowding my bed/seat. That’s always my fear with these trains that some pushy Chinese family will invade my bottom bunk because it’s the most convenient for sitting. And then I have no ground to retreat to up above to look down on them curl up out of the way and out of reach. Travelling with a person, I prefer one of us to have a bottom bunk so some sharing of a seat can go on. The last long train trip I took was Chengdu to Xian. In China at least. We (Aileen and I) also took the train from that town in Ukraine to Bucharest. And trains all over Romania really. Never mind. This is still my first return to the rails in 18 months. Not very long I admit. Next to the tracks are bricks bricks bricks arranged in building forms. Now we’re passing big ol’ cooling towers. Reminding me of Urumqi.
Oh Xinjiang with your heat and dust. I miss you. I miss deserts in general. Here we’ve just got gray skies and pale dirt. I’ve been reading these Wendell Berry essays and it makes me wonder about soil. Back home we’ve got good black soil. How does it disappear? If I wanted to could I buy a plot of land down in the valley? Put in a tinyhouse, garden and write? That’d be a nice Taoist existence right? Going back to nature and roots and all. As I’m thinking about nature we’re passing more cooling tower. Brown and green and coal and boxcars. Yellow brick walls. I’ve taken a bunch of pictures of walls for their textures in the last few days. Man these Henan towns are ugly this time of year. It’s the yellow orange soil and the brown grass and black leafless trees. But it is the country. Inherently better than urbane surrounds? Tiny patches of fields this is agrarian life. I remember talking about the Green Revolution back in my undergrad and vaguely condemning the industrialization of agriculture I always wonder what this country used to look like. Listening to Buck 65 and I love how a limited palette of songs (just a 1G shuffle) means there are associations built up with the songs even just from the last three weeks. I was just brought back to the wandering through the alleys day. Caves in the yellow hills. This wandering capturer thing is all I can do with this life. And it’s illusionary, I get that. But I still feel the need to do something fragged all up replanted thin trees lining the roads and rails just breaks. And now the green is taking a bigger amount of the landscape. Still seems like it’s just surrounding trash heaps. Cut cut cut through all the hills of yellow. Bits of grass grow down to the tracks and we’re high above a town (Jiao Kou read the sign where the uniformed frowner watched with his flag. Those guys I only see them standing in their little shelters staring at the train. If I was up at the engine would I be able to spot them in motion?) Now we’re tilting rightwards. Now levelling out. There are so many little “nail houses” of rock standing around. They have caves with archways dug into them. How old can those be? Maybe they’re just used to store trash. Get bricked up when full for future archaeologists. There was a tunnel about ten feet long and a bend on both entrance and exit. Only used for walking or a motorcycle (and even then you’d almost have to walk it through). We’ve been going slowly past this town but are now picking up a bit of speed. Through a stationand now a city. These completely nonshiny cities depress me. A coal yard a brickyard a cemetery a dingy green mosque.
Zhao Xing isn’t coming to meet Holly in Chengdu and she isn’t sure how mad to get. Maybe it’s just a cultural thing? Chinese people live apart from their spouses for huge amounts of time for work. Maybe that’s why his message just said “that’s a shame.” Or maybe he’s really torn up about it. Or maybe life would be a lot easier if they just broke up. These have all been mentioned this morning. She would make the effort if the roles were reversed but she doesn’t want to try force anything in which she’ll be disappointed. No big plans to call him with to figure alternatives. Let him figure them out on his own. [He never came to Chengdu but a week after I left he went to Nanjing to visit Holly. All is well with the world. -JJU]
And yesterday Holly got into an argument with Sun Wen and Wang Xuefu about Xiao Meng and how they’re really bad office managers who don’t tell you how to do things and then get mad when you do them differently than they wanted. And he’s padding year-end reports with this year’s numbers and they try guilting Holly about leaving. And still she’d work with them again.
This sleeper car has video screens. They’re multiplying. And the elevators and the buses. There’s soon to be nowhere safe. A hawker with a big personal DVD player wanders the aisle looking to rent out his ability to watch a movie. No one is putting on headphones like me. The idea that others might find their cacophony annoying doesn’t register. The middle-aged guy in the next compartment played a couple of horrible technodancepop songs on his phone really loudly for a while. I tried putting in my headphones to counteract it but the phone was too blaring. One of the girls in our compartment bought a cheap 2-bit video game with earsplitting boops and beeps. Everyone’s phones ring so loudly for each text received. Except that round headed glasses guy on the subway last week who consciously spoke quieter on his phone when we all got on the train. Considerate. Uncommonly.
At some level I’m aware that these nowhere stops to allow a faster train through are accounted for in the schedule they still manage to frustrate me. There’s not a real difference between moving and sitting still. I still will have to sleep once more on board this train. But this reliance on some far off train to go by so we can move, even though we’re already here. Waiting.
The two girls from our compartment are chatting away. The girl in the pink shoes talks a lot to everyone about anything. Holly heard her going on about some guy who was mean to his girlfriend and her brother and whatever else. She just tried to stop the little girl who was trucking by, but her ayi/grandmother pushed the little one right along. No time for you, pink shoes! Zheng Lei is James’ name. And now we’re approaching the time to sleep. No longer are the torrents of plumblossoms visible scattered down the mountainsides and I’m into the Dickens.
And deep into the night the girl in white did talk loudly. Whenever I woke up there she was. She seemed so childish but Holly heard her say she’d been working for three years. At one point I was going to ask her to shut the hell up, but couldn’t remember the proper term. “Ni keyi shush ma?” didn’t seem like it would work too well. Holly thought about saying something too, but didn’t. Happily my iPod still had juice and she wasn’t so loud I couldn’t drown her out. I don’t remember my dreams at all apart from the fact her talking interrupted them.
The moon was full and visible and it felt like we were entering much healthier land. Woken up early by the attendant to get our plastic chits turned back into tickets, then lay back to watch the moon. When the alarm on Holly’s cell phone went off it was time to make coffee. The convict 2 compartents down was chained to a bedpost (though he’d been free a while the previous afternoon) that kept him close to the aisle. Then we arrived. Four people in the sleepers disembarked at Jiangyou.buck 65 henan holly jiangyou noise plum blossoms soil sun wen the hangman train urumqi video screens wang xuefu wendell berry zhao xing zhi mian