48 hours in a sleeper car is a very. long. time.
I’m on a two-day long train ride headed south from Beijing to Yunnan Province. It’s a huge trip, two weeks in Southern China and then backpacking onward to Laos and Thailand. I’ll be gone for a month or so – my plans are still super vague but it’s best to figure things out as you go along.
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The train car rocks side to side and screams forward into the light of the late afternoon.
Hot water faucet.
I am leaning against the train car window, forehead cool to the glass.
The landscape is different now, farm plots of green cabbages and strips of red soil.
The ground is dusted with a shake of snow – an afterthought on some higher power’s part on a landscape strewn with trash.
Prehistoric looking trees, fronds dusted white.
Fields, triangles and squares.
Different shapes of dirt and labor.
It’s snowing – pushing horizontal lines along side the train car.
We pass by hills with cut away ledges, squared crests on which to grow watermelon vines and vegetables. Curves of irrigation, snaking mounds of rocky brown soil. All these open brick structures, dark, abandoned looking. Been passing through mountains, clanging through dark humming tunnels. The sun sets behind gray clouds.
Chain-smoking beer-bellied man in long underwear and plastic sandals keeps passing by.
So they say.
I would kill for a cold bottle of Tsing Tao.
Two years from now I will look out the window of a tiny apartment in New York City, forehead to cool glass. Snow will shoot by, pushing horizontal, and I will stare at my landscape, urban, gray, and hard. The city will be still, an island, self-contained.
The railcar will not sway.
The landscape will not slither by.
I will think of my job, my phone bill, my growing social network.
I will pick at my manicure and restart my laptop.
Those gently curving hillsides, snow dusted watermelon vines will seem like some strange dream. The slimy railcar toilet and secondhand smoke will call back to me and ask,
“Is it better to live so still and so clean?”
I will think for a moment and then remember how it is to scream forward through life with the momentum of a South bound train.
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