You wouldn’t know by my history how much I love train travel. Schedule pressures almost always seem to interfere. But I did some compensating during March in China.
It was just 2006–only 7 years ago–that Paul Theroux published Riding the Iron Roooster: By Train Through China. The “iron rooster” steam engines may have been built to last, as Theroux said, but they haven’t.
Diesel locomotives have superseded them. Even more amazing is the network of high speed trains that is functioning and burgeoning. Everywhere Joann and I traveled, we could see mighty concrete columns marching into the distance, ready to shoulder overpasses and tracks.
I’m a bit jealous. Joann took the Super high speed train from Beijing down to Shanghai at the beginning of our expedition. And from Shanghai, she took the Maglev out to the airport to meet me. Does that sound like a word made up out of magnetic and levitation? Probably because it is. Imagine what that train is like. I’m still just imagining.
Just stop and think about these high speed, super high speed, and levitating trains. Just 8-10 years ago, the nation was puffing around in steam locomotives like the little engine that could!
As far as I can tell, the procedures and (not-)ease of buying tickets haven’t kept pace with the trains themselves. I get that word from Joann and others. This is just one of the things that makes me so thankful for Joann taking a month to baby me through China. I couldn’t understand what I heard. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t get where I wanted to go. I certainly couldn’t read schedules or buy tickets. I couldn’t be sure whether any hotel I might have chosen was by the hour or by the night.
Even more important, without Joann–who took on Esther’s story as if it were her own research–I wouldn’t have had any of the conversations that have led us closer to Esther and her life.
Joann may have found in Sichuan the seeds of her own book project. I can imagine a book someday called something like “The Bells of China” or “Can’t Burn this Bell” or “If I had a Bell” or “Bell Boldness” or . . . I’ll let you know when I think of other titles.
Unlike me, the China baby, Joann has lived and worked in China so long, she’s even put together a handful of lessons in basic Chinese to help people like me. Oh all right, not like me. Survival Chinese Lessons is great for people who actually pick it up and spend some time in it.
Okay. Back to trains. Joann’s ahead of me with the super high speed and the Maglev. I gotta go back. I’m already making my list and checking it twice.
[CORRECTION: I DID TAKE THE SUPER HIGH SPEED TRAIN, BETWEEN GUANGZHOU AND SHENZHEN. NO WONDER IT WAS HARD SHOOTING PICTURES FROM THE WINDOW. SO I'LL CROSS THAT OFF THE HAVEN'T-DONE-IT-YET LIST. BUT I'M STILL WORKING ON THE LIST.]
Putting this video together makes me itch to hit the rails again.
As photos from the Esther Expedition photos are uploaded, you can see them anytime at my Esther Nelson Shutterfly share site. There’s a map there too, of our expedition locations.
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