29 July 2005 The Daily Dose
27 July Wednesday morning…
I get up early, as usual… 0400, and had my morning brew, instant Africafe coffee a gift from Stephanie… This is a new instant coffee from Dar es Salaam it says on the can a product of the Tanzania Tea company (a friend gave to her)… Anyway, it’s pretty good, and much better than the Nescafe brand. Trust me I know good coffee and tea--we own a coffee and tea growing plantation in Nepal!
I do the Internet, and then pack, as I’m going to beat the morning rush to the Shanghai Central RR Station—this not the ordinary early morning rush, but the rush of the second-most populated city in the world! The train doesn’t actually leave until 0921, but I’ll be there much before not wanting to deal with the rush and crush of five million Shanghaians going to work, another ten million of them getting up! This is a city of 17-million people. There’s only one, with more people in the world… Mexico City! Mexico City is another place I’m not going to live!
In addition to departing early I had written in Chinese characters the following, ‘I want to go to the train station!’ This to deal with explaining to the taxi driver as none speak English. And trying to pronounce pidyin, the anglo version of the characters vocalized… Well, they just laugh! It’s like when the Chinese speak English, although I never laugh!
It’s interesting about learning the Chinese language. Because of the difference in pronunciation, it’s difficult to communicate even if you know ‘pidyin,’ which is the Roman letters (our alphabet) of the Chinese sounds (pronouncing their characters/alphabet). Thus, I’ve learned a better way to communicate with people like taxi cab drivers… You write the Chinese characters which they can read. And it worked, the guy acknowledged immediately! I was so proud of myself! It’s the little things in life that are glorious, not the big things!
Saints always tiptoe across the earth!
So, off we go in the taxi by 0600, and the streets are practically empty… We’re there in no time, and I’m sitting in the proper waiting room #7, at 0630. In fact, I’m the first one in line… A lot of good it did me later, when a tidal wave of humanity came rushing in pushing they way to the gate.
Shanghaians, and Chinese in general, because there’s so many ‘rats in this cage,’ are very aggressive when it comes to such things. Animal behavior! Thus, I’m certainly not going to deal with this… Maybe in Kashgar it’s different, and if not there, I will find the middle of ‘nowhere,’ where there are no people! I’ll find a peaceful place where there are no blaring TV screens, honking vehicles and barking dogs!
You go right ahead and live in Shanghai or New York City or Denver, or Colorado Springs, or L.A., or London… You’re probably younger or don’t know any better! Or, maybe you have to have a pastrami sandwich on rye with Russian dressing. I don’t! I don’t need anything really, but the Spirit!
Anyway, it’s a ‘textbook’ departure and I’m sitting on my ‘soft bunk,’ #20 in car #5 (18 in this train today and almost 1,000 passengers) by 0850 (thirty minutes prior to departure).
Across from me is a young Chinese woman who has placed her plastic bag full of goodies right in the middle of the table—we all ‘carve out’ our space in such situations. We hardly acknowledge one another (another trait of big city living).
We’re the first in this ‘compartment,’ or ‘stall.’ Then another Chinese couple arrives to claim, the next level. Note in each ‘stall,’ there are six bunks (three high on each side). I counted and there are 66 bunks to each car and if you multiply that times 18 cars, it’s almost 1,000 passengers going to Chengdu, or somewhere along the way. And trust me the train is full. They’re always full, all of them. We’re talking 1.2 billion people in China most of which live in the East (just like the U.S., or more so). Thus, there are many, many trains going every which direction—all full of course!
By the way, if you want to compare, China is slightly larger in terms of square whatever, than the U.S., but with three times as many people.
Regarding domestic air travel in China: I would think only business men, government bureaucrats, and the rich fly around China. I compared the fares, train versus flying to Chengdu, and the Chinese woman in Kathmandu is wrong (she had told me flying was less)… The train is one-third the cost of flying.
With my two large pieces of luggage (bicycle being one) it cost 600 Yuan, or about $75 U.S. to get from Shanghai to Chengdu. You can purchase a ‘hard seat’ for much less. Thus, even my ‘soft bunk,’ was much less than flying. But, the real reason I took the train, besides liking them, you get to see the countryside. If you fly over it, you see what…? A movie, you read a magazine, to stare out at the terrain some six miles below. You certainly don’t experience the countryside, and what it’s like.
With the usual ‘lurch’ the train starts off at 0921. Chinese trains are on time, generally speaking. Hitler would be proud!
And thus I depart the 35C. degree temperatures and 80% humidity, on the way to 20C temperatures and 20% humidity in Tibet (western China). Good bye Shanghai! Living in Houston, Texas, or New Orleans, La., or even St. Louis, Missouri, is like ‘doing time!’—and Shanghai in the summer is similar! It’s like ‘doing Chinese time!’
Now I understand the ‘coolie’ straw hats and the hand fans!
I think we’re heading west to Chengdu (which is due west of Shanghai). But, we’re really heading north actually. An hour outside of Shanghai and it’s still all low, wet marshland reminding me of The Netherlands.
Note: I didn’t realize until much later, after ‘Eric’ (Chinese travelling companion) showed me on the English map of China I’d brought along the route the train takes. We took a ‘circuitous’ (Dick Hammerstrom) kind of route from Shanghai to Chengdu, way up north and passing through Xi’an (where the famous Terra Cotta Soldiers guard the emperor (still). That’s why I couldn’t figure out why it would take so long (36 hours) to go 1,200Km. When in fact, the route we took was something like 2300Km. Additionally, the electric-engine/mountainous part was at a slower rate of speed.
I look out at the box buildings in the towns we pass through. Everyone (in the world actually) has their ‘SCC’ (standard Chinese cubicle)!
Think how most people in the world have such a limited view, whether it be inside this standard cubicle, or staring at their ‘mobile.’ We’re all just little puppets on invisible strings, unable to see beyond our noses, living in air-conditioned boxes! No wonder the world is so fucked up! We have no vision!
Until they sing! (for someone who hates ‘them’ too)
Looking at their little screens;
What possible dreams?
I don’t care, I’m busy!
Living like puppets on a string,
It’s a familiar ring,
Salivating like Pavlov’s dogs
Getting fat just like hogs!
A virtual life,
The malady of the fife
And drum, the strum,
De aren’t I dum!
It rings, it stings
Selling its wares
They don’t care,
They think they’re ‘connected!’
They talk about what?
Trapped in the futile rut,
Walking on the mill they tread,
Captured, subdued, and enslaved
To an early grave
Waiting for that ring,
Looking at those little screens
Until they sing!
I remember living in Big Bend, far West Texas, where if I climbed up on top of a mountain (which I did just about every day) I could see 100 kilometers in every direction! My parents used to call this, ‘the wide open spaces,’ and I still need such… Space, distance… I don’t like living so close to other people—the animals don’t come. I like the wide open spaces! I was lucky! We grew up in a time in America where there was such a thing. Now, there’s a dwindling amount of land space everywhere in the world!
They slurp bucket noodles,
Stare at a little screen,
Mate in boxes!
The rebellion lost,
So high the cost,
Good little soldiers saluting;
A familiar ring?
Virtual puppets on electronic strings,
Waiting for it to ring,
But not the strife
As lacking consciousness!
Let us not dare
Externalize the situation!
The mirror a good place to start
Folks, we have to slow down the birth rate or we’re going to be suffering catastrophe after natural disaster, facing extinction! We know this unconsciously… We’re trying to preserve animal species, as we know we’re ‘on the list!’ We know as more and more animals, crowded out of their habitats, become extinct, we get closer and closer ourselves! How many years does humanity have left, if we devour the Earth, our very own mother… Maybe 1,000 years…? Of course, those living now don’t give a shit, and thus humanities demise!
Why do you think we’re searching for life on other planets…? We want to know if we can move there, live there, at least dump our garbage there!
Garbage is a whole other issue! Solid and liquid waste… In Asia, I see people throwing it on the ground. They think this is ‘away!’ They are wrong! I see people in the U.S. throwing it out automobile windows. They think this is ‘away!’ They are wrong! We are just ‘soiling the nest we live in!’ How wise is this? Talk about consciousness, Jim!
All the Chinese, like the rest of the world, are glued to their little screens. A virtual world they live in! Pavlov’s salivating dogs, who respond instantly (trained so well) as soon as the thing makes a noise (the bell rings)!
Five hours out from Shanghai, at roughly 1430 hours a few hills and growing corn appear. Of course, there’s the ubiquitous rice (‘fang’ in Chinese) growing. I don’t understand all the corn, however, as they don’t eat, and there is little in the way of livestock. So, they must be turning it into oil, and/or selling it abroad.
Like I said earlier, I though we would be going directly to Chengdu… How stupid of me… We are going north to Nanjing (a former capital of China), Suzhou, and Zhangzhou, then west along the Yellow River. This I learn from my stall mate, ‘Eric,’ who can speak English. But, why…? Maybe no rail lines directly west to Chengdu. Everything in China seems to revolve around Beijing, and maybe we have to join the Beijing line to Chengdu.
We take naps, eat (they eat noodles out of paper containers) and drink Lu cha (green tea).
Eric and ‘Rose,’ being young (I’m guessing under 25 years) can’t sit still for long. They’re either eating, sleeping, talking or, you guessed it, staring at their little screens. At one point they pull out their HP/Compaq computer and play a game. But, they have forgotten to charge the battery, so that doesn’t last for long. Outside the Chinese countryside passes by… I’m fascinated with my bigger ‘screen,’ the view out the window!
I notice an opened can of canned pork, and read the label… Sodium Nitrate they’re eating. I debate whether to tell them or not. I decide against as, I did the same when their age. They’re going to have to survive on their own! And maybe pickling their bodies will make them last longer, who knows. I’ve stopped trying to change others! But, I myself would have to be starving to death before I would eat canned pork meat soaked in Sodium Nitrate! There’s also a can of ‘nutritional’ protein powder I’m curious about, but guess where that comes from? It’s an Amway product! The New Colonialism.
The light fades, and I pull up my blanket (they keep it cold in the car) at 1900 hours. Everyone else is making merry, talking, talking and more talking! The TV is also blaring a Chinese movie! Note: Marx was wrong… It isn’t religion that’s the opiate, but idle chatter! But, I ignore and zone out, and in, and up and down (as I have to urinate all night long). By 2300 hours the car is finally quiet, except for some snoring.
28 July 05
At 0200 finally mountains and clear sky out my ‘screen.’ I think I’m in heaven! I see the waning (half) moon!
At 0430 we arrive in Xi’an of Jan fame… But, I must explain… Xi’an is the place of the famous Terra Cotta Soldier’s tourist site, and my friend Jan in CS, wanted to know if I was going. Well, I didn’t know at the time, but sure enough here I am in Xi’an, but only long enough to think of her! No, I will not be visiting the T.C. Soldier’s that I know of… It’s not on my list of things to do, but I’ve learned to never say never, as soon as I do… I made it to Xi’an, Jan, and it wasn’t even on my list! Nor was the Great Wall, but I ended up walking on it courtesy of Subodh Gautam.
At 0630 much corn growing out the window.
At 0800 we arrive in a Chinese City called Bao Ji on the Yellow River. It’s on the map so I know where we are, about sixty-percent of the way to Chengdu. We’ve come this far, and it’s taken 22.5 hours of the 36-hour trip. Now, we have only forty-percent left to traverse in 12 hours. I’m worried we’re going to get there too early, and I’ll have no ride to Sim’s. But, what I hadn’t figured (second mistake) is that now, we switch to an electric engine to go through the mountains (much slower going).
I have noticed in the toilet closet the Chinese are not exactly anal retentive! I seem to be the one that ‘flushes’ the squat toilet. But, ‘flushing’ on the train amounts to opening a ‘door’ with everything falling on the tracks. That’s why they won’t let you use the toilet when the train is in the station!
But, think about this… One thousand people probably defecating or urinating how many times…? 2-4K times in a 24-hour period I’m guessing. So, don’t walk on the RR tracks in China!
I don’t remember, but I think Amtrak in the U.S. has chemical toilets they suck out at various intervals… I wonder about commercial jet travel…? Are we flushing it out into the air?
There are 6+ billion people on the earth today… that’s 14-18 billion whatever-you-want-to-call-such PER DAY! Where is all this going…? On and in the earth! But, I wonder for how long there will be an ‘away?’ The shit’s going to start rising at some point! Now, there’s a horror movie!
We have to slow down human population for humanity to survive… It’s just that simple! But the problem now… The people living today, just don’t give a shit! Ah, there’s the wipe! Gosh, I’m full of puns tonight!
I always revert to a quote I heard/read and wrote down… “There’s infinite hope, but not for us!” I’m afraid it’s true! So, why keep having babies…? What kind of world are you creating for them…? Ah, it’s all about consciousness, Jim! Wake up! Wake up, world! People procreate without thinking, doing what their parents and grandparents did before them, because nature has dictated. But, what nature has created, nature can destroy… Thus, all the disease, Tsunamis, earthquakes, wars and violence (much caused by religion: My God is better than your God! Jim, it is all about raising consciousness, so we might live more thoughtfully!
By 1100 in the morning, we’re threading our way through some mountains (Shan), following a river, the tracks going through many tunnels. There are many trains, and much stopping too. So, now I know we have a chance to be on time (arriving at 2121).
By now, we are all getting ‘antsy,’ as the trip has become tedious by this point. People just can’t sit and stare at the wall. So, the young ones sleep to avoid (a form of meditation). Others go through the routine: eating, cleaning up, watching the TV, sleeping. I see few people reading.
At 1300 still going through tunnel after tunnel (maybe one hundred), and passing through mountain villages. The Chinese train personnel, stand at attention as we pass through their station.
It’s ‘noodle time,’ again!
By afternoon, I’m suffering too, with my chronic constipation… A fatty liver, and inactivity. It’s too cold in the car too, so I lie down and cover up, me too avoiding the unpleasant. At this point I’d rather have a good bowel moment than sex with Miss World!
The pain brings
So much gain!
I suffer to pleasure,
Master, Lord and God!
You are the Divine Lover and
This is Spiritual Sex,
Dying on a cross
To be born forever!
The pain gone!
The pleasure gone!
The __________ gone!
By evening we’re more than eager to arrive, now down from the mountains and passing through the Chengdu plateau. But, I’m disappointed, as this looks much like around Hangzhou: low, wet, green, with Lotus flowers and rice growing. Worse, it’s raining now.
I’m looking forward to seeing some guy named Aaron, but not knowing how we’ll recognize one another. But, usually what happens when a hotel picks you up they stand at some appropriate place hold a sign with your name in English. This is what I’m hoping for…
Suddenly, Eric and Rose are busy getting all their luggage together, and they have brought too many things. I offer to assist, but she shows me her muscle and smiles! No, they can handle it they say. But, when they load up they look like pack animals. Stuff… We have (and take) too much stuff with us.
I follow them, and thank God, as a new train station and city, God knows where I would have ended up. We walk and walk and then are in the rain… It’s raining ferociously, and I should have stopped to adjust to such, like put on my jacket. But, I’m busy looking for Aaron.
When I don’t see I wonder what to do. They offer to call using their mobiles (sometimes these ubiquitous things have value)! I give them the number, but it doesn’t seem to work, as Eric is confused. He tells me the person said to call Sim’s Cozy Guest House. It’s only later I figure out that when I recopied the number (which I’m famous for) I missed a digit and had only seven (most telephone numbers are eight, or eleven for mobiles). So, Eric dialed some private person in Chengdu only to totally confuse them! ‘No, this is not Sim’s Cozy Guest House!’
They decide to get me a taxi so we run through the rain to the taxi stand. When they ask the drivers in Chinese to take me, they beg off not knowing where Sim’s is located. So, no Aaron, no taxi, now, really what to do? Eric takes me to a nearby police station. He and Rose must go! I thank them profusely for their help!
Alone in the police station I’m faced with a half-dozen of Chengdu’s finest! Eric has explained my plight to them, so they are discussing what to do. Then one appears who can speak English. They quickly figure out the number is incorrect. I ask if there’s a directory assistance? No there is not, what to do now? I tell them I discovered this Guest House via the Internet, and ask if I can get online (there’s a computer behind the counter). No, they don’t have access. But, the English-speaking chap gets an idea and off we go in a patrol car looking for an Internet café.
When we arrive at this Internet, teeming with young people playing games, all eyes turn to me! Who is this the police bring to use the Internet.
I’m shown a machine, but it suddenly isn’t working. They have to restart! My patience is stretched thin. I’ve been travelling for two days now, and want to lay my head on some warm pillow. Finally, I get the proper use, and head for http://www.google.com/ (in English).
I put in ‘Sim’s Cozy Guest House,’ and bingo there it is (thank you Internet). We call from the Internet cafe, and get Aaron…
I’m slightly agitated at this point, but when in need, careful don’t get too angry… ‘Did not the ‘travel service’ pick me up he asks?’ No, I did not see anyone. He asks me to jump into a taxi, and use my mobile… They’ll explain where they are to the driver, via… For some reason, I don’t like this idea. Luckily, after a short, tense discussion Aaron acquiesces and says he will come to pick me up. But, he doesn’t know where the police station is (hasn’t been in Chengdu that long). I explain, almost yelling into the receiver now! Who is this dimwit, and have I made a mistake booking at Sim’s? I ask myself!
I wait in the police station, it pouring beyond the door, young girls outside smiling at me! I wonder if they’re in trouble.
One of the Chengdu officers asks me how much police officers make in the U.S. I’m stumped, but remember reading about New York City’s and what they make (all unionized). I proffer a figure of $25,000U.S. per year, but explain this was a few years ago. This translates into 200,000 Yuan. Guess what they make? I’m shocked when they tell me 4,000Yuan per year! That’s only 300+Yuan / $40U.S. per month… This for a public official! No wonder there’s corruption!
I spend something like 5,000 per month travelling… No wonder the Chinese think I’m wealthy—I am in China!
To cushion the shock of this fact, I explain how everyone in the U.S. has access to weapons, and being a policeman in New York City, is dangerous… They get killed all the time, I tell them! Note: In China no one has access to any legal weapons, thus there isn’t the same kind of violence as in the U.S. I know you won’t like hearing this, but it’s not safe in American compared to China. China is much safer on the streets. And much less crime!
I’m so impressed with this group of friendly policemen I have the English-speaking one write down his name. I tell them I’m going to write a letter to their boss! But, I don’t think they understand.
Aaron arrives, a nice young guy from Australian. On the way out, I try to thank the police officers in Chinese, XIE, XIE!!!
We hail a cab and drive to Sim’s which luckily isn’t very far, a couple of turns, and maybe three kilometers from the Train Station. I watch closely as I know I’m going to have to negotiate the city, at least in the day time.
He won’t let me pay, and won’t accept any cash for his help! This makes up for someone not meeting me! He checks me into a ‘double’ without air-conditioning (has a fan) for 70 Yuan / $8.50 per night.
It turns out to be a nice clean room on the second floor in the rear. But, the open windows to a large boulevard, a hundred meters distance, make it fairly noisy. Drivers in China all honk their horns constantly as you have to bully your way through to get anywhere. Note, traffic control lights are only an indication as what you’re supposed to be doing. They sometimes go on red, and stop on green, as in New York City!
After Aaron shows me the facilities, where everything is, including the showers downstairs, the ‘gents’ toilet (ten meters outside my door), etc. He does the usual explaining about times, breakfast, rules, booking, etc. When he’s finally gone, I unpack, undress and fall onto the bed exhausted! I’m managed to turn the fan directly on me!
It’s been two interesting, but long travelling days in China! Note… travelling is work, just like any other job I’ve ever had. Most people thinks it’s a vacation! Not the way I travel!
Postscript: Best of all, no mosquitoes! They burn mosquito ‘coils,’ everywhere! This is a sub-tropical climate, and one I can’t seem to get out of this summer of 05! I’m not a mosquito kind of guy! ‘Oh, momma can this really be the end, to be stuck in the tropics, with the Tibetan blues again?’