This trip is for those who take pride and pleasure in life’s discomforts.  Currently, we are riding in a six bunk compartment—one of at least 18—in the 11th car of a 22-hour train ride.  Each compartment is separated from the other by a thin-wall of plaster and a metal ladder that links one’s bunk with the next.  Most of my classmates were simply appalled.  I, though not squealing with joy, was more apt to simply deal with it: a difference in social-economics—where one class has nearly every demand met or all hell breaks loose, and the underlings who are more accustomed to being a mere object in the hands of fate—was highly evident. 

The idea of sleeping in a wide open space with tons of strangers with no barriers whatsoever is always terrifying. One’s sense of vulnerability is magnified.   However, the experience in Russia, in which a cunning character was able to enter our cabin despite its double locks, reveals how often one simply lives under the guise of security.  I honestly felt more secure in an environment where nothing and no one is private:  this way, no one is lulled into a false sense of comfort or security.  Yet, we seem to be the only ones with the slightest concern; most people are lounging in their respective bunks when we arrive.  A woman in the bunk next to me changes her son’s diapers without a care in the world.  It dawns on me that the socialist/communist history of the county has made the Chinese completely comfortable with communal living and lack of privacy.  Americans, with capitalism seething through our veins, view his neighbor as a competitor and seek to place as many barriers as possible. 

The hard sleeper is considered luxury for most Chinese.  The crowded standing/seating room located beyond the door of the dining cabin is the more prominent means of train-travel.  I can’t begin to fathom the misery one would endure after 22 hours of riding so uncomfortably.  I thank God to be in the hard sleeper and eventually drift off to sleep. Morning is announced by Chinese music oozing from nearby speakers.  My professor later jokes that we should be happy: At least it isn’t political propaganda.  It is 7:30 a.m.  While most of my classmates won’t awaken for another two hours, the train is pulsing with activity. 

In the next compartment four women of distinction (meaning old) play cards.  Many people stroll by—getting the blood circulation in their bodies pumping after night of stillness.  And, of course, the train officers are on patrol.  At about 3 in the morning, one of them abruptly entered our car barking loudly in Chinese some sort of order.  After a few minutes of his angry symphony of ruckus and pantomime I was able to conclude that he wanted one of my bunkmates to hide his phone for safekeeping.  It’s ironic.  Though I’ve been in China for the last four weeks, this is my first taste of genuine China—A China without the parade of strength and wealth, the China that most of its inhabitants would call home. 


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