Circumnavigating the globe: Eastern Europe, the Baltic Republics, Finland, Soviet Union, Trans-Siberian Express > China, Nepal, Southeast Asia, and NYC via LA.



 

[t] “June 16 - packed up, eggs on toast, 20 Baht “taxi” (a modified pickup truck garishly adorned with beach scenes and palm trees). Noodles in Na Thon awaiting the boat. Noodles in this cafe joint across from the railway station. Will miss the noodles as I surprisingly found myself missing chao fan.
Wasting time in a grungy restaurant opposite the Sura Thani railway station, boat from Ko Samui (lurching and rolling on the rough water the first segment of the journey) arrived at 5pm, train does not depart until 11:23pm. One of those unavoidable train station hang-outs. Spending the remainder of my baht, peanuts, uniballs, a beer to pass the time. Seems the majority of fellow travelers from the boat have already caught trains - to Bangkok no doubt. A nagging doubt concerning the validity of our train tickets… who to trust? Had the man from the guesthouse book them for us, 50 Baht surcharge.”

[t] “June 16 - packed up, eggs on toast, 20 Baht “taxi” (a modified pickup truck garishly adorned with beach scenes and palm trees). Noodles in Na Thon awaiting the boat. Noodles in this cafe joint across from the railway station. Will miss the noodles as I surprisingly found myself missing chao fan.

Wasting time in a grungy restaurant opposite the Sura Thani railway station, boat from Ko Samui (lurching and rolling on the rough water the first segment of the journey) arrived at 5pm, train does not depart until 11:23pm. One of those unavoidable train station hang-outs. Spending the remainder of my baht, peanuts, uniballs, a beer to pass the time. Seems the majority of fellow travelers from the boat have already caught trains - to Bangkok no doubt. A nagging doubt concerning the validity of our train tickets… who to trust? Had the man from the guesthouse book them for us, 50 Baht surcharge.”

[t] Thai train ticket gorgeousness. These are glued in my scrapbook, haven’t deciphered them yet - word out at work for someone who can read Thai, stay tuned…

[t] Thai train ticket gorgeousness. These are glued in my scrapbook, haven’t deciphered them yet - word out at work for someone who can read Thai, stay tuned…

[t] Trying to write on a moving train… priceless! All indications point to a much better overall mindset for me at this point, how were you feeling? I think I was poking fun at the “celibate fun and sun” comment from the MJ postcard because the celibate part wasn’t on *my* agenda… I tried to get some action, honestly! ;-) More “frustration” references in the journal to follow. And I often listened to music as I wrote, and often included song lyrics when they jived with my train of thought - I can still hear the music I was listening to when I was writing these entries, very cool.
[g] Oh, I was being entirely facetious. I didn’t intend it either, but that’s the way it worked out. As for mindset, I think I was relieved to be “on vacation”. Most of my recall is colored by the travel sickness I was developing, the head injury, the subsequent fall fear, and the bout of Dengue Fever to come. But I never gave up hope! Still don’t. I have an entry next week that tries to sort things out. Stay tuned!
[t] I remember you hitting your head, but were you not feeling well otherwise? Tuned in!

[t] Trying to write on a moving train… priceless! All indications point to a much better overall mindset for me at this point, how were you feeling? I think I was poking fun at the “celibate fun and sun” comment from the MJ postcard because the celibate part wasn’t on *my* agenda… I tried to get some action, honestly! ;-) More “frustration” references in the journal to follow. And I often listened to music as I wrote, and often included song lyrics when they jived with my train of thought - I can still hear the music I was listening to when I was writing these entries, very cool.

[g] Oh, I was being entirely facetious. I didn’t intend it either, but that’s the way it worked out. As for mindset, I think I was relieved to be “on vacation”. Most of my recall is colored by the travel sickness I was developing, the head injury, the subsequent fall fear, and the bout of Dengue Fever to come. But I never gave up hope! Still don’t. I have an entry next week that tries to sort things out. Stay tuned!

[t] I remember you hitting your head, but were you not feeling well otherwise? Tuned in!

Needs to be seen to be believed… “Oh man!”

[g] I am still stunned by this, even after 20 years.

[t] “Hard seat hell en route to Guilin. Early morning start: departure 8:45am. Arrival in the too-distant-future 7:15pm. Dice to amuse ourselves. 12:30pm and already claustrophobic. At least the open windows offer some semblance of space. Rain has stopped but the humidity is building under this complete cloudcover. Typically crowded hard seat scenario, eating various breadforms. Luggage racks full of an assortment of carrying cases, bags, boxes, suitcases. Train attendant tapped me on the shoulder soon after departure, babbling something I couldn’t understand. A girl from the next seat told me in broken english to watch our bags, I asked her why just to see how she would respond, admitting to the dishonesty of certain Chinese elements? Grit had already chained her pack to the rack… The landscape hasn’t changed - still wet, green, and at times comprised primarily of mud. New brick 2-story structures interspersed with thatch roof mud houses, make-shift constructions. Men and oxen plodding ankle-deep through the muck.
'If you have any trouble, I would be pleased to help you' from an all-smiles pig-tailed guardian anglo-chinese engineer en route to Nanning on business. Located Grit a changing room for her change-of-clothing event. Carriage emptied out a bit at the last stop, half the luggage rack has been cleared, out the window of course. Three seats to ourselves - what luxury. Grit refusing to allow a sneaky Chinese man to inhabit our new-found space. Various food vendors plowing the aisles with plastic bags of indistinguishable fruit matter, steaming buckets of god-knows-what, oranges, eggs, bamboo shoots for gnawing, buns-on-sticks ('not to be confused with sticky buns' says Grit). Hot, sticky, inconvenient, uncomfortable, stagnant, filthy, this train ride is in some obscene way lifting my spirits.”

[t] “Hard seat hell en route to Guilin. Early morning start: departure 8:45am. Arrival in the too-distant-future 7:15pm. Dice to amuse ourselves. 12:30pm and already claustrophobic. At least the open windows offer some semblance of space. Rain has stopped but the humidity is building under this complete cloudcover. Typically crowded hard seat scenario, eating various breadforms. Luggage racks full of an assortment of carrying cases, bags, boxes, suitcases. Train attendant tapped me on the shoulder soon after departure, babbling something I couldn’t understand. A girl from the next seat told me in broken english to watch our bags, I asked her why just to see how she would respond, admitting to the dishonesty of certain Chinese elements? Grit had already chained her pack to the rack… The landscape hasn’t changed - still wet, green, and at times comprised primarily of mud. New brick 2-story structures interspersed with thatch roof mud houses, make-shift constructions. Men and oxen plodding ankle-deep through the muck.

'If you have any trouble, I would be pleased to help you' from an all-smiles pig-tailed guardian anglo-chinese engineer en route to Nanning on business. Located Grit a changing room for her change-of-clothing event. Carriage emptied out a bit at the last stop, half the luggage rack has been cleared, out the window of course. Three seats to ourselves - what luxury. Grit refusing to allow a sneaky Chinese man to inhabit our new-found space. Various food vendors plowing the aisles with plastic bags of indistinguishable fruit matter, steaming buckets of god-knows-what, oranges, eggs, bamboo shoots for gnawing, buns-on-sticks ('not to be confused with sticky buns' says Grit). Hot, sticky, inconvenient, uncomfortable, stagnant, filthy, this train ride is in some obscene way lifting my spirits.”

[g] Dead on and delightful.
[t] Not so delightful at the time. ;-)

[g] Dead on and delightful.

[t] Not so delightful at the time. ;-)

China, Day 25: April 27th, 1992, Changsa > Guilin
[g] ”A stifling ride. Cramped in a hard seat with no cross wind. Changed in to shorts in the conductor’s room to the amazement of the crowd. Thought I would pass out from the humidity…”

China, Day 25: April 27th, 1992, Changsa > Guilin

[g] ”A stifling ride. Cramped in a hard seat with no cross wind. Changed in to shorts in the conductor’s room to the amazement of the crowd. Thought I would pass out from the humidity…”

[t] While we waited for the train four young Chinese students swooped down on us with a barrage of questions which only further swelled our audience. Adequate English, cheerful, inquisitive, annoying persistence… Soon after departure we were ‘discovered’ yet again by the roving english speakers. Spent most of the four hour train ride providing them ample opportunity to practice their english. The two boys (ages 19 and 20) were all over each other, arms around shoulders, stroking each others faces, holding hands… This public display of affection never ceases to amaze me. The concept of homosexuality simply does not exist here - men are free to physically express affection between themselves and avoid the sexual implications this breeds in the West. The introduction of the concept of homosexuality would almost certainly squelch this Chinese behavior. All four from large families, which 20 years ago was promoted. Engineering students. Escorted us to the Lotus Hotel upon arrival in Changsha - first hotel sent us away (because we’re foreigners?). We asked for their address, which we found they had already written out for us - we were the first foreigners they had ever had the opportunity to converse with in english.”
[g] “So we decided to kill time with a dice game at the station. Not for long. A group of college students descended upon us to practice their English. Lots of giggling and face hiding. Humorous to a point…
Found a seat, but the students found us too. 4 hours of Q&A. ‘How have you adapted to conditions in China?’ Good question! Shared some of the problems we’ve had and tried desperately to think of some positive aspects. Not easy. 
They were all 20-years-old and the two boys could not keep their hands off of each other. Bizarre and bordering on the erotic. They all insisted on taking us to a hotel. Exchanged addresses much to their delight.”

[t] While we waited for the train four young Chinese students swooped down on us with a barrage of questions which only further swelled our audience. Adequate English, cheerful, inquisitive, annoying persistence… Soon after departure we were ‘discovered’ yet again by the roving english speakers. Spent most of the four hour train ride providing them ample opportunity to practice their english. The two boys (ages 19 and 20) were all over each other, arms around shoulders, stroking each others faces, holding hands… This public display of affection never ceases to amaze me. The concept of homosexuality simply does not exist here - men are free to physically express affection between themselves and avoid the sexual implications this breeds in the West. The introduction of the concept of homosexuality would almost certainly squelch this Chinese behavior. All four from large families, which 20 years ago was promoted. Engineering students. Escorted us to the Lotus Hotel upon arrival in Changsha - first hotel sent us away (because we’re foreigners?). We asked for their address, which we found they had already written out for us - we were the first foreigners they had ever had the opportunity to converse with in english.”

[g] “So we decided to kill time with a dice game at the station. Not for long. A group of college students descended upon us to practice their English. Lots of giggling and face hiding. Humorous to a point…

Found a seat, but the students found us too. 4 hours of Q&A. ‘How have you adapted to conditions in China?’ Good question! Shared some of the problems we’ve had and tried desperately to think of some positive aspects. Not easy. 

They were all 20-years-old and the two boys could not keep their hands off of each other. Bizarre and bordering on the erotic. They all insisted on taking us to a hotel. Exchanged addresses much to their delight.”

China, Day 23: April 25th, 1992, Changsa to Shaoshan
[g] ”Awoke early this a.m. to battle it out at Window 6 of the train station. We’re willing to go anywhere at this point just as long as we can make progress toward ultimately leaving the country. Guilin it is. A hard-seat on the day train for 9.5 hours. Will kill the next 2 days in Shaoshan rather than stay here in the rain. Will move on to Yangshuo from Guilin in order to avoid the crowds. 
In search of scenery and serenity. Am confounded as to how a Buddhist could survive in this madness. And what of the so-called Chinese Inner Harmony? There is nothing harmonious about this country. In my opinion. How can anyone stand to live here in these conditions? I would have to live in one of those Cadre Compounds to be sure.”

China, Day 23: April 25th, 1992, Changsa to Shaoshan

[g] ”Awoke early this a.m. to battle it out at Window 6 of the train station. We’re willing to go anywhere at this point just as long as we can make progress toward ultimately leaving the country. Guilin it is. A hard-seat on the day train for 9.5 hours. Will kill the next 2 days in Shaoshan rather than stay here in the rain. Will move on to Yangshuo from Guilin in order to avoid the crowds. 

In search of scenery and serenity. Am confounded as to how a Buddhist could survive in this madness. And what of the so-called Chinese Inner Harmony? There is nothing harmonious about this country. In my opinion. How can anyone stand to live here in these conditions? I would have to live in one of those Cadre Compounds to be sure.”

China, Day 23: April 25th, 1992, Changsa to Shaoshan
[t] Yesterday’s Travel Trauma day left off with plans to try our luck at securing tickets out of Changsha at the train station before heading to Shaoshan.
"Up early enough to depart hotel about 8am. In no mood/physical state to brave the train station ticket window, but it had to be done. Finding the strength to overcome! albeit miserably. Queued at window 6 for about 30 minutes before reaching the window. Grit blocked the left access with herself and our packs to prevent (at least from one side) queue jumps which seem to operate throughout China. The previous evening I had laboriously compiled 3 destination sheets - 1 to Kunming, 1 to Guilin, 1 to Shaoshan. The ticket window was barricaded behind a metal fence with an opening just large enough to frame the face opposite the small window in which was perched a slat of wood at an upward angle which served to just about make impossible any eye contact between the people and the ticket girl. Most Chinese could barely reach the window through the metal fence! I, of course, could’ve poked her in the eye had I felt so inclined. I presented her with option #1 - Kunming. Back and forth, with the aid of an ‘english speaker’ she dug out from the depths of the office. As it transpired, so I understood, only one hard-sleeper was available on ANY day before the 28th - even hard seats seemed to be in short supply. Insisting on the 28th as the first day we could possibly travel, I switched tactics and turned the piece of paper over to option #2 - Guilin. Dave and his dad miraculously materialized at this point but we were too deep to pay them much attention. Crowd getting anxious at this point. Mob scene, but I stood my ground, Grit = mental support. Guilin was cool, 2 hard seats for the 8:45am train. 105Y total. So Guilin it is!"
My next attempt at two tickets to Shaoshan for later in the day was met with defeat so we braved the bus station and secured tickets for the 1:30pm bus for 9Y with the help of a kid who offered his assistance - “our benefactor and friend!”.
Remember the bus ride? “Oh man, this bus has no windshield wipers!” as the rain began! The bus leaked, and a bag kept falling on your head. I spent the entire 2 hours desperately needing to pee, even tried to pee in an empty beer bottle surrounded by my rain poncho… good times.
[g] Was so hoping you had one of the Destination Chits! We had amazing strategies. Remember my Wander Stock (dis-used DDR flag pole) and how it helped to ward off the queue breakers? Sometimes I would just bang it on the ground to scare people. Anyway, our tenacity in the face of so much opposition was commendable. I read ahead in the journal tonight and have some good things for tomorrow and the next few days.
[t] Yes, the flag pole, your constant companion since Berlin. Wasn’t it left in the taxi at the dock in Guangzhou?

China, Day 23: April 25th, 1992, Changsa to Shaoshan

[t] Yesterday’s Travel Trauma day left off with plans to try our luck at securing tickets out of Changsha at the train station before heading to Shaoshan.

"Up early enough to depart hotel about 8am. In no mood/physical state to brave the train station ticket window, but it had to be done. Finding the strength to overcome! albeit miserably. Queued at window 6 for about 30 minutes before reaching the window. Grit blocked the left access with herself and our packs to prevent (at least from one side) queue jumps which seem to operate throughout China. The previous evening I had laboriously compiled 3 destination sheets - 1 to Kunming, 1 to Guilin, 1 to Shaoshan. The ticket window was barricaded behind a metal fence with an opening just large enough to frame the face opposite the small window in which was perched a slat of wood at an upward angle which served to just about make impossible any eye contact between the people and the ticket girl. Most Chinese could barely reach the window through the metal fence! I, of course, could’ve poked her in the eye had I felt so inclined. I presented her with option #1 - Kunming. Back and forth, with the aid of an ‘english speaker’ she dug out from the depths of the office. As it transpired, so I understood, only one hard-sleeper was available on ANY day before the 28th - even hard seats seemed to be in short supply. Insisting on the 28th as the first day we could possibly travel, I switched tactics and turned the piece of paper over to option #2 - Guilin. Dave and his dad miraculously materialized at this point but we were too deep to pay them much attention. Crowd getting anxious at this point. Mob scene, but I stood my ground, Grit = mental support. Guilin was cool, 2 hard seats for the 8:45am train. 105Y total. So Guilin it is!"

My next attempt at two tickets to Shaoshan for later in the day was met with defeat so we braved the bus station and secured tickets for the 1:30pm bus for 9Y with the help of a kid who offered his assistance - “our benefactor and friend!”.

Remember the bus ride? “Oh man, this bus has no windshield wipers!” as the rain began! The bus leaked, and a bag kept falling on your head. I spent the entire 2 hours desperately needing to pee, even tried to pee in an empty beer bottle surrounded by my rain poncho… good times.

[g] Was so hoping you had one of the Destination Chits! We had amazing strategies. Remember my Wander Stock (dis-used DDR flag pole) and how it helped to ward off the queue breakers? Sometimes I would just bang it on the ground to scare people. Anyway, our tenacity in the face of so much opposition was commendable. I read ahead in the journal tonight and have some good things for tomorrow and the next few days.

[t] Yes, the flag pole, your constant companion since Berlin. Wasn’t it left in the taxi at the dock in Guangzhou?

I was going to excerpt the day’s journal entry, but figured it was easier to just scan the damn thing! Watching the world go by through the window of a speeding train is still one of the best parts of traveling for me…
[g] Lovely descriptions of the terrain.

I was going to excerpt the day’s journal entry, but figured it was easier to just scan the damn thing! Watching the world go by through the window of a speeding train is still one of the best parts of traveling for me…

[g] Lovely descriptions of the terrain.

[g] ”Shanghai > Changsa. On the train to Mao Country.

Finished The Last Emperor (E. Behr). A sordid tale of manipulation and collusion. One can’t help but feel sympathy for this lost soul, but at the same time the moral smacks of comeuppance. After all, one brat that suffers does not make up for the scores of oppressed peasants. It boils down, as always, to the value of a human life—not only the elite.”

China, Day 12: April 14th, 1992, Wuhan

[t] “April 14. The first cig of the day as the Pet Shop Boys serenade the peasants already well-into the day’s work. Chickens in crates between the carriages of this train - see you at dinner. 7:30am, how can Grit sleep through the awakening of a Chinese night train is beyond me. Once again, some fierce snoring going on - masked by the noise of the moving train, but deafening at late-night stops.

Huayuan at 11:50am as I emerge from a top-bunk nap. Another bright and sunny day in China - heading south, gratefully. This landscape is predominantly flat, with a slight terracing of the small plots of varying greens and browns, workers in blue with hats to shield the sun, oxen pulling plows.”

[g] These shots are excellent. So nice to see the view as I recall it as well.

China, Day 11, Train to Wuhan
[g] ”Car #15 of Train 394 to Hankou/Wuchang was rather grubby. One hour in to the journey it was a complete mess: orange rinds, nut shells, pits, egg shells, spit, paper waste, etc. Played dice and scored a personal best. Doubly happy about that!
The dinner was no surprise, we got what we ordered and paid a fair price. The restaurant car revealed the age of the train: 50s lifting fixtures and green metal fans. The rickety metal chairs were draped with dingy slip-covers and each table had a Bonsai tree on it.
On our way back to our sleeper, we passed 2 chickens in the hallway. Upon closer inspection we saw that their feet were bound. See you at breakfast!”
[t] “Train XIAN-WUHAN, depart 19:00, hard sleeper 143.5Y = $26.33”

China, Day 11, Train to Wuhan

[g] ”Car #15 of Train 394 to Hankou/Wuchang was rather grubby. One hour in to the journey it was a complete mess: orange rinds, nut shells, pits, egg shells, spit, paper waste, etc. Played dice and scored a personal best. Doubly happy about that!

The dinner was no surprise, we got what we ordered and paid a fair price. The restaurant car revealed the age of the train: 50s lifting fixtures and green metal fans. The rickety metal chairs were draped with dingy slip-covers and each table had a Bonsai tree on it.

On our way back to our sleeper, we passed 2 chickens in the hallway. Upon closer inspection we saw that their feet were bound. See you at breakfast!”

[t] “Train XIAN-WUHAN, depart 19:00, hard sleeper 143.5Y = $26.33”