Taking the train to [Unnamed Ancient Kingdom] is an unforgettable experience. The train slices through markets, runs a few feet from thatched roof huts and rumbles and bucks back in time. The train track is so uneven, we spend half the time suspended in weightlessness and wonder how the cars don’t get derailed. As the distance to the city increased the scenery changes to water buffalo dragging plows, oxen pulling carts and farmers working fields of rice and other crops.
This is Cranky building his middle bunk on the train to Dali. He had just painstakingly explained the numbering system of the hard sleeper beds to an elderly Chinese couple using multiple permutations of all the 27 words in his Mandarin vocabulary. His system analysis stemmed from his experience with two soft sleeper rides and careful analysis of the roman numbers displayed next to the beds and on his ticket. Only trouble was: Not only are the local people much better at reading the Chinese characters on the reservation tickets but the numbering system between soft sleeper and hard sleeper are not consistent. In soft sleeper each bed has a unique number within the train car, in hard sleeper each bed is referred to by cabin number and level: Bottom, middle and top, signified by Chinese characters.
© photo: Katja
No modern mode of transportation quite yields the gravitas for the beginning of a long journey as does the iron horse. The antiquated fussing with door stools at the Portland Amtrak station makes us feel like we are doing something important. A short embrace with sweet Tess and our familiar world contracts to two small backpacks and each other.