Begining of the Travel Posts: On the Train

As always, I apologize for the delay in putting up this post. There has been a drastic change in my situation that has hindered my writing. I have returned to America. I have been in the Atlanta area for over two weeks now and have established myself with a place to live and a job. I’m living in Decatur and last night was my first night working at Dante’s Down the Hatch in Lenox.

I’m still going to provide the narrative that lead to this conclusion of my story in China. However, I plan on doing it in intervals. I’ve put off writing these series of posts for a while, but hopefully over the course of the next week I should have them finished.

I think its appropriate to provide some background into what I was thinking going into the trip. My plan upon returning to China had been to go law school. With application deadlines fast approaching before I left to travel, I decided not to apply. Three years of law school would leave me with a massive debt and preparation for a job that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do. Even if I went to law school, I could eventually change careers, but realistically only after paying my debt. By that time, my twenties would have evaporated. Law school was only the link between point A, having majored in philosophy and religion, and point B, having a job, but I came to the conclusion that there were other fields where I could find employment with having to incur the bind of law school debt.

With that decision made, Grace and I were planning on returning to Atlanta after leaving China. Since Grace’s mother works for Emory University, she could go there for free, and I could try to find a job in Atlanta. On the other hand, Atlanta had never been a place I considered living by my own volition, so we agreed that after she finished her degree in two years, everything would be back on the table in terms of where in the world we went and what we did. This new plan also left questions as to what exactly I would do for a career, and for the most part, these questions linger.

That should be ample background into the way I was thinking at the time. Over the course of the trip, I wrote a couple journal entries. These provide obvious divisions for my posts. Whenever I read my own writing after it has sat for some time, it makes me feel like a pretentious asshole (maybe I am), and in reading back through my journal, I want to change some things. But, I really don’t think changing the writing gives an accurate picture of what or how I was thinking thinking at the time, so I’ve left the journal entries in tact except for the spelling and grammar mistakes I can catch. So without further ado, my first journal entry.

The twenty-two hour train stretch on the hard seats is almost over. We are an hour and a half away from Zhengzhou. We got up this morning with the sun, got on a train, watched it set in these seats, and we’ll see it rise again as we arrive.

Everything has went fairly smoothly on the train thus far. We were a little more rushed than I would have liked getting to our train this morning, but it was fine. I’ve been awake for the vast majority of the trip with the exception of two cat naps. Grace and I have mostly entertained ourselves with books and conversation. With our trusty Lonely Plant in hand, we concretized our plans a bit more. We set our sites and the amount of time we’ll spend at each sites. The trip is supposed to be relaxed, fluid, and adventurous, and a firm schedule detracts from that feeling. However, some of our most exciting sites are at the end of our route, and we want to make sure that those places get sufficient time.

The proposed itinerary goes as follows: arrival at Crystal’s farm sometime this afternoon; a full day there; on to Guilin in the morning pending train tickets (it should be one of our longest train ride on the trip to get to Guilin); three days in Guilin with the hopes of getting Grace’s visa extended in that time; three days in Yangshuo; back through Guilin to peruse the minority villages around Sanjiang and Longsheng in northeastern Guangxi province and Kaili in eastern Guizhou province for a week; three days in Anshan to see Zhijin cave and Huangshuo Falls if we so choose; a day in Xingyi to traverse a gorge in the area; maybe a day in Kunming; south to Xishuangbanna for a week; back north to Dali for three days; three days in Lijiang; three days to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge; three days to conclude our trip in Zhongdian and Tibetan area of Yunnan province. With this itinerary, I have a feeling we’ll lose our two days allotted to get home and end up flying back to Harbin.

Grace and I took turns reading the first chapter of Stephan Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and discussed. I spent most of my time sifting through the Lonely Planet reading about potential destinations for our next trip.

Traveling is a bizarre phenomenon. Here I am on the verge of the most exciting experience of my life, and I’m becoming enchanted with the places I’ll go on my next trip. Traveling is generally though of as a higher pleasure, but I’m not sure if it is any different that run of the mill materialism. Travelers are out to collect experiences like most people are out to collect cars, houses, TVs, and furniture to fill their world. Both ways of life are expensive. I don’t think it is appropriate to characterize traveling as a ‘higher pleasure’ in relation to a more materialistic life. Some argue that traveling is broadening; it makes you challenge your assumptions about how you own life must be lived. That may be true, but those are the byproducts rather than the goals of travel. Those who travel seek pleasure in travel just as those who buy things seek pleasure in that which they buy. I imagine those who travel solely for personal improvement are few in number. And my excitement about a trip further in the future on the eve on one trip shows that traveling can be just as consuming as materialism. Just as there is always something else you could buy; there is another cool place to go to that you haven’t seen.

With that said, this trip equals the pinnacle of excitement I’ve felt in my life. I can’t wait to get off the train and get things started.

Grace and I set timetables for events on the train to keep things moving. Lunch at one; dinner at seven; wine at nine. Instead of just waiting to get there, it gives you smaller, more manageable waits.

Wine or beer on the train is one of the best ways to pass the time… usually. This ride, the wine backfired on us a little. We had purchased two big bottles of Grand Dragon wine a while back knowing that they would be consumed eventually, but before we left, only one had been used. Grace suggested that we bring it along; I agreed even though I really wanted to just buy beer on the train.

We started drink probably around ten, and lively conversation ensued. Grace talked about the dynamics of Covington life. She also cursed herself by noting that she hadn’t gotten sick from drinking since she arrived in China and she was proud of herself. Discussion eventually followed about my relationship with my brother. Things got a little heated as I perceived her to be lecturing me on how to approach my relationship with him. I shook my head, and she told me that that was how she was going to approach her relationship with my brother. I shook my head and disapproved citing my brother’s character as the reason her methods wouldn’t work with him. Things got hostile, and I realized how drunk she was and told her the conversation was over.

After about five minutes, Grace also realized how drunk she was. The train started spinning, and her stomach started turning. I encouraged her to go to the bathroom, but she wasn’t feeling up to wading through the people standing in our car. A little while later, she demanded the plastic bags holding our snacks. She sat her head down on the table holding the bag and started throwing up. Although I wish I had been more helpful, I drank enough to make me tired and dosed on and off throughout her sickness. She would tap me when she wanted something; I would oblige her and fall back asleep. This went on for about an hour.

In the end, there was some vomit in the bag, but there was a trail draped down Grace’s clothes starting at her chest and ending between her legs. Either the bag was dripping, or she was missing the bag, or both, but the floor is now sticky with dried vomit. The bag is also still sitting tied at our feet. Our bags for our food are gone, but we have room for it all in our little backpack. However, the backpack got a little damp in the process as well.

We are the only white people in the car, as is usually the case. We draw a lot of interest in the hard seater cars because the people that sit here have less money and therefore generally less exposure to foreigners. Just me sitting here writing in English at six in the morning draws a lot of attention. The guy that is sitting next to me has been looking over my shoulder while I write. He has a standing ticket, but he is sitting on his suitcase in the aisle. He has cleared his throat and spit on the ground, rubbing the mucus into the carpet about fifteen times now. People have certainly gone out of there way to look at my notebook as they pass.

It is now are estimated time of arrival, but we are now just stopping at our next to last stop. I think we’ll have an extra half an hour to an hour left. Then we have to transfer to a bus to get to Crystal’s village. That should take another three hours or so, but we’ll certainly have to wait for the bus a little while. At first, I thought the trip to Crystal’s would be a nice midpoint on the way south, but I’m coming to think that despite it being more or less on our route, it is a tangent from more interesting areas. I’m still very excited about seeing Chinese farm life, but I’m skeptical that the time couldn’t be spent more enjoyably elsewhere.

That is all for my first journal entry. I’ll try to put the next one up tomorrow. I’ve posted all the pictures from the trip on my picture site, but I would recommend waiting to read about them before you look. I also put up the pictures from the trip with my family to Beijing on there; go ahead and take a look. I know its a bad time to post this because it’s UGA Spring Break, but hopefully by the time everyone gets back to school there will be plenty of material for procrastinating from school work. Feel free to contact me through more traditional means now, as I still have the same cellphone number.