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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Train to Guangzhou
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!

Kunming (encore)

Back in the big city after a 12-hour bus ride from Dali. It is only 415 km for an average speed of 35 kph (20 mph). No speed records this time.

On the way back the bus was stopped at a police roadblock. Four men in green got on and inspected everyone's identification. Several people had their belongings throughly searched. One Chinese man was manhandled off the bus and did not return. I suspect they were searching for drugs from Burma and Laos.

Back in the Spring City of Kunming. I'm wondering what is the best way back to Hong Kong. Trying to weigh cost verses time and convenience. Hard sleeper would be the best for me, but more expensive than the infamous hard seat. And I would have to pay tourist prices, making about 3 times higher than the Chinese price. The bus would be cheapest, but there is a lot of agony involved. Things to do: money, post office, and transportation to Hong Kong. I have just heard the first aircraft flying overhead in my two months in China.

"I have my fingers, arms, toes, legs, and whole body crossed hoping for good karma."

Ex-peace corps volunteer from Thailand waiting to go back to the US after two years in southeast Asia, in the Air China ticket office which is technically booked a month ahead, but usually has some seats on the day of the flight.
It worked, he got the flight.

I am at the Kunming Train Station looking to buy a ticket. This is not as easy as it sounds. As with everything in China that is in big demand, tickets through the normal channels are impossible to get, unless I go to the government tourist office where they tack on their hefty surcharge in addition to the inflated prices. Enter the black market. When I go to the train station, the ticket scalpers approach me and we begin a round of negotiation on the price. After some haggling, we agreed on a price of 200 yuan. This is about double the Chinese price, but less than the tourist agency, and the train leaves this afternoon. The bike is shipped as freight for 87.5 yuan, a ridiculous amount, but I have no white card entitling me to the Chinese price, so I pay again. This cost was unexpected and cleaned me out of Reminbi. I hope I have enough to buy food along the way.

On the Train to Guangzhou

The train left right on time. I'll have two days in the top bunk of a three-tiered set. I would have liked to have the middle one so I could look out the window from my bed. I think it was a wise choice getting a hard-sleeper. I just hope my bike makes it in one piece soon after I get there. Freight travels on a slower train.

"The Chinese are all one big family."
A man on the train to Guangzhou telling me not to be shy in accepting his apple or sitting on his bed.

I have met a guy who speaks pretty good English, which is nice. Plus the tracks are very smooth, making writing here possible. The bus would have been torture for that distance. Now if I can just get through the other side without getting caught with a Chinese ticket.

I have been very attracted to the Chinese women. They look great, especially in their black tights with their long shiny black hair flowing gracefully down their backs. I love to see them cycling around dressed to kill in tights, heels and long hair flying in the breeze.

Rolling through Guizhou Province, unfortunately it is dark. I would love to see the landscape that we cycled through from the train.

I met another English-speaking Chinese guy. This time it took about an hour to wear him out. I enjoy the exchange for a while, but I need my time as well.

Chinese Bike StampI went back to check out the dining car and met two American students stationed in Guilin. We talked for a while and then went to dinner. I was happy to see them. It was nice to have dinner with someone from home. They are going first class with a soft-sleeper. These are comparable to a sleeping car on Amtrak with four beds with miniature bathroom, carpet, and a door to shut out the world. It was a bit of a shock coming back to the hard-sleeper section. But it isn't all bad. Hard-seat has to be experienced to believed. Unlimited tickets are available for these cars, and it is always crowded, smoky, noisy, and dirty. It is a wall-to-wall human livestock crate.

Observations: I haven't seen any fences in China. Only 8 to 10' high solid brick walls around houses and towns. I guess the commune concept of land ownership doesn't need fences.

I just realized today is my birthday! It was a startling thought that was prompted by a song on the speaker system. It will be a day of reflection and future planning. It has been more than a year since I was last gainfully employed, preferring, instead to further my education of life through the "Grand Asian Tour". I am enjoying gaining insight as to how other people live.

Thoughts and sights: On the bus ride from Dali to Kunming we were stopped by a police road block. Three officers got on and inspected all the Chinese identification cards. Then they made a search of several people and went through their belongings very thoroughly. It was shocking for me to see. The police were very rude in their actions and the people on the bus were very submissive. They behaved as if this is a routine thing. I later talked to others who went through the same thing on their bus and they witnessed two guys thrown off the bus and man-handled out of sight. It is apparently an effort to control the flow of illegal drugs coming from Burma.

Another shocking sight of police brutality I saw in Kunming in front of the train station. A small elderly woman was repeatedly kicked to the ground by a very large police officer in full view several hundred spectators. I never knew the reason, but I suspected it was because of something she said. It was a very pitiful sight. In retrospect, I wonder if I should have tried to intervene.

A list of my life goals:

To live fully, honestly and completely.

To have a long-term loving and enriching relationship with a woman.

To travel to distant lands and experience foreign cultures.

To become spiritually aware, practice mediation and achieve a peace of mind.

To do meaningful and helpful work.

To maintain contact with my friends.

My best guess of my future activities:

Traveling west and returning to the US in about a year.

Moving to San Francisco, finding work possibly as a bike tour group leader.

Living abroad is also a very good possibility, maybe as a Peace Corps volunteer.

I would like to meet a woman who was my twin in temperament style and desire. We could live our dreams together sharing everything. I have met several couples who have done just that. The Kiwis in the Grand Canyon who worked two years and then traveled for two years. The French couple in Malaysia who worked at a French ski resort in the winter and traveled for six months in Asia during the summer.

I know she must be out there. Maybe we have already met, but I don't think so. I thought Lisa was it, though apparently she didn't because I haven't heard from her in years.

I just spent the last two hours with Matt and Kristy from Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. They are exchange students in Guilin. We had a true-blue American lunch: peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich. What a treat! I haven't had one of those since Hong Kong, two months ago. The Chinese really like peanuts, but haven't discovered how to make a decent peanut butter. Maybe because bread is relatively uncommon, and it is difficult to eat otherwise.

Matt had a suggestion for mailing things back to the States with less probability of them being inspected. He said to mail the items from the large hotels in big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou because the mail goes out in bulk and there is less chance of the mail being inspected.

"They may give you a hard time, but they won't do you wrong."

Matt, an American student studying in Guilin, on the Chinese code of ethics with regard to the possibility of the theft of my bike.

A quote from John Updike's Wife Wooing.

"You allow your skirt, the same black skirt in which this morning you wore with a woman's soft bravery mounted a bicycle and sailed forth to play hymns in different key on the Sunday school's old piano. You allow this black skirt to slide off your raised knee, down your thighs, slide up your thighs in your body's absolute geography, so parallel whiteness of their underside is exposed to the fires warmth and my sight. Oh, there is a line of Joyce."

The train hit a man walking along the tracks. The people said he probably would not live. His body lay in the ditch until the officials arrive. What a sad day. Ironically, the speaker system is playing a comedy program. Everybody is subdued, quiet and reflective. Life is short.

I shaved off my beard this morning, following the advice of an American guy I once met: no beard, no hassles. I hope it works.

After 54 hours on the train, I have arrived in Guangzhou. It was a very painless way to get back where I started and my worries about getting through the final checkpoint were groundless. The people departing the train swamped the ticket checkers and I actually had trouble giving my ticket to her. Now I have to wait until my bike arrives, hopefully quickly. One guy on the train said he thought it was on our train. I thought that was highly improbable since I gave it to the baggage people only 10 minutes before the train left. However, I paid enough to have the thing flown here. It would be nice if it was. I'm not looking forward to spending three or four days in Guangzhou waiting for my bike.

The last several hours on the train I had a question and answer session with four Chinese men about America, mostly about the one thing on everybody's mind in China, money. I was amazed at how well informed they were on American history and politics.

On to  Goodbye China!

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!

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