Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ma and Pa Larsen Visit China: Part 2- Trains

After visiting the Great Wall for our second day festivities, we headed for Tianjin via the uncompromising Chinese railway system (but only after squeezing in some more shopping).

The Beijing Railway Station
(Bryce- this is the place where the emotional father-son "high-five" was filmed at the end of Zhang Yimou's 2002 film Together)

I think the journey from Beijing to Tianjin was by far the most troublesome part of the vacation. When most Chinese roam the railways, they magically fit all their belongings into a small shoulder bag so it fits in the overhead compartment, making travel easy. When we Americans hit the tracks, we manage 2 sleeping/floppy children, 5 bulky suitcases, 5 backpacks, and a semi-collapsible double stroller. We fill the oversize luggage compartments in two different cars.

Though fitting our baggage in the train was embarrassing and troublesome enough, the worst part was actually getting to and from the train itself. Luckily in Beijing, there was a nice old man (a retired Party member) who followed us across the street and insisted to help us carry our luggage. Of course we were skeptical at first, but we could sense no guile in the old man; the Chinese are often very accommodating and willing to assist the helpless (with two children in a country that only permits one, we usually fit into this category--in their eyes at least). I think it was this man's vulnerability that gradually broke us down to accept his generosity: he was 80-years-old, nearly blind (he made me read signs for him), and was carrying our hefty suitcase; so at least he wouldn't have made it very far if he ran with our stuff.

The man helped us up and down crowded stairways all the way to the train itself (not handicap, or stroller, accessible at all). I suspect his standing in the Party allowed him to go that far without a ticket--he even rallied a few other young officers in uniform to help us! Once he made sure that we got all situated, he purposely left before we could express any thanks or snap a memorable photo. Though we sincerely appreciated his thoughtful gesture, we mostly counted our blessings that Beijing did not have the storms that bombarded Southern China that very week, stranding hundreds of thousands of people as they waited days to catch a train home for the holidays.

On the train, I had the glorious privilege as "keeper of the tickets," which caused some panic when I couldn't find our 4th ticket as the train started moving. Even though they knew I had four tickets when we got on the train, the workers said I had to buy a new ticket (plus a lost ticket fee) before exiting the train or the ticket-checkers wouldn't let me get out of the Tianjin station. After a prolonged and futile search, we decided that we would buy another lousy ticket. As we approached Tianjin, I found the missing ticket hiding between the lining and shell of my jacket (how did that get there?)!!! And can you believe that the ticket-checkers didn't even check my tickets when exiting the station??!!! I think I'm willing to pass the "keeper of the tickets" title to Tiffany, at least until the end of coat-wearing season.

We traveled much lighter on our return to Beijing. In my opinion, the biggest help was ditching the double stroller in Tianjin, which was the most difficult item to get up and down the stairways that plague every Chinese railway station. (If you look closely you can see Didi chillin in my sweet backpack.)


Anonymous said...

The only thing your great pictures don't show is the masses of people and the chaos before reaching the train. It was incredible. Mainly the Beijing to Tianjin trip. Hopefully we have photo documentation of that. Thank you for guiding and protecting me!

MN Mom

Zugman said...

Yeah, that was probably the most emotional high-five ever. You guys crack me up!