For a recent gathering of family and friends for a wedding in PalmSprings, California, I was nostalgic when I got RT tickets for my son and his SO on the Coast Starlight, a train that runs down the west coast, from Seattle to LA. I was vicariously anticipating the romantic 30-hour each way North-by-Northwest journey, with sleeper cabin and dining car, indulging in ancestor worship and thinking of trains in China. My son took a fabulous photo from the train which I don't think he will mind my sharing here.
This image seemed so Chinese to me, the beautiful cranes observed from a train, and made me think about my China train travel experiences. (One in particular, a wonderful moment 20 years ago in the Chinese countryside when the Wizard was able to use, quite clearly in Mandarin, a phrase he had learned by rote: "Why is the train not coming?")
Here in Hawaii, we are having a major political "discussion" about rail, because we need alternate transportation really bad. In terms of both destination and placement, the crux of the issue is "Where will it go?" As if there will be one single long track that goes from here to there and solves everyone's problems. In Hong Kong, and Greater China, EVERYONE can get ANYWHERE because the trains go EVERYWHERE. Under harbors, through mountains, across deserts, below cities like mole tunnels. And routes are added constantly, like the controversial train to Tibet, and new lines all the time in Hong Kong, which challenge the whole infrastructure to update fares, route maps, stations, all of which can be accessed with a convenient debit card system. It makes the Horseshoe Curve seem really primitive.
This September, traveling from Xian to Wudang, literally THROUGH the series of mountains I had just two days before flown over, I was struck with the metaphor of train travel, the way we would be cruising through a long dark tunnel to burst out for a few seconds to glimpse a dreamy bright image of landscape in a valley with houses, laundry hanging out, a truck crawling along a dirt road, peasants tending a field, construction of a bridge, then suddenly back in the tunnel for a few more minutes until another glimpse, a crazy slide show that went on for hours. It was a metaphor for daily living, as we move through our workweek, with glimpses, flashes of insights as we go in and out of the tunnel. The metaphor of the train is so pervasive in modern literature, like that story of the train to hell we all had to read in high-school German class, and train references in blues songs. The train carries messages about love and death, destiny and fate. Standing next to a waiting train, you feel it vibrating, pulsing, breathing like an indifferent animal. In the great new Christmas classic movie, Polar Express, (which must be loved by anyone of a certain age who ever had a model train layout under their Christmas tree) the train is like the Tao. Just get on. Go visit the relatives. Watch the world pass by.
The Slow Train from Xian to Wudang