CHINA JOURNALFriday, May 3 through Saturday, May 4
The adventure started off on a delightful note. Cui Hua and I were going to take one bus from the neighborhood restaurant almost all the way to Bohan School to catch the second bus which would take us to the train station. Two young fellows (one of them cooks at Bohan) had been here cleaning windows and they said that they would take us to the second bus stop. Their transportation was a three wheeled bike with the low box transport frame in back that has two flat metal extensions on the side where you can sit. So we sat, put our bags at our feet, one fellow peddled while the other one rode as long as the street was level and hopped off to push when it was steep. Great fun. The bus was there and an hour later we were at the train station where Cui Hua's brother and girl friend met us with some bread to take on the train.
We were riding in the hard sleepers. That is a category, not a description, although it is also descriptive. There are four categories: hard chairs, soft chairs, hard sleepers, and soft sleepers, each one getting significantly more expensive. The hard sleeper is rather like a well kept cattle truck. There are no doorways. There is an aisle down one side that has a small projecting table top and two pull down seats by each window. The rest of the space is divided into eleven compartments. Each compartment has two triple bunk beds, so we are talking about sixty-six people sleeping in the car. In the bottom bunk bed you can sit up straight on the flat, typical hard Chinese bed and lean back against the absolutely vertical bare wall. (I had a bottom bunk.) The next one up, where Cui Hua slept, was not as tall and you would have to hunch over to sit upright. On the last level you had to enter and maneuver in a horizontal position. The Chinese are wonderful about sharing space. No one gets a possessive feeling about his bunk. If everyone on the car sat down, there would have to be two people sitting on each bottom bunk or someone spread out up above. Very softly there is Oriental elevator music in the background, but once I found myself humming along to ``What Child is This?''
Each bunk has a fresh clean sheet spread on it. Folded at one end is another clean sheet, a pure wool heavy blanket, a pillow, and a fresh cloth to put on the pillow. There is a small table projecting part way between the beds with a white cloth and a small tray that is good for many uses. Underneath is a closed trash can and a very large thermos of hot water fitted into a stand to keep it from tipping. At the end of the car are two squat-style toilets, each with a small sink and a separate washroom with two larger sinks and a big mirror. If you traveled with much luggage, there would be a problem.
Many people bring their own food. (We had white bread, pickled turnips, cheese crackers, and an orange.) Hot water is always available. People with narrow airplane style push carts go down the aisles selling a variety of foods, hot and cold. You can also stick your head out the window at any station stop and buy fresh cooked food including chicken and pork. I was hoping to get to walk the length of the train and see the different accommodations. It was daunting to get through just one car because people are standing or sitting in the aisle. Needless to say, I was the only Caucasian; this was a truly Chinese experience, with men outnumbering the women probably three or four to one, many of them dressed in their suits and ties. After four hard sleeper cars I came to a curtained division which I figured was not for me to pass. My understanding is that the soft sleeper has four instead of six to a compartment and each compartment has a closed doorŠand no air conditioning. I can see how that would not be as good if you got closed in with a smoker and if it was hot. With the cattle car you can get good cross breezes. The sitting wasn't bad, though I found myself looking at my watch after two hours and thinking, ``When do we get there?'' It was a sixteen hour trip. I was glad to lie down and go to sleep just to get into a different position. I was amazed at how quiet the car was at nightŠno conversations, no laughing, no snoring or sniffling.
What amazed me the most was the view out the window when it was dark. When you travel the length of the San Joaquin Valley in California by train, even in the parts where there are no little towns, you can always see some lights in the distance. Not so here. We went miles with no lights to be seen. Very occasionally we would see a little house with one light near the track. In the morning the scenery had become a little more rolling with some small mountains in the back and the wonderful morning mist and fog that look like a Chinese painting and which actually lasted all day.
Sights along the way included lots of three wheeled small trucks. Miles of greenhouses with a dirt wall on three sides, bamboo pools arched over, and plastic spread over that. Farming plots that look like Indiana truck farms with small plantings rather than the huge ranch plantings of California. Each plot would be a different crop which would make it easy to rotate crops on the land. Typically a small rice paddy would alternate with a small wheat planting. The wheat looked as if individual sprouts had been poked into the ten inch wide plastic strip that ran the length of the top of the hill. The trough was then open to the rain.
When I was working with Ren Hai Ying's daughter on her presentation of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Ren Hai Ying brought in what looked like a little riding whip to see if that would be a good prop. I couldn't quite figure it out since it certainly wasn't the ``normal'' shepherd's crook. On this train trip we saw lots of flocks of sheep and of goats, running from 10 to 40 animals each and guess what each shepherd carriedŠa riding whip, not a crook. I never saw one actually being used.
Cui Hua and I were met at 5:45 a.m. at the train station in Nanjing by our guide (whose name I never did find out) and taken to the hotel where we were to join our group for breakfast at 7:00. This was a Chinese tour group, and they take their touring seriouslyŠearly breakfasts, full days, no ``afternoon free to explore'', and no time to clean up or rest before dinner. There were thirty eight of us. No one spoke much English but they all really looked after me. After Cui Hua explained that I was a vegetarian, they would all let me know which dishes were ``no-no's'' and which were okay. (You can't always tell by looking with Chinese food.) It was mostly a young people's group, many young couples, three fellows in their 20s, four ladies in their 40s, a mother and daughter, a 20 year old and her grandmother who was 68, and Cui Hua with me. The grandmother, who had a broad, gold smile and stood almost up to my shoulder, really hit it off with me. She was delightful. It is the second time that I have shared the feeling that the other person put into motions and words of feeling a oneness with someone and so wishing they could share from their heart with me. Fu Ling said the same thing when she came back from her trip and I was looking at her little red book of Mao's sayings. I never believed that Esperanto was the answer, but it certainly would be nice if we all spoke the same language the world over. The other one who adopted Cui Hua and me was one of the three fellows and who was really funny. He was my height and built like a tankŠgood heavyweight wrestler or football lineman. He had a voice like a fog horn and didn't hesitate to use it. He was happy to take up any cause with great indignation, volume, brashness, and humorŠbut he had a heart of gold. He kept track of us and shepherded us around, being sure we got to the right placesŠand waiting patiently.
Nanjing is a big city located on the biggest river in China with the third longest bridge in the world. The Chang Jiang (Yangzi) is crowded with barge traffic including the home style barges where you can see the little living quarters including the chickens on the back. We visited and shopped at the Temple of Kong Ciu where there were hand paddled water boats.
One of the funniest things about the Chinese traveling is their approach to picture taking. Earlier I had looked at Gao Ming's picture albums of his travels. Every picture, without exception, was a picture of him posed in front of some interesting or famous site. At every site where the guide points out something, the Chinese take turns posing (and I mean striking a model-like posed position) while someone takes their picture. Meanwhile I'm waiting for a shot that is clear of people, which is often hard to manage. Cui Hua and the Tank were both really into this. Cui Hua had trouble with her camera, so she and the Tank shared the film and his camera and took many pictures of each other. The guide waits patiently through this ritual.
It was hazy in Nanjing Saturday morning as we drove around. Much of China was denuded of its trees during the Cultural Revolution when Mao felt driven to modernize China by producing lots of steel and forests were laid bare all over China to fuel the furnaces. Nanjing, which throughout history has had a rebellious streak, managed to escape. Although in most of our travels we saw no old growth forests, only ones that have been planted in the last thirty years, Nanjing still has its famous old sycamore trees. They are really large and line all of the main streets. When young they were pruned to branch into a U form at about eight feet high so you look down a street through the series of U shaped trees. Apparently they used to be four deep for many years and, while they escaped the Cultural Revolution, they have not escaped the modernization and encroachment of buildings. Nanjing is one of three cities in China known as ``furnaces'' and the locals tell how much they miss the shade that all the trees provided.
Nanjing has served as the capital at various times during its history. One was when Dr. Sun Yat Sen became the first president of the Republic in 1912. As a Cantonese Dr. Sun Yat Sen, who actually spent some time in Chinatown in Bakersfield, always said that he wanted to be buried in Nanjing. His impressive mausoleum, Zhongshan Ling, is built at the top of the hill in a 20 acre park. The flowers throughout are stunning. A clever innovation are the lattice work pavers in the parking lot which allow water to get to the trees planted there. There are 392 granite steps leading up to the mausoleum itself where there was no queuing in evidence as masses of people on holiday shoved to get in to see the sepulchre.
The Presidential Palace, whose entrance looked very dark and dreary, opened into a lovely garden area and creamy yellow and white house and office. This was used by Dr. Sun Yat Sen in 1912, followed by Chiang Kai Shek when he was still in good graces, and finally in 1949 by the People's Liberation Army. The Nanjing Massacre of 1937, when the invading Japanese in six weeks of burning and looting slaughtered 300,00 Chinese and raped over 20,000, is at the heart of Chinese resentment of the Japanese who have never apologized for this and have officially voiced alternately that it never occurred or that it was simply a minor incident.
There were two scenes particular to Nanjing. The three wheeled people-transport vehicles here were mostly built on motorcycles rather than bicycles. They were lined up at the taxi stops. A large metal rod u-shaped contraption extended from most apartment windows. Laundry could be hung on it by threading bamboo poles through the sleeves, etc. and extending the poles either out from the window or parallel to the window. There were even huge clothespin clips that fitted onto the bamboo poles.
I have long been aware of the versatility of the fast growing bamboo, but I have a new appreciation of its strength. In Nanjing, we saw many of the shoulder poles with a weight hanging from each end. A very few were wooden poles or simply the worker's shovel pressed into use. Most were bamboo. These were a strip from a bamboo that would be around four or five inches in diameter. This provided a curved surface to fit against the shoulder and back. With heavy loads it has give so that the ends bounce up and down slightly as the person walks. The weight that both a human and the bamboo can carry are amazing. We saw one man carrying four cases of water bottles, two on each end, up the 392 steps of the Sun Yat Sen memorial! Many women fruit peddlers carry a bamboo pool with a flat basket of fruit at each end and a little hand carried hanging scale. It is easy to pick up and move to a new site.
Back in Tianjin I had been recording with my camera the construction of a multi-story apartment right next to ours. While I need to go back and study construction scaffolding in California, I was struck that something looked different about this. They strap two poles together to make a longer pole and fasten them at angles to provide bracing. I finally registered that it is the same pattern that has been used for centuries for the bamboo scaffolding that is still in use. They simply use the same pattern for metal poles that they use for bamboo.
We drove three hours to Wuxi, another big city, passing fresh water oyster farms along the way and stopping at the oyster factory for the obligatory talk and also a fast dinner. Back in the bus, we arrived at the entrance to our hotel and it was dark. Finally they discovered that we were at the wrong entrance and arrived at the right spot at the Haotong Hotel.
Throughout we stayed at the hotels for the touring Chinese which are perfectly adequate and clean though usually with a well-worn look. They would not make the foreign tourist list of hotels to be used. At this one Cui Hua and I were on the fourth floor. There was no elevator nor porter service. I was glad to have my one little bag as I watched others pull their bags up the stairs. (Cui Hua and I were the only ones using the Spring Tour provided tote bags.) The room did have big towels which were clean but had wear holes. No matter what was inside, every hotel had a pretty garden outside.
On the bus we had done some singing. One girl led the group in the Bingo song. I loved her version of the words: Once a farmer dog had he, Dingo name is name-Oh. It still sings the same!