The Westward March
By The Scrambling Scribers
Nov 12 and 13
By Kamal Raj Sigdel
The foggy street in front of the Ping An Fu hotel, Beijing made an impression of an early morning at some remote harbor. The three of us: Kamal, Derek and Huma set our sail for the adventure and left the harbor. The place we were heading was virtually an uncharted land for us. The trip was going to be adventurous, especially because we didn't know anyone there; none of us could speak Chinese, and we didn't have any special arrangements for our lodging and flooding.
The challenges emerged as we left the hotel and most the time they were about communicating with the Chinese speaking general public. One of the Chinese friends that we met on the subway the other day had told us a joke, "If you are lost and don't know how to speak Mandarin, find a young Chinese wearing specks, s/he will explain you in whatever you need in English." Interestingly, the joke turns out to be no longer a joke. Whenever we feel like we are lost, we search for someone wearing glasses and we get the right answer. We reach Military Museum by subway but after that we had to ask someone the right way. The formula worked and we reached the Beijing Train Station on time. We had enough time and thought of having some food.
Whenever we think of having food we had problems. I would not eat beef at all, Huma would not eat pork and Derek would eat everything. Just to make sure that the food we want to buy was not beef or pork we had no alternative but either to draw a picture of a cow/pig or act out a cow/pig.
We happened to enter KFC fast-food restaurant and we shared a table with a stranger as there were no vacant seats. We tried to know something about our first destination while we eat. The young person, who would not speak English, called his girlfriend to help us find a place to stay in Chongqing. His girl friend, Gong Jiang gave us phone number of one of her friends and called him up to help us when we reach Chongqing.
The train station was one testimony that China is really a big country with huge population. We had to really push ourselves hard through the huge crowd, which for the first time features all sorts of people. People with sacks on their backs, people with beddings, people who don't look as well off as we saw in the Beijing Capital International Airport. This also indicated the rapid migration taking place in the country.
We had already stuffed our bags with some food. The train pulled away slowly at first then faster and faster. The view of rural China through the train window was panoramic but at times it was scary. The road would sometime fly over the villagers' roofs making it impossible for them to use the road.
The people in the train were unexpectedly friendly. We made many good friends during the 26-hour journey from Beijing to Chongqing. There were some ways to make friends. The Chinese seemed to take interest when we would try to speak their language, though just bits and pieces. We would ask their name: Ni Jau samma min cha? The card tricks and games were other means to make friends. Derek had known quite a number of card tricks and some of the youngsters came up with really astonishing kind of card games. We stayed late night playing cards with other Chinese passengers and also playing to a small kid who was really cute. When we speak everyone would laugh and that's what we seem to like most. We concluded that the degree of hospitability among the Chinese people and their friendly behavior will attract more and more foreigners to visit their country.
When we wake up early in the morning the train was still pulling southward. We were about to reach Chongqing. What we could see through the train window was surprising. Almost everywhere, we could see huge constructions going on: highways and bridges being built, high rise buildings under construction, cranes atop most of the skyscrapers, factories and chimneys and the likes. Somewhere we could see a whole new city under construction. We wondered: whom are these buildings for? Most probably for the 900 million rural Chinese who have not benefited from the recent economic growth in comparison to their urban counterparts. One of the new friends, You Jhi, who was also in the same cabin, said that the Chinese government wants to attract foreign investment in these cities and therefore it is focusing on building the infrastructure first.
We reached Chongqing Train Station at 4:00pm. We called up the new friend from Chongqing who was requested to meet us at the Chongqing Train Station. As we had expected, he came to pick us up in the station at the right time. While waiting for the new friend to come, we went into McDonalds for coffee. One of the staff at the restaurant suggested us to go to Youth International Hostel which she said was really cheap. The new friend, whose name was Xian, came and we left for the hotel. We took shower and went out in search of food, some Asian spicy food which we were looking for so long.
We had to again draw a couple of pictures of cow and pig. We had some very spicy and hot food stuff at last. The day was already gone. We had to sleep for a fresher morning.
The train journey from Beijing to Chongqing also explains a lot about Chinese hospitality. They are all friendly people who are peaceful and harmonious in real sense of the term.
We decided to take a three-bed room and stay together that night. Something weird happened that night after we slept. We heard some scary noises coming from bathroom. There was a continuous tapping sound and some noises like someone is flushing the toilet. But when we woke up to see what was going on, it stopped. Huma ran toward the other corner in fear. We looked in the bathroom and there was nothing.
The day's trip revealed us two major issues: one is the fact that there is no other country in the world where so much of construction is going on at such an accelerating rate, and the other is China's confidence to take on the leadership role is rising like anything. If we are to avert future conflicts among world's major powers (old or new), the world must respect the modern China, the center of the world.