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During these past five weeks in China I’ve been on a variety of trains throughout the northeast and central plains, but due to an often hectic schedule and sometimes spotty wireless access, I’ve been unable to make Dispatches From the Train posts regularly like I had planned. So instead, as I prepare to finish some last minute business and fly out tomorrow, I’ve decided to simply write a few blurbs to sum up my train-riding experiences in China.

– The state of the Chinese rail system reflects that of its wealth gap. There are extremely old trains that rattle and clink and stop at every sign of another crossing, and there are speedy rail systems similar to Japanese bullet trains.

– Even when seats and beds are sold out, passengers can still buy standing-only tickets. Often these ticket holders try to take a breather when smokers get up to take a drag, or they bring along something to sit on and find whatever free space is available. It’s not a huge deal for short rides, but I’ve been told of people standing for rides as long as 14 hours! Talk about sore legs.

– Long train trips during the day can drive you crazy. I had to experience it first-hand during an 11-hour trip that just about drove me out of my mind. Because the route we had to take was not a popular one, the train was an old, slow and raggedy one. It was essentially like riding on a packed old school bus for an entire day without anything to do except listen to music. (Reading – in English – would have drawn too much attention in that rural region.)

– After countless train rides this trip (and four months of living in France last year), I think I can safely say that I’ve been smoked to death. No one follows “no smoking” signs, and it pretty much became the death of me. Now serving: smoked Rowena on a bagel with cream cheese.

And tomorrow, hello America! I love traveling backwards through time zones.

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