Trains and Planes
Since coming to China, I have had the opportunity to travel all over China. Because of CET’s gracious breaks (Spring Festival, intermediate period between JanTerm and Spring Term and just recently Spring break) I have been able to travel from the most Northern province of China to one of its most southern and last week I went as far west as I could go.
China’s developing economy has given way to an immense rail way system, and more recently more connectivity via air with newly built airports and competitive companies vying for people to buy their tickets. More and more people are flying around China because it is often so much more convenient to fly for 3 hours instead of taking a 16 hour train ride to the same destination. Yet, I would argue, riding the train is still the way to travel in China.
For spring break, I made travel plans with a friend to visit Dunhuang, a small town in the province of Gansu. Why travel to Dunhuang? My philosophy is, China is not Beijing, or Shanghai or any other major city hubs. I feel that living in Beijing has sheltered me in exploring the village life that many Chinese continue to live, and I felt traveling to a remote town might give me more of a taste of China’s diverse standards of living and ways of life. What better place to see contrast than the Gobi Desert? Furthermore, when I think of China, besides the Great Wall I also think of the Silk Road. Dunhuang use to be a major point in the Silk Road path, and I thought it would be exciting to trek in lands that were seen by people centuries before me, as they traveled through the desert to finally come upon Dunhuang, also known as their oasis town. To get a feel for travel even more, I rode a camel through parts of the Gobi, which was awesome.
To get to Dunhuang, I took two trains because there was no direct route from Beijing. I had the time of my life, despite the totally ride being more than 30 hours long (with a day break in between since I took two sleeper trains). I met so many amazing people, all who were caring and had completely different experiences than many of the Chinese I met in Beijing. I got to know a lot of people a lot more intimately than I did in Beijing, mostly because of the immensely long journey. For instance, I met a couple on my way back to Beijing, who were traveling to Norway to meet their daughter. Their life story was amazing, as they were relocated to villages when they were younger to be educated about village life since they both came from cities. During this relocation period, they met each other and eventually married and returned to the city to live and now have a daughter who is finishing her bachelor’s in Norway. I’m interested in people which is why I chose to study a language to be my vehicle to do so. Learning about China’s history through the memoires of people is fascinating, as just reading about China’s relocation policy or an article on China’s oversees education agenda would not compare to the depth of understanding. Riding on a train helped me see this, and I’m glad I took the train instead of the plane.