Just get me to Beijing!

June 2011. I felt defeated but relieved when the woman behind the ticket window asked, “Where?” “Beijing,” I replied. “Passport, please.” She issued the train ticket and advised, “Run. The train leaves in fifteen minutes.” “Xie xie (thank you).” I ran toward the gate and joined the queue for the high-speed train. I didn’t have …

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Barbarians at the Jade Gate

May 2011. “Wo ting bu dong (I don’t understand),” I explained in halting Chinese to those around me on the train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang. It seemed to have worked for they nodded with smiles and repeated my words. The buzz in the small room resumed and my presence was soon taken for granted. The …

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The phoenix has a soul

May 2011. It’s Yinchuan alright. I checked my map to make sure that I got off the train at the right place. Nicknamed ‘the Phoenix City,” the place sort of disappointed. Located at the edge of the Tengger desert, 950 kilometers south of Mongolia, I expected a city with low-slung buildings and old construction – …

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Classic Hong Kong

May 2016. Tsim Sha Tsui terminal in Kowloon receded behind the mist. The green and white Star Ferry made its way across Victoria Harbor toward Hong Kong Island. The wind on my face was a welcome respite from the muggy air that enveloped this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. The skyline of Central District …

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The waiting hall at Hohhot station

May 2011. The speakers crackled with the sound of martial music. It lasted for about 10 seconds, and then a female voice uttered some Chinese words in that familiar, halting pre-recorded cadence. People looked up, listened intently, and gathered their belongings or continued what they were doing. I didn’t even budge from my deep trance. …

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