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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Second class, chair

June 2012.  The overnight express to Varanasi was late. Huge rats scavenged for food under the rails and benches at Lucknow’s Charbagh station - an imposing structure with a striking Mughal façade. The setting provided a splendid contrast that illustrated the paradox that was India. Although the Republic promotes a classless society, class still mattered …

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The slow express to Vienna

July 2018. Beads of sweat formed on my brow despite the A/C being at full blast in the car. The train zoomed past the Austrian countryside at lightning speed. But it couldn’t go fast enough as far as I was concerned. It was going to be twenty-five minutes of hell, and I couldn’t blame anyone …

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English patience

May 2015. The train guard made the announcement in a calm but stern voice, “The train will not be leaving until an abusive passenger has left it.” It was inevitable after what happened moments ago. The Arriva Wales train left Crewe on its way to Cardiff. There was a slight delay, but nothing of consequence. …

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The provodnitsa from hell

May 2013. Bright Siberian daylight filtered through the window as I laid on the upper bunk of my compartment. The train would be approaching Khabarovsk within the hour. "How early should I fold my bed linens and turn it in?" I wondered. "Would thirty minutes before arrival be good enough to avoid the ire of …

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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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