July 11th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
The beginning (or end) of the Great Wall

But, of course, I managed, one always does.  In the end I slept on the floor, flat on my back, + stretched out like a corpse, Orwell’s “Burmese Days” beneath my head for a pillow – morning came as a relief.  Our friend the physicist was sitting on the bench opposite me, + during the morning he chatted with us quite a lot, the conversation for once reaching a reasonably intelligent level.  It was interesting to hear his thoughts on Hong Kong.  First of all, he told us, it was not a matter the average Chinese concerned himself with very much.  Secondly, he thought all the Hong Kong Chinese with any money would leave for USA before the handback.  And finally he thought there would be no more cheap cameras etc, tho’ he did hope there might still be cheap flights between London + Hong Kong.  Significantly, this was so that we would be able to visit China again – he expressed no hopes of being able to fly to Europe himself.  Before he got off the train, he gave us his address in Lanchow, + invited us to visit him if we had time.  This was much appreciated, + also rather brave, for so far as I understand it, Chinese who place themselves in voluntary contact foreigners leave themselves open to criticism + worse.  One tends to think of stories of repression of free association in this way as being far-fetched, but increasingly I’m coming to believe it not only exists, but is pretty well all-pervasive.  I think it’s unlikely we’ll be able to take up the invitation, however, which is a pity, but perhaps just as well.

As the day went on, the carriage gradually emptied, meaning we had more + more room.  We were now able to read the China book – while our friend had been aboard, we had judged it politic to keep it out of sight.  There was a lot of fuss in the carriage when the Great Wall came into sight, especially the gateway marking its Western end.  We took one photo, + obviously it was thought we should have taken more.  I dozed off shortly afterwards, awaking to hear a familiar voice.  Jude had got off her train, which had been even more crowded than ours, at the town near the Great Wall, had spent a few hrs exploring, + then got back on ours.  We went with her along to the dining car to have a meal, but it was pretty revolting noodles, so we shouldn’t have bothered. 

Chugging through the Gobi

On the walk back to our carriage, we ran into a TV crew televising what appeared to be an amateur concert party by the train staff.  It had attracted a huge crowd, of course, so it took ages, + a lull in filming before we could get thro’.  But the party mood was obviously infectious, for later on there was another one, a spontaneous gathering in our carriage.  There was obviously an air of excitement running thro’ the place, with much laughter + jollity, virtually all of which we didn’t understand, but it built up into singing + dancing, not collective, but in the nature of a concert party, with a crowd gathered round to cheer + clap.  We were asked for our contribution, + were happy to oblige, me singing a couple of songs, Val doing a dance, + later, when things had quietened a little, playing her whistle.  One of the men on the train had the best singing voice I have ever heard off the professional stage.  His bearing + control were so good that Val was convinced he was a professional, or at least had had a lot of formal training.  Beyond any doubt, he was superb – it was rather a shame we could only hear him singing as part of a group of considerably less talented people.

When things quietened again, the carriage emptied + there was lots of room.  We operated our own version, the hard-seat version, of middle + lower berth, for Val slept on one of the benches, while I slept beneath it, on our foam mats – extremely comfortable.

An entire day (and then some) on the train, but it does seem that we were pretty well-entertained, what with the TV crew, the concert party, etc. In many ways, we were happiest of all on the train – we did not have to ask questions, organise anything, even decide what to do. Most relaxing.

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