28 February 2007

China Train Trips: Back Home in the Cold South

In addition to the Far Outliers, there was one other foreign English teacher family in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China, in 1987–88. They averred that the winter we shared with them in “subtropical” south China was the coldest they had ever experienced—and they were from Winnipeg, Canada! The difference was that people in Canada heated their houses and transport and workplaces during the winter, while people in south China did not. So, below China’s Mason-Dixon line—the Yangtze River—there was nowhere you could go to get out of the cold. That was the strongest memory of our trip back home to Guangdong after our vacation trip for Chinese New Year that February.

We started south from Jingdezhen, this time traveling soft class. Our hosts in Jiangxi Province and fellow teachers in Guangdong Province boarded the same train but traveled hard class. (They didn’t have a child at that time.) We had to change trains in Yingtan, a cold and drab railway junction city on the Shanghai–Guangzhou line. We had a long layover, with not much to see, no nice places to eat, and nowhere to take an afternoon nap. Fortunately, our friends found a small, cheap restaurant with hot food, but with a dirt floor and a doorway open to the cold; then they took us to a railway workers’ dormitory and talked the supervisors into letting us all spend a little siesta time under warm blankets on dormitory beds.

The rest of our train trip south was uneventful, but we arrived at Guangzhou after midnight, too late to find a room in the fairly reasonable Liuhua Hotel near the station. So we tramped over to a much more expensive hotel where we spent the remaining few hours of the night in warmth before catching a bus back over the long, muddy, congested road to Zhongshan City the next morning. Our big concrete and tile apartment offered no respite from the cold. It had no heating, and the damp north wind off the rice paddies leaked through every door and window. It was cold, sweet home.

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