I choo-choo-choose this? The number K117 train, Beijing to Chengdu
27th November, 2009
I have decided that I would never wish fame on anyone – maybe absolute fame, the kind that comes with fortune, private jets and bodyguards – but never just a moderate level of fame for its own sake.
I have been on the train from Beijing to Chengdu for seven hours, with only 24 more to go. Word has spread across the carriages that there is a western girl onboard, a blonde western girl, so everyone has been by to have a gawk. Outside my doorless shared cabin is a cluster of middle-aged Chinese men. Trying to be subtle, they rotate, taking it in turns to stare in at me. Occasionally one breaks rank to go to the sink a few feet away where he violently hocks up the contents of his pollution-damaged throat, spitting his gains down the drain. A few minutes ago a group of new people walked past and one ‘secretly’ took my picture. Pity the flash gave him away.
These are my fans.
While I have gotten used to this kind of attention since arriving in China (it seems that wherever I go I attract a crowd of gawking, photo-taking, video-making onlookers) the blank stares facing me right now are making it difficult to get anything done. Having developed a head cold on the Great Wall of China for example, I want to blow my nose. I also would like to hop down from my bunk and put on my shoes but I am painfully aware that neither my nose-blowing face nor my bent-over-ass-in-the-air-shoe-putting-on pose is particularly flattering should another pap happen past. So I stay put, smiling manically and perfecting my Queen’s wave. They don’t flinch but at least Gary gets the joke. Maybe I should start charging by the minute.
I suppose this is just another culture difference though, and one I should get used to if I am to travel Asia for the next five months. I have often stared at someone different – like an Amish person or a Buddhist monk. In fact only the other day I had the weirdest moment with a Tibetan cowboy when I was staring open-mouthed at him and he was staring open-mouthed at me and we both realized at the same time what was going on. And in fairness to them, I am pretty funny looking with my round eyes, long face, pointy nose and yellow hair. I guess I am their Tibetan cowboy.
At least I’m not the only one though, Gary was big in Japan (in more ways than one). When he went to the hairdressers they all gathered around to stroke his brown hair. And when we were in Nara a little girl came over and presented him with a paper crane that she had made. I let her away with it at the time but if I ever see her again…
Back on the train it seems that my novelty factor is starting to wear off as my captive audience disperses and heads for bed. Thankfully I now only have the regular Chinese train related problems to contend with. Like the huge bugs crawling across my bed, or the thick cloud of cigarette smoke that has enveloped the whole train or worst of all, the upset tummy that the “boiled” water onboard has given me. Being sick in a foreign country is bad but being sick on a rickety train with only a squat toilet – the floor of which is already pooled with urine, blood and the odd bit of faeces – is a whole lot less comfortable.
Sometimes this travel business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.