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Rolling to Korla

Tā bùshì zhōngguó rén!

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From Turpan to Korla, August 16th - 17th 2012

This is what I call impractical: Down the stairs to check-in the station. Take off your backpack, handbag, except clothes only, because they have to go under the scanning machine. Bring yourself through the metal detector gate, stretch your arms, and then put the most innocent smile on your face. Hopefully the security staff says nothing, but "Go!" Next, collect your belongings from the conveyer belt.

Go upstairs. There are two staircases. Up, turn left, and then another one.

In high season like now -- not to mention during Ramadhan season -- a seat in the waiting room is a luxury. Now I know why Central Asia Traveler in her (his?) email to me had suggested to mark off Turpan from my Silk Road itinerary. She was just trying to make more space in the station's waiting room.

Boarding the train is also part of the impractical. Present your ticket to the crew, and then walk straight into the hall. Go downstairs, walk along the corridor, and then go upstairs -- up, up, up -- to get to the platform.

I am in awe of the Chinese because of the Great Wall. Because I've walked on part of the landscape where the wall was built, because I've experienced the extreme climate where the wall builders worked under, because I fully understand that something toilsome even in modern day would be double, triple, centuries ago, my heart chills at the thought. Nevertheless, Great Wall isn't enough. As far as I've been in China, almost all railway stations are like this. I watched elderly Chinese men and women carrying over their shoulder a huge bundle double the size of my suitcase. They walk up the stairs as if it was cotton they were carrying. If you don't believe the Great Wall of China was built by human beings, just go inside the railway station.

In China's railway stations, passengers are not allowed to step on the platform before their train arrives, or is about to leave, in case your boarded station is the first destination. And then at the gate towards the platform, the number of the train that's about to board will be shown. Only by that time the gate would be opened and passengers holding tickets with the same train number may queue to get through the gate. Of course there would be a loud oral announcement of what train is about to board. However, that would be no more than just a sound if your Mandarin is as scattered as mine. At the gate a crew would check each passenger's ticket.

I was lucky to enjoy a luxury of a seat in this full-packed Turpan Railway Station's waiting room. When my train number showed up, I stood up feeling impatient to breathe fresh air on the platform. Minutes went by, but the line ahead me froze.

"What's your train?" asked a lady standing behind me.

I showed her my ticket. She nodded happily and chattered something. I smiled back happily also, but understood nothing. Of course she didn't know it was a foreigner standing in front of her.

This lady peeped on a ticket in a guy's hand standing next to her. This time I could grasp fifty percent of what she said.

"Your train is ... bla, bla, bla. Why are you standing here?"

The guy smiled sheepishly and folded the ticket in his palm. He murmured something. Back to step one, I understood nothing.

The next minutes the line in front of me stayed frozen long enough for me to gradually comprehend the situation. My train happened to be late arriving in Turpan, but somehow the crews at the station didn't get the information. Hence they announced that my train was about to board whereas the train was not yet near. Meanwhile another train was about to board. This resulted into a queue of two different groups of passengers.

When the queue eventually made movements, the situation became hectic. The guy next to me tried to cut my way. I pushed him aside with my backpack. On a situation like this, language is universal.

Several meters before the iron fence where the security member check passengers' tickets, I heard a loud bang. Oh, no! Is the police shooting a gun because of the panic crowd? I stood on tiptoe.

A guy with a sack more than half the size of his body had pushed himself too hard through the gate. While doing that, his sack got stuck behind the iron fence. As he pulled himself, the sack dragged the iron fence down, hitting the floor tiles, thus created a loud bang.

One security guy picked up the fence and put it aside. The crowd behind, including me, was just too happy to break through the space. My ticket wasn't checked.

(Later on I understood that those people rushing like crazy are probably those who had tickets with no seat number. They rushed to seize the best of the worse on the train.)

After the unwanted weight-lifting sport through the stairs, I stepped on the platform discovering no train but experiencing more than fresh air: Stormy wind. Apparently while I was in the waiting room, the storm had decided not yet to call it a day. Anyway, I care less about that. Where's my train? Has my train already left? Was I standing in the wrong queue? My heart beat grew faster.

This was my fifth China train and after the third one I had developed a technique of how to receive warmer treatment at the railway station. That is by holding my passport in my hand. When a crew or security member sees it, they instantly understand that I'm a foreigner. Hence they bear enough patience when I seem not to do what I'm told to. Otherwise, like what happened in Chengdu, the security member yelled at me and was close to furious. She probably thought I was a rebel. Why not? It has never occurred to her that there is a Chinese that looks very Chinese but doesn't understand Chinese.

My technique turned out to work super perfect. The crews had been incredible kind to me. Furthermore, they seemed to try their best to ensure my comfort and safety. They made me felt welcomed in China.

This time also, in Turpan Railway Station, my technique worked marvelous but too much.

Because I didn't see any train on the platform while there were 2 groups of passengers for different trains, I got confused which crowd I should follow. Therefore I approached a lady crew standing near the platform. While holding my passport in one hand, I showed here my ticket and asked where I should wait for the train.

She took a look at my ticket, and then, "Come here, come here. Follow me!" She ushered me along the rather dark platform through the windstorm.

She chattered a few sentences as we walked.

"I'm sorry. I only speak very little Mandarin."

"Oh. Where are you from?"



"Máfan nǐ," I said to her wanting to say sorry for troubling her.


Oh okay. I must have said it in the wrong intonation.

"Here. Just wait here," she instructed.

She went away. No one was waiting beside me. I watched the others walk pass me. Everyone. Among this whole crowd, am I the only one going on K9756? I wondered.

Or is it because my ticket is for the soft sleeper? But am I the only rich passenger among this crowd? I kept on wondering.

My passport was still visible in my hand. A gentleman in blue uniform like the lady crew and all China's railway station's crew looked at me. "Where are you going?" he asked.

I showed him my ticket.

He took a look, and then, "It's over there. Follow me!"

I was just about to say to myself, "Oh, I had been waiting on the wrong spot. No wonder there was no one else," when I heard a loud voice behind us. It was the lady crew who ushered me just now.

"Where are you taking her to?! She isn't a Chinese! Tā bùshì zhōngguó rén!"

She didn't say that in a humiliating way. Instead, she was full of concern. She was worried I would be in the wrong place and then not be able to find my way.

Nevertheless, at that "Tā bùshì zhōngguó rén!", as if blown by the windstorm, all people's head turned to me. Slanting eyes widen. I read their mind, "Look! This is how a non-Chinese look!"

I already followed the gentleman several steps away when another lady crew who must have had heard that "Tā bùshì zhōngguó rén!" sent by the windstorm along the platform walked to us. She took an instant look at my ticket and then pointed further ahead. She was about to usher me but the gentleman insisted. "No, it is here! I know it! Wǒ zhīdàole!"

This gentleman looked more senior and besides, regarding directions, a man is more trusted than a woman. So I thought. Thus, I decided to stay with the gentleman.

Meanwhile a Chinese family with a little boy were standing beside me. The little boy looked up straight at me with mouth half opened. Yeah, yeah, I can read the cloud above his head: "Tā bùshì zhōngguó rén ma??"

Occasionally big drops of water fell on my face. But in such a windstorm, holding an umbrella would be absolutely out of question. Minutes went by. Oh, where is my train?

Finally, a glimpse of light appeared, brighter, brighter, glaring... there comes the train! The carriage number that stopped in front of me wasn't the number written on my ticket.

The gentleman turned his head to me. "Walk over there." He pointed to the direction where the former lady crew had wanted to usher me. So it turned out he was wrong. Actually it didn't matter for me as I know this is not Japan. You can't know where exactly a certain carriage would stop. There's no written sign either. I just wanted to make sure I was standing on the right platform. Otherwise I would have to go downstairs and then upstairs again -- with my luggage.

Korla, I'm coming! I've completed the third leg of my journey.

Just like 'Turpan', the Chinese say 'Tǔlǔfān 吐鲁番', so is it with 'Korla'. The Chinese say 'Kù'ěrlēi 库尔勒'. I prefer the Uyghur word, because it's much easier to pronounce. The thing is, in train stations, the names are written in Chinese character and Arabic letter only. No pinyin, no Latin alphabet.

I woke up to an overwhelming twilight. Let me assure you that what's seen in this photo isn't even half the actual one.

If I had had the guts to take out my 7D, the photo would have been more stunning. If I could open the window or at least if the window didn't have so many specks... Ah, don't think of ifs if you know it's impossible. While my other cabin mates seemed to be still fast asleep, I glued my eyes on the golden circles -- the sun's reflections -- on the oasis of Taklamakan Desert.

Korla, here I am! Good morning, Korla!

And, Korla Railway Station says welcome to me. Why should 'station' be written twice? Because train journeys are to be cherished. Aha!

Posted by automidori 17:53 Archived in China Tagged train china xinjiang turpan korla

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