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Rolling to Hetian

Pictured with words only.

View A Thread of Silk on automidori's travel map.

From Kashgar to Hetian,
August 23rd 2012

I could have taken a night train last night, but I wasn't sure what time I would be back in Kashgar from Karakul. Instead of pumping my heart harder because of being in a hurry, I decided to stay the night in Kashgar and take a morning train. Luckily I did.

Kashgar Railway Station's boarding waiting room was bright and spacious. Well, it had been the first time in the whole journey boarding a train in the morning. That's why it was bright. From the waiting room there was basement or such to get to the platform like previous stations. I could see the train from my seat.

My train was 5286, the lowest rank within the China train family. The lowest rank is the one with no alphabet in front of the number. A higher rank is the "K... something", "T... something", and so on. Not every route has all ranks of train. For Kashgar - Hetian, as far as I know, there's only one choice. This was my first time boarding on the 'alphabetless' train. Considering that the journey would take only 5.5 hours, I wouldn't need a bed. I requested for a hard seat. However, due to the high season, all hard seats were sold out. Thus, hard sleeper, be it. In spite of being a sleeper, the fare was cheaper than an hour taxi ride in the city. That was, a surprise.

As usual, while sitting in the waiting room, I amused myself with the people around. Either it's a Uyghur speaking fluent Mandarin or a toddler with a hole on the back of his pant. This time most of my fellow passengers had huge loads with them. Not bags, but sacks. The majority appeared more of the proletariat.

Across me was an Uyghur woman with an older woman next to her. Her mother, maybe. They didn't carry huge sacks, but small kids. The younger woman seemed to be confused about something regarding to the train, while the older woman seemed to rely on her. She asked me something, but I couldn't understand at all. A Chinese gentleman sitting next to her interfered. He explained to her in Uyghur patiently. Oh... I was impressed.

I was impressed, because I've read here and there that the Han Chinese dislikes the Uyghur and vice versa. But this Chinese gentleman was kind and didn't seem to look down at these less fortunate Uyghurs. In Korla I saw a Chinese man quarreling (in Mandarin) with a Uyghur man. The Chinese man yelled very hard at the Uyghur man. The Chinese man drove a sedan and the Uyghur man was on an old rattling motor cart. Other Uyghurs surrounded them, but said not a word. If such a thing happens in my hometown, that Chinese man would be finished. In Xinjiang it's the other way round... maybe.

Besides this Chinese gentleman's tender heart, I admired his speaking Uyghur. Xinjiang people must be genius. How many languages do they (have to) master?

  • ****

A Chinese young lady was sitting on my bunk. I showed her my ticket, pretended asking which one it was. She nodded and pointed on the mattress she was sitting on, but continued combing her long hair. So she knows she is sitting on my bunk?

I purposely stood straight in front of her with a look of 'get out of my bed, please!'. Nevertheless, she cared not. Precious was her hair.

When she finally got up, I dumped my backpack on the bunk, seized the pillow, leaned on it, and stretched my legs with a manner of 'don't you ever ever sit here!'.

"When is this train going to move?" I asked myself. "It's so hot!" According to previous experiences, the air condition sometimes goes off when the train takes a break.

But... wait a minute! I looked up to the ceiling. A huge round electric fan was hook on it. What?? So this is a non-air-conditioned cart?? No wonder it's cheaper than a taxi fare! O, ow. And I'm taking this ride during the day, not night. O, ow.

My cabin mates were all ladies. Three Chinese, two Uyghurs. One of the Uyghurs wore a long wide scarf, long sleeves, and long wide skirt. Her friend was less conventional.

For the first two hours, my 'don't you ever ever sit here!' worked well. The Uyghur lady wearing long scarf sat on the bed across me and the Chinese lady sitting there minded not a thing. The other Uyghur lady whose bunk was in the middle also got down and sat there. I think they were like invisible women to the Chinese lady who was 'owner' of that bunk.

Some time ago I read a blog post that suggested to take the middle bunk, because if you take the lower bunk, it would become a living room during the day. I feared that when I booked a lower soft sleeper for Chengdu - Wuhan. However, it turned out no one dared lay a finger on another's bunk. So was it with Xi'an - Jiayuguan, Jiayuguan - Turpan, Turpan - Korla, Korla - Aksu, and Aksu - Kashgar. I had regarded that was enough experience to conclude the blog author incorrect.

I took out "Shadow of the Silk Road" from my backpack and started to read. The Uyghur lady with long scarf fixed here eyes on my book cover without pretension. And then she lifted up her face, looked at me. I looked back at her. She smiled.

My train stopped at a station. I took out my map to check how far or how near, I was. The Uyghur lady turned her head, again, to me. The Chinese lady sitting across, also did. Wow...! Two ladies sat on your bunk and you didn't even lift up your face. Now that I take out a map, you turn your head to me?

Lunch time. I had brought a cup of instant noodle. I noticed a thermos under the table, but I wanted cleaner water. These people have been using water from this thermos. No, I want hot water directly from the dispenser. So I got out of the cabin and walked to the of the cart. What? The water dispenser is locked! In those routes I mentioned above, I've never experienced such a thing. Or maybe I just had been always lucky coming to the dispenser at the right time? Always? Could that be?

Hah, no wonder just now I heard the other Chinese lady asking the Uyghur lady to fill in the thermos when she fixed her noodle. Honestly, I had had a negative thought. I thought the Chinese lady was feeling superior that she ordered the Uyghur lady to fill in the thermos.

  • ****

Having my book stared at, map stared at, face stared at, I kept my camera tucked in my backpack. Not even my cellphone camera is going to perform. They would undoubtedly glance at me in unity if I take a picture of the scenery.

Besides, my frames would be just plain light brown. Nothing. To my left and right, brown sand spread far into the horizon. No mountain, no plant. Just sand and sun. I was literally in the ocean of sand, the Taklamakan Desert.

A lady attendant came by and checked the windows one by one. She shook the handle lock up and down as if checking whether the window was properly locked.

What's wrong? I thought to myself. Desert bandits? Robbers? Like the old Silk Road days? I fantasized men riding horses chasing my train with a noose in their hand. They hook the noose on my train and then break into, snarl at the passengers while holding a knife in their hand... wooo!

After the lady attendant was out of sight, the view on my window turned vague. Wooshh! In a split of second, I couldn't see anything through. My first experience entering a sand cloud.

I sat back and re-opened "Shadow of the Silk Road". Hah. No bandits. I pressed my right hand on the mattress to push myself backward. Ooops! I lifted up my hand instantly. O, ow. A spot next to my pillow was covered with a thin layer of sand. I tapped my backpack. Soft sand flew into the air. Naughty sand bandits.

That was the major event. The minor ones were the sand swirl I occasionally saw through the window. Wide circles of sand swirled high, high up into heaven. That one might have been an interesting shot if only I had the guts to have my 7D stared at.

  • ****

The last two hours was hell for me. Hell, because of the temperature. But also because of the lost of privacy. My 'don't you ever ever sit here!' had lost its power. The Uyghur lady sat on my bunk, the other Chinese lady sat on the bunk across me, and chatted intimately. The other Chinese lady joint in. Before long, the situation already turned into what I experienced on my first China train journey, from Kunming to Chengdu. If this were a night train, I would have given the title "Sleepless between Kashgar and Hetian" to this post.

  • ****

"Děng yīxià!"

I pulled myself harder.

"Děng yīxià! Děng yīxià!"

I turned around. It was the Chinese lady from my cabin. My sleeping-bag's cord had got entangled to the train door's handle. That's why I felt stuck when I tried to step down the train.

"Děng yīxià," she said once more. She helped me untangle my sleeping-bag cord.

"Xièxiè nǐ."

"Bùyòng xiè."

I walked towards the sidewall intending to fix my sleeping bag before it drops off my backpack. As knelt down, I heard someone behind me (in Mandarin), "Are you okay?"

It was a lady attendant. She looked very concerned. I couldn't explain to her in Mandarin that I just wanted to fix the cord. She kept standing next to me. "Are you sure you are alright?"

"Yes, yes, I am."

After fixing the cord, I stretched out for my G12. Suddenly I felt so sentimental. This is my last train journey on my China Silk Road adventure. Six train journeys. All done, safe and sound.

The lady attendant was still standing next to me. I bowed down and said 'xièxiè' once more. She walked away.

Hello, Hetian! Do you think there's a Greek touch of architecture on this station building?

Posted by automidori 22:04 Archived in China Tagged train china kashgar xinjiang hetian

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