Wow, I thought sitting on a long haul plane made me stop and think. I had no idea what sitting on the overnight train from Beijing to Harbin would do to me. Our trip is about ten hours long. We left just past 9 pm. I'm with the three boys (Sebastian, Jasper and their friend Adam) in one of the cabins. The boys fell asleep while we listened to Mantovani Christmas Music. I managed to sleep for 1.5 hours and am now awake, listening to Coldplay's Viva La Viva album while the dark China night races past me. I haven't really listened to Coldplay or U2 since I travelled regularly on business in 2009.
We are heading north... really north. We're mostly passing through what I can only guess is countryside. Everything is dark with distant lights of occasional houses and buildings. Every few minutes or so we'll pass something brightly lit during which I'll be granted a four to five second movie of a cement factory or dimly lit building of some sort. The older buildings look as one would expect of rural China. On the roads there are rare moments of trucks lighting up country roads for the seconds that we pass by. Not all the buildings are old - some are super modern, sprawling industrial complexes providing odd contrast and representing the the train of progress pushing forward in China. Sprinkled on top of this window picture show will be the odd oncoming train racing past, providing a few seconds of Blade Runner style lighting.
Another contrast will be an old, dark bridge spanning across the top of the train tracks and a few seconds later a new modern bridge ablaze with lights. All in still of night while the skies are dark and clear. Above is a buffet of stars.
We're coming from a few days in Beijing. Tess wrote the following in an email:
"We learned today the kids aren't ready to be interested in culture. If they had their druthers they would have skateboarded through Tiannamen Square in 30 seconds flat and they were so uninterested in the Forbidden Palace that we stopped in the courtyard and left without paying admission. Their highlight was seeing if they could throw rocks into the moat surrounding the Forbidden City which would permeate the ice. We are trying to tell them that in a few days they will be sick and tired of ice. But right now they are thrilled. We did see a great Acrobatic Ahow that kept all the kids enthralled and the adults, too! We are staying at the Red Door at Mutianyu next to The Great Wall. Loving heated floors. The kids are loving the space and freedom. This is a great home, perfect for the 11 of us. Tomorrow we hike up the wall and 'toboggan down' but we will sleep in first. Then into Beijing, check in at 7pm for the 9pm train. And then the real cold..."
While at the station waiting for the train we sat with some strangers who found us curious beings... the kids with blond hair etc. Several of the kids, especially Sela, managed to practise their Chinese. There have been numerous times the last few days when the kids' knowledge of Mandarin has cleared up some potential misunderstandings, particularly with drivers. At the train station, with some assistance from Google Translate to fill in a few missing words, Sela did quite well to strike up some conversations.