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Here we are waiting in the train station. Most of us still look happy.

小朋友!Little friends!


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The next hour it’s more of the same. I get to talk to the girl in the pink hat a bit more. She also gets questions from those around her. “Are you their guide?” “Are you their translator?” “No, I’m just on the same train.” “What do American babies eat?” “I don’t know.” “Why don’t you ask them?” She’s very patient, but I can also tell she feels tired. I’m tired, too.

The crowd does become more educated about how Americans care for their children: they get to see some diapers changed! Most Chinese babies don’t wear diapers. Instead, their pants have a hole in the back, leaving their tush out in the open. I’m not sure how the parents manage it, but one things for sure, the Chinese aren’t filling their landfills with diapers!

When I get back from the run to KFC, I get a text message from my teammates. They’re on their way to the train station for their 7 PM train and they want to know if they should bring us some dinner. So much for me trying to take the earlier train! We don’t need dinner, but one of them comes to find us and offers encouragement.

It gets to be 6:15 and the hour of our boarding is fast approaching. We gather our things together, but since we’re near the gate, we don’t bother to stand up. We figure the crowd will tell us when to move. Another announcement over the loud speaker is made (they’ve been making them the whole time, but because of the din, they’re utterly undecipherable) and the girl (I wish I’d asked her name!) tells us it’s another 10 minutes later now.

Our two friends on the 5:20 train call and tell us that their train is boarding soon, but that our train number is being displayed with theirs over their platform on the other side of the station. Our train has joined theirs. Are we in the wrong place again? We look at our platforms sign and see that our is still displayed, but so is theirs. Strange! But at least we’re in the right place.

The crowd in the aisle still has not moved an inch yet and it’s 6:50. The girl has realized this too, and tells us we need to be in one more aisle over. I ask a random person standing in front of my seat what train they’re on. A woman shows me her ticket … it’s a different train!! We are in the wrong place! I grab my backpack, purse, one of the mother’s suitcases and follow this girl with the pink hat. Weaving in and out and over, balancing and bumping, squeezing and pushing, and finally we’re there. Me, the girl in the pink hat, and one mother and one baby. But where are the other three? We can’t even see the crowd swaying as they make it through. It’s another minute or so until they make it out, but we can’t wait, this is only a quick stop for the train.

The ticket check lets me and the girl and the mother through the gate, we stand there on the other side and make sure the others are going to make it through. As soon as we see them through, we, the girl and I turn and hurry to get to the platform. She grabs one of the handles on the suitcase and helps me carry it down a long flight of stairs. At the bottom, there’s a number of people waiting for the train. How did they all make it here so fast! I look back up the stairs, and the figures of the 5 others are small.

This platform has two sides, there’s a train boarding on the left side, it’s not ours though, it’s the 5:20 train. There isn’t a train to the right yet. By the time the others make it to the bottom of the stairs I’ve seen which way we need to walk to reach our car. A sign above points right to car 1 and left to car 18. Our car is number 3. I say goodbye to the pink hat girl and offer profuse thanks. Her car is number 6.

The train starts to pull in and we start booking it. I try to watch the numbers on the cars as the wizz by from behind us. Number 13 passes us. I realize we’re practically at the other end of the train. Usually you can only board at your car – will we have time enough to get to number 3? I try to say back to the other women that I’m going to go ahead and so I can explain to the conductors to wait for the women with babies. Who knows how long they’ll stop. They’re already 4 hours behind!

As I speed away, I hear a thud and some gasps. I turn and see that the older woman has tripped and is lying forward on the platform. She quickly picks herself up and continues. At this point we’re at number 7 car. I turn and ask the young woman conductor(in some sort of Chinese), “Can we get on here, because we have babies?” Without a second thought, she lets us on. So instead of rushing our way down the platform, we squeeze are way through the narrow aisles of 4 hard-sleeper cars. The aisle is about 3 feet wide when no one is sitting in the fold out chairs, and 1.5 feet wide, when someone is. Sorry to all those people we bumped.

Finally, we make it to our seats, which are actually the bottom bunks of a hard-sleeper that have already been slept in. We each have one, but we crowd into two so we can sit together. The train still hasn’t started yet, so I guess we didn’t have to jump on so early or rush so fast … but better safe than sorry. 2 minutes later it starts up and we were finally on our way back to Ha’erbin.

“Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a place of poetical pleasures.” (G. K. Chesterton)

I don’t think that G.K.C. ever experienced the Changchun train station. I wonder what he’d say about it if he had. If he’d have been there yesterday, maybe he’d have seen the wonders of the cavern that were the foreign babies and the poetical pleasures that were distinctly Chinese. Good thing I enjoy Chinese poetry.


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The littlest baby stays hidden in her mother’s arms for two hours. The other baby is like the main act in the three-ringed circus. Across from us, behind us, down the aisle, we (or should I say, the baby) draw attention from everywhere. The migrant workers laden with their belongings packed in rice bags as big as them simply stare. The young couples and recent graduates who have a bit of money take out their phones and take some pictures (usually they ask first). The older couples with their one child bring their children over to make friends. Another train boards through our aisle, meaning that practically everyone on that train gets a ticket to the circus.

Many ask questions and make comments, here’s a rough translation of some that we hear: “Are they twins?” “How old are they?” “They’re wearing so little, they must be cold.” “They’re used to the cold.” “Russians.” “Are you Italian?” “You look young.” “American babies are so skinny. Our Chinese babies are fat (which is a good thing in this culture).”

We answer some, we ignore some, we talk with some, and we talk amongst ourselves. Two hours go by surprisingly fast, and once again, the aisle fills up. It’s 5:15, there are still 30 more minutes until the train, so why is everyone so eager to line up? The young girl that our friend sent has stayed close by us. She tells us that the train will come soon and we should get ready. I look again at the display-board. Now the sign reads: 晚点:3小时30分钟. The girl hasn’t seen it, and so I point it out to her. “Oh!” she says with a sigh. She’s traveling to Ha’erbin to visit her grandmother, hopefully her grandmother has heard about the delay, too. And the line down the aisle, that’s for another train.

We also hear from two other women from Har’erbin who had a 5:20 train leaving from another waiting hall, there’s has been delayed about 2 hours also. At least we’re not the only one’s waiting.

At this point the babies have been fed and nursed (very discretely) but we’re starting to get hungry. Since we still have another hour and a half to go, I volunteer to run out to the KFC that’s right next to the train station. Leaving everything except for my purse and my ticket, I hop over the back of the chairs and escape from the circus. My steps are quick. It’s 5:25, and what if the train time changes back to 2 hours and 30 minutes? I think I can make it. I hope it doesn’t change. I make sure that my phone is handy, so I’ll be able to hear it if they call to tell me to run back and catch the train.

The KFC next door to the train station is busier than the train station. 10 lines. Pick a line, hopefully you get the fast one. I do get the fast one, where the fries girl is fast talking, and her job seems more stressful than a stockbroker’s. Before it’s my turn, I do a bit of language decoding so I won’t slow down her pace.

Suddenly, it’s my turn. I spit out my order and it must be comprehensible, because 1 minute later I have 3 spicy chicken sandwiches and some chicken wings. Time to make my way back through the funnel! It’s so crowded that I can skip the X-ray machine (don’t want to loose the dinner, anyways), and take some quick steps back to the waiting hall. It’s 5:45, and of course, they’re all still there, waiting. I forgot to order the fries though!

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“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” (G. K. Chesterton)

I was in Changchun (a city a few hours south) over the weekend, and let’s just say that my return this Sunday was one of these adventures.

I originally planned to go back on a 7 PM train, but when a ticket for a 3:15 PM train came available, I decided to return early since I teach at 8 AM on Mondays. There were 5 other women I knew taking this train – one woman who’s old enough to be my mom, one woman the age of my sister (late twenties), one woman a bit older than my sister (mid-thirties), one ten-month-old, and one four-month-old.

The 6 of us arrived at the train station at 2:50. We were cutting it close. We paid a porter 5 kuai to cart some baggage from the cab to the train station entrance, grabbed our bags, squeezed in through the funnel-like door way, and put our bags on the only running X-ray scanner. The crowd pushed us to the other side of the scanner where we grabbed our bags and hurried our way to the escalator. Once at the top, we checked the train schedule to find where to go, then wove our way through main hall to the number 4 waiting hall.

This hall actually is both numbers 3 and 4. There’s probably 8 aisles with a row of 100 chairs on each side. Each aisle is about 10 feet across, it can fit 8 people standing or 6 people sitting on their luggage, side by side. It’s crowded, but that’s just how a train station is supposed to be.

We see a sign for our train over one of the aisles; it’s 3:00 right now, and there’s a thick line clogging the entire aisle. They’ll probably let us through to the platform soon, we think. We wait… it’s 3:10 … how come the line’s not moving yet? During this whole time there’s been lots of eyes on us, particularly on the two babies. We watch these people out of the corners of our eyes … and then we see that some of them are moving to a different aisle. Are we in the wrong line??? I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow we realized we should follow them.

One aisle over, there’s no line at all. We rush up to the ticket taker at the gate and show her our ticket. She glances at it and says to me, “晚点儿” (wan dianr). “什么?” I ask. She replies again, “晚点儿” . My Chinese skills still leave much to be desired, and this situation shows why – I immediately thought it meant that we were late! Couldn’t they help us out? There were two little babies and we look as foreign as foreign can be! How were we suppose to know that the line changed!

In my disbelief, I asked some of those that we had followed. Maybe they were on the same train. I was so confused that I’m not sure what language I was speaking. The first man I talked to had an accent to thick for me to understand.

Our friend always looks after us, and he was looking after us then. I turn and see a girl wearing a pink baseball cap. She’s a junior management major at Jilin University, who also was going to Harbin on the same train. She steps up and says to us “It’s late.” We go back and forth in Chinese and English a bit until I finally comprehend the situation. Chinese is a contextual language. Finally I understood that the context was the train, not us. “晚点儿” means “(The train) is late.”

It’s going to be late 2 hours and 3 minutes. So we sit down in that emptier aisle … luckily there were 4 chairs open right next to each other. We sit and we wait and we wait and we wait…


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This is near where I sometimes catch the bus on Sundays.

You know spring is near when the streets become full of street vendors. The tough ones stayed out through the winter, but there’s many more now that the weather has warmed.
There’s still a bit of snow left to melt, and I’m just hoping that we won’t get any more.

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