I don’t know exactly what I was thinking.  Maybe it was the slow pace of life in Liaocheng and the predictably easy-going way of Hangzhou, but for one reason or another I decided to bag my plans and head west, on a forty-three hour train, with three strangers, and a hard seat.  It was perhaps one of the best experiences I’ve had in China.

The original plan was to go from Hangzhou to Huang Shan, and then onto Yichang to get on the boat ride down the Yangtze.  Huang Shan is perhaps the most famous mountain in China, and rightly so.  It’s beauty out parallels perhaps even the Grand Teton, and as a result the horrific beast that is  the Chinese tourist industry has swallowed it whole.  And after the West Lake I was less than excited about going to yet another tourist destination.  I met Sharon, Lion (both Chinese), and Sam, at the hostel in Hangzhou, and decided to join them on a 43 three hour train ride across the country, on a hard seat.

As it turned out, we were among the lucky ones who actually got a seat.  Some passengers were standing or  lying down in the hall ways for the majority of the trip. For the first 24 hours of the trip, it was literally impossible to move down the aisle.

The trip was made bearable by the company I was with.  We drank baiju, we played cards, we played truth or dare.  We shared noodles and peanuts and shoulders to sleep on.

Max was a ten year old kid we met with really good English.  We liked him so every time the food cart went by we bought him more treats and sodas.  He played games on our cell phones and took pictures of us.

The other thing that made the trip as wonderful as it was seeing some of the beautiful scenery, especially as we got closer to Chengdu.  What with the movement of the train and the dirty windows, pictures can’t really do what we saw justice, but at least it gives you a taste.