Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Hard Seat

From the beginning, I have wanted to do some train travel via yingzuo. This translates into English as "hard seat."

Though this terminology may evoke images of wooden slats for chairs, as you can see, it isn't actually all that bad. Not all that bad, that is, until you consider that the people pictured rode in their seats overnight for as many as sixteen hours.

Hard seat, you see, is the way laobaixing (common folks) travel in China, even over very long distances.

It was the prospect of extended face time with laobaixing that attracted me to hard seat travel in the first place. I mean, what a way to immerse yourself in language and culture!

Of course, the whole experience is exhausting, a bit terrifying, and at times frustrating. Exhausting because you mind has to be "on." People are constantly talking quickly. And in locally accented language, no less! Terrifying because you are speaking with people who don't speak English, so you have no safety net, so to speak. And frustrating because you inevitably reach certain points in conversations where your Chinese just can't carry you past, even with your dictionary in hand.

That said, by the end of our ride from Shanhaiguan to Beijing, we had learned new words about fishing, a topic you never seem to come across in Chinese lessons! And Julie and Z learned some new words from out of the dongbei dialect, which could turn out to be useful if we make it back to that part of the country.

Overall, our inaugural hard seat journey was both exhilarating (speaking for myself anyways) and a reminder of just how much more our Chinese language skills need to be developed.



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