Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rolling Through the Early Morning

I forgot to check exactly when the train was supposed to arrive; it
wasn't printed on the ticket. Probably hoping you won't remember, so
you won't be grumpy with them if it's not exactly on the dot...Anyhow,
I did remember it was nine-something.

About a quarter after eight, I crawled out of my bunk and managed to
arrive at the floor without injuring myself or anyone else. The
early-morning light was shifting from pink to gold; we were still out
in the countryside. We were passing slowly through snowy fields and
scattered wooded areas, so I knew we still had a while to go; we
couldn't be anywhere near the metropolis of Beijing yet.

As we ambled through the frosty rural area south of Beijing, I saw a
think path winding through the fields; an old man with his hands
behind his back was striding along, whether to check on something in
his fields or for his morning exercise, I don't know. A small dog
bounding happily a few yards behind him. Both were silhouetted
figures against the frosty field sparkling in the foggy light. Now
and then, I saw small flocks of sheep, staying close together for
warmth, being guided by shepherds to wherever there was little enough
snow to allow for some foraging. I even saw a few graveyards,
streched along the tracks in the gap before the fields began, or on a
step hillside overlooking road construction--with 1.3 billion people,
most Chinese are cremated these days, and the cemeteries there are
tend to be on land that is otherwise unusable.

The rural landscape was gradually broken by larger and larger
villages; we passed through small factory towns; men at one were
already hard at work--one, on the roof, was calling down instructions
to the other three pacing back and forth for warmth as they worked on
some problem or other. The factory towns had little alleys of houses
with the normal trash-piles at the ends of the rows, but then they
also had, either finished or under construction, high-rise apartments,
ten, twelve, fourteen stories high; from the higher floors you must be
able to see the entire town and a long ways around; nothing else came
close to that height. The high rises seemed incongruous with the
hard-working, ordinary little factory towns, as if they'd gotten
separated from the city they belonged to. But, even in small towns,
something must be done with the population, and this is the most
efficient way to provide housing. Sticking out from the edge of one,
though, was a reminder of the history of these ordinary little towns;
a weather-worn pagoda kept watch over the scatter of houses around it.

We began to see freeways, and each one was busier than the last. We
crossed a bridge over construction projects and a frozen-solid
river--I don't know that I've ever seen a river frozen over. I am a
true southerner. Built into the side of the hill near the tracks,
overlooking all of this, was what seemed to be a dug-out little cave,
with tarps attached to poles creating the front wall. The tarps were
rolled back, and the occupant, a man who looked to be maybe in his
fifties, was standing on a bit of astroturf in the doorway doing his
morning streches and exercises, bending and swinging his arms.

There was less snow as we got closer to Beijing, but more smokestacks,
pouring white billowing steam into the crisp morning air. They seemed
to be building a canal is one place we passed. Parking lots became
more frequent than sheep, and then I was catching glimpses of the
now-blindingly-bright sun through the gaps between high rises and
skyscrapers. We had arrived in Beijing.

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