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China, humour

China 37: Meeting mummy on the train

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

Get up in the dark for the taxi to the railway station. I’m off to Kunming this morning to meet up with Cheryl and Elspeth. Of course, with China being so big, the trip will take a day or so, but I don’t care. I have a soft sleeper, and it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world, hundreds of miles south through the rich tea-growing province of Yunnan.

The taxi is one of those lumbering Morris Oxford jobs. While we are waiting to draw out into the traffic from the hotel, some guy is riding towards us on his bike, but he seems to have fallen asleep; he is nodding over the handlebars, even though his feet are still pedalling. And then he jerks awake, sees us and, trying furiously to brake, falls off. The taxi driver just keeps going and leaves the bloke in the dust.

I get to the station and, because I’ve got a soft-sleeper, the guard leads me to a special spot behind the barrier to wait for the train. It’s not a ‘special’ special spot. It’s just like I’ve been parked. I’m waiting with two spectacular Germans. They’re big, shaggy wild rovers. They have big felt hats, woolly pullies, and packs with all sorts of stuff hanging off; cups and tents and a full canteen of sterling silver cutlery complete with grapefruit knives and a 25-year money-back guarantee. Ok, so I made the last part up. The Chinese are astounded by these men. They are hanging over the barriers gawping; one girl just stares, open-mouthed with her head on one side.

‘Don’t you feel sometimes as if you are in a zoo?’ I ask the men.

‘No,’ says one of the guys. ‘In Germany too, we get stared at.’

The train arrives and I find my compartment. The soft sleeper looks a bit tacky – horrible net curtains, dirty tablecloth, sticky carpet. Still, there’s a plant in a nice pot on the table and the other three occupants are nice too; a soldier, an agricultural professor who keeps dashing out to look at the scenery and a man who works in a chemical plant. There’s also his wife, who sleeps next door, but who spends most of the day in with us. She can’t speak English but she does speak Universal Mother Language and we understand each other perfectly. She’s a little dumpy, cheerful woman and she never stops talking. The soldier lies in one of the top bunks and puts his hat over his face, while she just goes on and on.

‘Look at her,’ she says, pointing at me. ‘All she does is eat chocolate and oranges and drink coffee. It can’t do her any good at all.’ Her husband looks at me, and we both smile. Then she feels the cloth of my ski trousers. ‘Thin, so thin. How does she keep warm? Eh?’ I offer her my jacket and she puts it on. ‘Thin, far too thin. Nice feel, though.’ She gestures at her big blue padded coat, the sort that all the Chinese, and Cheryl and Elspeth wear. ‘That’s what you need to keep the cold out.’ She makes me feel it. ‘Good thick stuff. Warm, hmmm?’

After we eat in the restaurant car, it’s more of the same. ‘Look at her. She uses her chopsticks as though she has one hand tied behind her back. Two hands, dear, like this. Look, look. Like this.’ And, ‘How old are you dear?’ (She does this by by placing her hand parallel to the floor and counting) ‘Don’t you miss your mummy and daddy?’

In the evening another agricultural professor, who can speak English, arrives. He has spent a couple of months in Germany, in Wastephalia as he terms it, and has already met the two German backpackers. The woman leaves for a bit and when I ask the professor to translate exactly what she has been saying, all the other men start laughing. The soldier in the top bunk lifts his hat off his face. ‘Mama, baba,’ he groans theatrically, and everybody laughs again.

The professor is a lovely man. He’s very earnest and, boy, does he love his subject. He tells me that China has almost doubled its agricultural production levels since the revolution and that they are doing the best to reclaim the desert for grazing.

We stand in the corridor and lean against the window while he talks about tea production, and grass growing and behind him the countryside unrolls like a silk painting. Terraced hills in green and yellow, wide rivers, and rice paddies with water buffaloes and people in coolie hats. It is story-book beautiful. (Unfortunately, none of my pictures come out, possibly on account of the camera being dropped down the toilet, so I have posted a picture of a random shack. Hope nobody minds.)

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


15 thoughts on “China 37: Meeting mummy on the train

  1. Fantastic read – thanks Elaine x

    Posted by Trudi | April 16, 2015, 8:58 am
  2. I love the “Universal Mother Language”, Elaine – which loosely translates globally as “you’re doing it wrong”!

    Posted by Tara Sparling | April 11, 2015, 2:19 pm
  3. I can so picture the people you write about–and the scenery. I wonder how the country has changed since your adventures. Have you been back? Do you want to go back?

    Posted by Vivra Beene | April 10, 2015, 4:22 pm
  4. I wouldn’t be taking any photos either if I’d been dropped into one of those holes!

    Posted by Nolsie | April 9, 2015, 10:30 pm
  5. Very glad to see you’ve returned to your adventures, full of atmosphere as always

    Posted by Peter Wells aka Countingducks | April 9, 2015, 7:17 pm
  6. Nice to have you back. That long train ride will be full of interesting stories, I bet. The people you’ve met are so interesting. Can’t wait to read more about your day on this train. 😮 😮

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | April 9, 2015, 3:19 pm
  7. I always thought that song was a bit odd. I mean why would anyone sing about a knitted jumper? But woolly bully is no better. What are they singing about? Mean sheep?

    Posted by elainecanham | April 9, 2015, 3:08 pm
    • Your guess is as good as mine. At the time I was less of a lyrics man and more into the beat and the tune of a song. 😉

      Posted by lbwoodgate | April 9, 2015, 7:29 pm
  8. Your mention of the wooly pullies belonging to the two Germans raised the memory of the old 60’s tune “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

    Posted by lbwoodgate | April 9, 2015, 12:31 pm
    • I just looked up the lyrics. They don’t make any more sense now I’ve read them. But apparently the song is about a cat.

      Posted by elainecanham | April 9, 2015, 7:45 pm

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