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All Aboard for the Orient Express! Next Stop Canton
July 1, 2000

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Jasmine looks thoughtfully out the window from her bed
"33 hours! Are you sure that the book says 33 hours?" I asked Jasmine in disbelief.

"That's right. Our guidebook says the train ride to Guangzhou will take us 33 hours."

Even though I was excited about my first long distance train ride in China, I couldn't believe we'd be in one little space on the train for 33 hours. That's a day and a half? What in the world could we do for that long? Looking out the window would get boring after a while, and I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep the entire time. I was happy that at least I'd have Jazzy along with me to keep me company.

At the train station, we were able to easily buy tickets to Guangzhou for the very next day and bought what are called "hard sleeper seats." "Hard sleepers?" How was I going to sleep on something hard? I had awful thoughts of tiny wooden platforms for us to sleep on. Yuck! Happily, though, we got on the train to find soft, comfortable mattresses in rows of three up and down covered with Chinese-style bedding. The train was also extremely clean.

Jasmine took a lower bunk in our sleeper compartment, and I took the bunk above hers. There was plenty of room for us to sit up on her bed, and we could look out the window at either side of the train.

In Chinese society, there are terms that all children must use to refer to people older than them. It is considered very rude for children to call adults directly by their names. For example, a Chinese child would call an adult female a yi, which means "auntie," and an adult male shu shu, which means "uncle." Nainai and yeye are names used to refer to senior citizens. An older girl is called jie jie or "older sister," and an older boy is called ge ge, or "older brother." Likewise, jie jie and ge ge would call a younger girl mei mei, or "younger sister," and a younger boy di di, or "little brother."
Sitting on the bed across from us was an elderly Chinese couple. Even though they weren't my real grandparents, I still called them nainai ("grandma") and yeye ("grandpa") out of respect.

All around us on the train, there were people chatting, napping, eating, and playing cards. I was very eager to join in on the fun, so our neighbors offered to show me how to play. Different people took turns pairing up with me to show me how to play until I got the hang of things.

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Yang-Yang learns to play a Chinese card game on a table made out of suitcases
View from our train window of the Chinese countryside
Jasmine sets off to braid nainai's hair
Midway through the train ride, someone noticed the braids in Jasmine's hair, and asked me how they had gotten there. I explained that Jasmine braids her own hair. Our new friends couldn't believe she had the time to do so many braids! Jasmine undid one of her braids then braided it right back up again to show everyone. No one could believe how quickly and how beautifully Jasmine had braided those strands of hair. Nainai was the most interested of all and asked to have her hair braided by Jasmine. At first, no one believed that she could do it. Just fifteen minutes later, Jasmine had finished three braids on the top of nainai's head. Nainai kept checking herself out and admiring her new hairdo in the mirror.

By the end of our trip, I was sad that these 33 hours had passed by so quickly. We said good-bye to all the new friends we had made on the train. Nainai, still with her hair in Jazzy's superbly styled braids, reminded us to call her once we were settled into our hotel room so that her son could show us around Guangzhou. What great memories I now have of our first long train ride through China!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Jasmine - Living Large: The world's largest seated Buddha statue!

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