Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A train carriage in China

Sometimes it is the strangest things which make you feel as though you fit in. I remember an instance when I used to live in China which describes what I mean. A (Chinese) friend and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and travel to the southern city of Nanjing for a touch of sight seeing. Unfortunately we decide to go quite late and by the time we bought the tickets the only ones left were in the standing up compartment. This compartment is actually quite similar to a cattle container and is packed with an incredible amount of people. It is basically like a rush hour metro train except that you travel thus for several hours.
So, I get on the train a couple of minutes early, push my way towards a corner and look around. The first thing I notice is that I am totally surrounded by Chinese farmers; I am the only white person in the whole carriage. The second thing I notice is that every single person is staring at me in total silence. Actually staring is not the right word, glaring at me would be better. Everyone is looking at me as though I am some sort of monster.
After several minutes of this psychological stand off, I watch a little child walk up to me, point and say the Chinese word for American. The mother hastily grabs him and starts dragging him away and so I decide to use an ace. I manage to say, in a very barbaric Chinese: “I am not American. I am a European. I spit on America!”. As soon as the words leave my mouth a complete silence descends upon the assembled passengers. Every single one of them stares at me and I can tell they are trying to work out what the hell the foreign devil has just said in their heads.
Then, suddenly, the whole carriage, starts applauding. I am a bit frightened by the site of three hundred farmers suddenly erupt and start clapping their hands and cheering but I smile sheepishly at them. People start smacking me on the back and shaking my hand as though I was some sort of celebrity. The mother even lets her child come and play with me (well actually he was trying to pull my beard but fair enough) and people offer me drinks and un-identifiable bits of food. I, thus spent, three hours in a packed train, surrounded by beaming farmers, trying to swallow strange local culinary rarities instead of skulking in corner too scared to move.

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