On the Way to Lhasa

Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, October 16, 2006

It occurred to me after boarding the 48 hour train to Lhasa, Tibet that many might not have fully understood the "point and shoot" photo that I sent from our last stop in Beijing. Ellen was even a little bit confused by the photo at first. For those who have never visited Asia or the Arab world, them porcelain gems ain't urinals. They're full-blown squat-beside-your-buddy number 2 toilets - paper not included. When I walked into the washroom on the brand new modern train to Tibet it was as though the gaping hole in the floor looked up at me and grinned. My bowels went into catatonic shock.

We watched a documentary last week on the English language television station about how wonderful these new Canadian-built trains are. Reality however, can sometimes differ from documentaries. Our side-by-side bottom bunks had not one, but two bunks stacked above them right to the ceiling. Instead of ladders, they have awkward little pull-down foot steps attached to the wall. It's like rock climbing getting to the top. And that's not the worst of it. I'm sure the compartments are narrower as well. I can't be 100% positive on this, but I believe normal train cars have eight sleeping compartments. Our car had ten. A quick bit of math shows an eight compartment sleeper, four per compartment, can hold a maximum of 32 occupants. Our 10'x6'er held 60. I joked with some folks in Beijing that after the six day Trans-Mongolian trip that we could do the 48 hour Beijing to Lhasa stretch standing on our heads. I never considered that we'd have to hold our noses while standing on our heads.

On the good side, we developed close, in more than one sense of the word, friendships with our compartment mates Wei Jai, Guochun Wu, Jian Jun Xu and another guy who sort of kept his distance. The first night, while Ellen and I were teaching Wei Jai to play cribbage, the compartment lights went out. It was 10:30 p.m., the designated time for sleep. With only a tiny bit of light from the outside hallway ceiling lamp, we sat in defiance of the bedtime rule, the six of us, talking until well after midnight. Wei Jai, with only a slight command of English, translated as everyone chattered animatedly. At 6:30 a.m. the lights came on. I half expected cell inspection to follow.
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