Once I cross the border into China, I step
under the radar and venture off the beaten path.
Over the course of two months I will travel
thousands of miles through an enchanting land.
This story comes directly from my journal.
The people are real people.
The adventure happened as recorded
It had all seemed easy enough at the time. Just buy a ticket and go. The seed for my wanderlust had been planted long before I stepped onto this train. I had an inkling spending my formative years in Disneyland’s backyard colored my personality, affecting my outlook on life. My mother worked inside those walls of make-believe on Main Street USA in a shop that sold handmade glass, and every weekend I would enter through those “pearly” gates into a world unlike any other. Winnie-the-Pooh greeted me with a hug and Snow White patted my head. My little mind became filled with yearnings to live in a Tree House and to visit Magic Kingdoms across this Small World. I wanted to go on adventures in Submarines, to hide from Pirates of the Caribbean. I wanted to venture bravely through Haunted Mansions. Walt Disney’s dream had done its trick on me. The line between fantasy and reality was nonexistent. By my fourth birthday, all hope for a conventional life had been eradicated.
The train pulled into the station. Dimly lit lamps dotted a long platform that disappeared into obscurity. The light flickered yellow against a dark sky. In and out of shadows people burdened with big plastic bags stuffed full with everything and then some trudged toward the station door while a grating voice crackled on a loudspeaker. I nestled myself into the thick comfortable cushions in the carriage. Their deep-blue hue enveloped me – dark, cocoon-like, safe. I was in no hurry to move; it was slowly sinking in where my tangents had led me: China.
Why in the world China?
A comfortable train took me out of Hong Kong and into the port city of Guangzhou. From there the journey through the mainland began with an overnight boat ride up the Yi River and on a local bus across to Yangshuo. An early morning departure on a boat up the Li River to arrive in Guilin early afternoon.
There the first train adventure begins - and defines "hard-seat-style" - going west across southern China via Guiyang to the city of Kunming in the province of Yunnan. The trip took over 48 hours.
Buses became the mode of travel for the next round of movement.
Three days on a local bus to go further south to Jinghong and the Autonomous Region of Xishuangbanna. And back.
Another two buses to Lijiang via Dali in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and then a bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. And back.
The final bus ride was 10 hours to a train station somewhere.
The second train adventure began with an overnight trip north to Chengdu, and 12 more hours to the city of Chongqing on the shores of the Yangtze River.
Three days on a boat down to Wuhan. Then less than 24 hours on a train north to Beijing.
The final train ride in China was an overnight to Guangzhou, and then onto an express train back to Hong Kong.
When I was 20 years old I set out on a quest to answer the universal questions:
Who am I?
What is the meaning of life?
A year later I found myself in China.