China by Bicycle :: April -- October '98

Subject: Back on the train, gang.
Date: Thu, 09 Jul 1998 09:29:00 -0700

06:30 Train Beijing->Xian -- China :: WE 08 JUN 98

Lets see, in addition to pedalling a few thousand kilometers, I've traversed Chinese countryside in planes, trains and automobiles. Although China does offer the possibility to add ox or mule cart to the list of potential modes of transportation, the only real option left would be trekking. For example, I met this Spaniard named Juan a while back who'd traversed China's Great Wall from east to west, much of the 5,000 kilometer distance on foot.

I'm not likely to take any grand walking treks on this trip. For one, I'm not equipped for it. For two, I'm just plain too lazy, especially since the next-best mode of transportation is available: bicycle. But if by bike and on foot are the best methods for discovering a country, the train remains the most magical. More comfortable than buses and planes (and bikes on rainy days like today), there's the freedom to stretch your legs, to stand at the window if you like as the countryside rolls by, paced by the chanting clackity-clack. Trains relax me.

I'm on an overnight train connecting Beijing and Xian. Night trains, not my favourite; so much countryside flitters by in the darkness. Last night the sun set in a fiery orange glow behind the mountains as we traversed the western edge of China's great eastern plain. This morning I awoke into the heart of a Loess Plateau valley, its trademark yellow soil and hobbit houses dug into the terraced hillsides. This landscape provides the Yellow River with its colour, easy to see today as the rain-soaked land runs in yellow rivulets toward the valley floor.

Every year the plateau erodes into the river which holds the silt on its falling, falling trajectory through the valleys before slowing, slowing as it traverses the eastern plains. Across the plains, dikes confine the muddy yellow river's annual tide, and confine the settling silt to a narrow channel. Over the centuries the dikes have been built higher and higher as the channel filled deeper and deeper with eroded earth. Now the Yellow River runs across the plains like an elevated highway several meters above the plain. I haven't yet seen this aspect of the yellow river, but it's easy to imagine as my train glides down into the stout, steep-sided valley which feeds some minor Yellow River tributary with hundreds of cubic meters of muddy rainfall.

Even under flat grey skies casting morning's flat grey light this landscape remains amongst the prettiest of China's offerings this trip. The small terraced plots imply a loving, personal devotion. Small, pretty, well-kept farmer's villages suggest a prosperity not of wealth but of contentment.

~~~ Responses Appreciated ~~~
The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.
  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 26
trans. Stephen Mitchell