China / Food / Travel

Weekend Trip – Yingshan by Train

Lessons I learned this weekend:

1. When you bust in blackjack in Chinese you say “bao le”

2. Chinese parenting comes in many different forms.

3. When Phil invites you to his employee’s wedding in the countryside of Sichuan and tells you that its only two hours by train – run!

Actually it wasn’t THAT bad. But he did underestimate the amount of time it took to get there – 13 hours in total (we spent 11 in Yingshan). In his defense he was misinformed about the time it would take and didn’t account for the skies of Sichuan to open up and dump a foot of rain on the train tracks each day delaying everything.

So we spent more time on the train than in Yingshan. Despite the length of time spent on one this weekend, I think I prefer train travel over bus travel in this great nation. I probably wouldn’t have uttered these words on Saturday, but one thing the train really has going for it is the community. We were in the cheapest option, the hard seats, which are basically covered benches equipped with tables built into the wall. Common train activities (beyond the normal: sleep and keep to yourself) include playing cards, blaring music from your cell phone, eating peanuts and sunflower seeds (and sharing them with your neighbors), and trying not to kill any small children.

Our train ride to Yingshan left Chengdu at 11pm, was then delayed two hours and then took another four hours to get to there. We started optimistically, playing blackjack with Phil’s colleagues, we were an example of pure collegiality. By 3am we were tired and trying to find a non-existent comfortable sleeping position on a hard sleeper seat. Oh, and there were small children. Two of them. Who took it upon themselves to spar in the aisle and loudly play word games for the last two hours of trip. Which would have been cute, maybe, in the first two hours of our trip. I think the parents needed a stern talking to about the importance of quiet at ungodly hours of the night.

Unfortunately the wedding wasn’t as eventful as I hoped it would be. You would think, a wedding between a Sichuanese person and an Englishman, in the Sichuan countryside, surrounded by the insanity of the Sichuan masses would have some really great stories, unfortunately ours didn’t, which made the train that much more frustrating.

For guests of matrimony here, Chinese weddings are really about the meal, whether modern or traditional, in Sichuan or in Hong Kong. There’s often no public “service” no dj, no dancing, a very small (if any) wedding party, but often a whole lot of eating. The bride for this wedding modeled her big day after customs common in the Tang dynasty. Her and her groom (who was a very respectful sport) were dressed up in the Tang dynasty gowns, used Tang dynasty props, and walked their guests through Tang dynasty wedding customs (lots of bowing, some bow and arrow action, a tea ceremony, a lock of hair ceremony and a horse). The wedding and meal were interesting enough although they were clouded in a fog of exhaustion from our night before.

After the meal (which I like to think of as food jenga) we went to a tea house to drink tea and mingle more with the bride and groom’s family. What did I learn from the tea house? Phil’s colleagues are pretty darn good at cards.

Our ride back was delayed, delayed and delayed again. It started out nice enough with a pretty empty train, beautiful Sichuan greener out the window and some time for me and Phil to talk and unwind after the craziness of the past 24 hours. As more people started boarding our train, and more delays occurred and we were bombarded with more examples of questionable parenting (letting your kid pee in the aisle of the train, play in the pee, and then taking them to the bathroom to wash their hands?!?!?!) we grew a little less patient and pleasant.

But we made it, alive, in one piece, with pictures as proof and a bit more cultural savvy to boot.


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