Friday, August 5, 2011

The Train to Hohhot 7.31.11

I sit across from the Asian version of my mother-in-law. Her warm red-brown skin and easy smile remind both Mark and me of another Grandma waiting across the world for her newest grand daughter to arrive from China. She sits knee-to-knee across from me in a three-seat, padded, blue chair that mimics our own seats and watches intently, if briefly, the foreign lady writing in such oddly shaped scratches in her notebook.

The girls with whom she is traveling seem as comfortable with her silence as they do with her occasional instruction. The round-cheeked younger girl plays a game on her phone and eats spring onion-flavored Bugles. She doesn't put them on her fingertips as fake nails, like my kids back home would have done.

I'm crossing land I've never seen before, yet it seems so like all the other rural areas I've seen. Corn, millet, squalor, newly-planted trees wired into military rows to divide the land from the rails taking me to my new  daughter.

I'm oddly passive. Maybe it's the fatigue from our busy week as volunteer teachers in the English Program. Maybe it's protective detachment. Whatever the reason, unnamed emotion sometimes creeps up on me and spills quietly from the corner of my eyes.

My heads rests against the white cloth covering the headrest, declaring in 2 languages: For Your Satisfaction. How many heads will rest here before they change the currently clean looking cloth? How many heads will look through this window as they travel to the unknown in the next city? Has there ever been another foreign woman travel in this seat to her unknown daughter in an unknown city?

Tickets and ID's are checked and money collected from the passengers who saved time by not purchasing a ticket earlier. The passengers are all compliant, and noisy, and shuffling.

Everything, including me, smells of bad cigarettes, and I'd like to eat something to get the feel of smoke out of my throat. But my stomach is finally settled and adding anything to it seems counterproductive.

Mark and I had eaten this morning at the nearly-deserted hotel breakfast area. I was have a cup of very English tea available. It's one of my comfort foods and I took it as a token of His affection for me this morning. He, too, is working a Plan for His daughters.

The diminutive, but well-proportioned, dark-skinned man who has stood throughout our 1 hour and and 45 minutes of travel watches other passengers through dark eyes with interest--neither obtrusively staring, nor passively disinterested. This morning, as we moved through the paces of getting ourselves onto the train with it's required jostling and maneuvering, the people around us were all citizens of this foreign culture we were attempting to enter--just human forms with generic Asian faces. Now as we sit, and ride together to the next chapter in each of our stories, they have become unique persons with physical characteristics clearly distinguishable from the next. I wonder if I too am a Caucasian-caricature of some face in their memories.

The sway and bump of our transportation remind me that the rhythm of life is going on and on and on around me--inside this train, in the fields, and living areas we pass. That rhythm is so different for each of us, and it seems to change at different times. 

We're off to find our New Rhythm.


  1. dorothy, this is so beautifully written. you have such a talent for writing. i loved reading this. you've taken a train ride that some might describe in two boring sentences, into a little journey and i felt like i was right there. i could see it all. loved this.

    love watching your journey unfold!

  2. When are you going to write and publish that book? I agree with Erica, you have such a talent for writing. You always have; I remember the stories you wrote as a child back in Michigan. I loved listening to you share them, just as I am loving the story you are telling now of your trip to China and to the next chapter in your life. Love ya!