Train ride to Suzhou
April 12, 2004
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We were sitting in a huge waiting room at the Shanghai
train station, watching a giant-screen TV that was playing
a colorful music video of a woman singing a traditional-sounding
Chinese song, mixed with slo-mo sequences of smiling peasants
striding down a road and soldiers feeding children. There were
maybe 1,000 or so people in the room, and half of them seemed
to be staring at us. Occasionally, the loudspeaker would announce
a train, and several hundred folks would get up and crush into a mass,
pressing against the gates that would soon open to let them rush
towareds the train.
"It's not as if we're being irresponsible," I said to Jen, eyeing
a dozen people who were staring at us as if at any moment
we might turn into birds. "It's not like we're taking our kids
into the middle of China, into the desert. We're just riding a
train out of Shanghai, to a little suburb, still well within the
radius of Shanghai's tourist track."
"Yep," Jen said, "and we're still scared to death."
As we got off the train in Suzhou, a city famed for its old
gardens, fortune acquainted us with James from the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce's office in Shanghai. He was showing
two newlywed friends around, and he didn't seem to mind
us tailing along as he navigated his way through crowds, to
a small office on the side of the station where he wisely
bought return tickets to Shanghai that evening -- an
important bit of foresight, without which we would have
been forced to spend the night in Suzhou.