Day 24: On Riding a Train

I realized, just now, that in my last post I ardently violated my own rule by writing more than 500 words. Well. There wasn’t a rule or anything but I did mention that I would like to write fewer words (“fewer” by the way is correct here because “less” is used only with an uncountable noun), so that I could spend more time working on my dissertation, but I guess that I didn’t happen especially when I was writing about something about which I wholehearted passionate. 

I have to admit that I am a bit afraid that this post will be similar because, as the subject suggest, I’ll be talking about my most favorite mode of transportation: riding a train. For the last two years, I have been taking trains to everywhere in China. With the extensive high-speed train network in China, traveling long distance by train has never been more pleasurable. My first trip to Beijing in the summer of 2006, I still remember vividly, was from Shanghai on an overnight train that took more than 10 hours. I actually really liked the experience. In fact, long distance isn’t a problem for me anymore: Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Beijing? Twelve hours? Sixteenth hours? Even more? Bring it on.

A former member of a Japanese all-girls band was there as one of the shows’ host.

It all began last evening when my eyes were fixated on a half an hour NHK World documentary of locomotive train in Japan. It was, simply put, fascinating. The setting of the show was in a cafe run by a railfan who decorates the entire place with model trains. So, in that cafe, the customers could enjoy their cups or coffee while looking at trains going around. When I was in Japan with my mother in 2013 and happened to walk pass by a toy section at a department store in Tokyo, I couldn’t help myself but to sit down with the children, who, with me, formed a group of trainwatchers vigorously watching a dozen of small model trains running around the tracks that was as big as a 5 meters by 5 meters room. It might not be as strange — these things do attract people — if I’d only spent a couple of minutes there just like most of the normal people attracted by any running objects, but what happened was, turned out, that I was spending almost an hour there. In fact, had my mother not demanded that we leave, I would have stayed there for the entire day. There’s something mesmerizing about watching train cars move. There’s something about trains moving on the rail tracks that always makes me feel pleasant, calm, and safe.

On the train, with a new young friend, from Shanghai to Shenzhen in January 2015.

On the train, with a new young friend, from Shanghai to Shenzhen in January 2014.

Like Sheldon Cooper from the sitcom Big Bang Theory, I love taking the train. Period. Why? 

All I could recall is that there was one time when I was very young that, we as a family, traveled on the train from Bangkok down south to Malaysia together. That was my first trip outside of Thailand. I’ll find photographs of that trip somehow and post them here later. I was so young so it’s hard to be sure how I felt about it, but the idea of sleeping on the train while it’s moving has ever since become one of those things for which I always crave: not only was it efficient, but it also gave me the sense of being a traveler, adventurer, and explorer. Since I am always curious about things about which I don’t know much, being able to travel all over —  and experience the process of getting from Point A to Point B as it progresses — to see and experience different things from different cultural spheres is what essentially makes my life more meaningful. At some point I’ll be writing about what I think makes life meaningful, but for now, it is the particular idea of being able to reach out to people, paces, cultures that are not immediately connected to me is what makes me feel brand new. Because I always like to do so, being able to spend time while I’m on a moving train to my destination give me the sense that I am not wasting even a second of my trip on anything since I am also moving forward even when I am sleeping.

The other instance was in 2005 when I faced with a critical academic problem. I was at MIT at the time and I was able to be kicked out from school because my academic performance then was so low — too low for MIT to keep me even though I had a full scholarship to support my study. I had one C and two Bs, while the condition of being there was to maintain an average grade of B+. Long story short, I was this close to being kicked out of MIT. So, what I decided to do was to take up the invitation to go down to New York City from Boston to attend a meeting with the folks at the Asian Cultural Council where I was also affiliated as a fellow that year. Actually, there were the folks who sponsored my study at MIT, so I was mixed with the felling of guilt that I was about to let them down by being kicked out of MIT, and that I came down to NYC because I felt that this might be my last trip before I’d have to go back to Thailand because I was no lingered needed in the US. So, the folks there of course did not know that I may “drop out” of MIT and that the scholarship with which they provided me might have all gone to waste. So, I took the train down to NYC. 

For some reason, when I was on that train, I felt both free and carefree. As the bucolic scenery changed as the train moved through different cities, I felt as if the problem that I was having wasn’t that important, and that “it’s okay even if, tomorrow, I get kicked out of school.” Back then there wasn’t an wi-fi on board or anything, so apart from a few books that I carried with me so that I could write a term paper for one of my classes while traveling, I didn’t have anything else to keep me entertained. Three hours passed so quickly, and I felt extremely clam and relaxed. The moment I arrived NYC Penn Station, I felt as if I had been renewed. I felt both refreshed, and revitalized. The moment of tranquility of which I had the opportunity to be a part pleased me deeply.

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