Canon 8: Carry a phrase book and dictionary

China Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 10 › view all entries
Because I lacked a dictionary, my sanity fuse was tested on a third-class train ride across China when there was “no room” in the sleeper car. It was my third sleepless night. There were scores of snoozing Chinese families on the floor and in the spaces between cars and nowhere to stretch out.

Flocks of chickens ran up and down the aisle, a caged piglet moaned beneath my seat, and lumbering sides of butchered meat covered in flies swung from the overhead luggage racks. Mothers periodically poised their babies outside the windows of the moving train so they could poop. Black diesel engine smoke blew into the car, which never went faster than forty miles an hour. All the while, vendors paced back and forth, endlessly peddling peculiar dried crustacean snacks. One group, snacking on a greasy chicken carcass, seemed to amuse themselves by drooling profusely and orally expelling any undesirable foodstuffs about the car. Not a napkin in sight. Coughing up and spitting phlegm onto the floor was also part of the drill. If I’d had a dictionary, I could have asked the right question sooner. I finally comprehended that an eighty-cent payoff was required when the conductor held up a banknote and made the “shhhh” gesture. He then led me into a totally empty sleeper car for my nap.

"When a man has something to say he must try to say it as clearly as possible, and when he has nothing to say it is better for him to keep quiet." -Leo Tolstoy
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