I have overdressed for the train.  Metal boxes characteristically placed under the windows pump out more heat than any of us have been used to for the past two months.

Trains have a sense of place of their own.  They are a historic reckoning of the past and yet they are accelerating into the future.  The older trains in China could be placed in the 1930s, yet they are organized and clean and China’s main form of transportation.  This train is full.

Down the car a father and son throw nuts at each other. The elder has an air of responsibility. The younger is excited about this adventure, and radiates youthful curiosity.

Like this young boy, I too am eager for this escapade and, wide-eyed, watch China pass by the windows.  Out here is countryside I have never seen before.  There are hills made of loose sediment that rivers of the past have contoured and curved, and where now step terraces for small plots of rice. Here there are strange juxtapositions of little girls in bright down jackets walking along the foot-paths that feather veins through the hills.  It is hard to spot the small villages from the train, for they are built of the same russet earth.  Only the painted communist slogans set the houses apart.  I wonder how this land shapes its people and who they are to have chosen long ago this strange country for their home.