Life on the Slow Train: Views of a Vanishing China

First built in the 1950s, the iconic green trains are a relic of another age, differing in almost every way from the sleek high-speed rail cars replacing them. Tickets are dirt-cheap. The carriages are crowded, chaotic, and stifling in the summer heat. It can take hours for the lumbering locomotives to chug between cities. Yet Qian can’t stop riding. Since 2006, he estimates he’s traveled 150,000 kilometers by “green train,” accumulating 490 ticket stubs and 200,000 digital photographs along the way.
posted by Tom-B (3 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
So great! Thank you! One one the most sublime experiences in my life was taking an ancient and slow train across from Mérida to Valladolid in the Yucatán. It might have cost 6 dollars? Mostly Mayans riding. Took forever and when the sun went down it was dark in the train cars, so when we passed through little towns, the cars were lit by the fires on the ground outside.
These trains, I believe, no longer exist on this route.
posted by Glomar response at 4:36 PM on August 24
Great find! One of my favourite train journeys was the ride from Wu Yi Shan to Fuzhou. We caught a train very similar to those depicted in the photos. Probably took us about 5-6 hours to reach our destination. I loved it though. So many highlights including:

+ Buying freshly cooked corn from a platform vendor
+ Sharing fruit with other passengers
+ Drinking some warm beer served from a trolley cart
+ Watching a young guy move from carriage to carriage selling socks – to show how robust the socks were he used them to hang from the roof of the carriage (inside) and tried to burn them with a lighter
+ Seeing field after field of white ducks on farms

There was also a hectic argument between two women that almost came to blows – people rushed to get a look.

The toilet wasn’t a toilet – it was just a hole cut into the floor of the cubicle.

The great thing about the trip was the slower pace – it really gave you a chance to look at the countryside and spot things that maybe you’ve miss on a high-speed train. That said – I don’t think I could make it through more than half a day. I could see how it would get pretty uncomfortable.
posted by awfurby at 5:03 PM on August 24

Oh, yay – I was hoping this was going to link to a collection of photos. (Is there a blog these are taken from? I didn’t see a link in the article, other than the wonderful Chinese on the Train link.)

The woman in the red coat with the red and pink flowers – gorgeous.

Fascinating stuff.

Thank you for posting this, Tom-B!
posted by kristi at 5:07 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]

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