The Who song ‘5:15’ is playing in my head as we make our way through the train, through the crowded train. We pass smokers. We pass families crowded together. I feel as if I am on some sort of drug or intoxicant. However, the new me is not on uppers and downers. ‘I’m out of my brain on the train’ as a transplant, not due to hallucinogenics. “Inside outside nowhere is home.”
When we get to car two, Miko notices the door is locked. This is strange. All of the other cars are easily accessible. They are like subway cars. You walk through one to the other with no problem. Car two is locked. Is this the prison car? Is Miko an escaped convict? Yes, this is strange. The female porter is right behind us. She unlocks the door.
My life in America is a world away sometimes. Sometimes, I feel as if I have been in China my whole life or as if I am an android and my life was just created, created for me to teach English. The memories in my brain are implants. I was created to experience emotion in an emotionless way. Perhaps, this is the dream and my America is the reality. This, I ponder as the porter is unlocking the door. If I touch her, would my hand go through her like a hologram or a ghost? Maybe I am the ghost. Maybe I am. Maybe I am.
Now, that I am in China, I feel as if I need to experience China. I need to see all of the cities. Not only do I need to see the cities, I need to live in several cities. This is part of the reason I am now on my way to Ningbo, well Yuyao a suburb of Ningbo actually. This is another door that someone has opened. I am walking through the door, door number two into car number two.
Miko asks if I would like to go up or down. Car two has two levels. I tell her up. We walk up a short flight of steps. Instantly, I am transported to another time, another time in America. The time of passenger trains and Petticoat Junction, the time a generation before my time, Twilight Zone and club cars, North by Northwest and sleeping berths, a time I almost experienced but did not. The time of dining cars, snack cars, first class upper level seating with picture windows to gaze out into the passing pastoral. I am gracefully stepping back into time.
Our first class car is abandoned. Instead of three seats on each side of the aisle, there are two seats which make each seating area a four seater booth. Seat covers that lend themselves to the bygone era of radio serials cover the seats. White doilies are meticulously laid over the back of each seat. They form triangles over the seats. The other cars had no arm rests. This first class car has carved wooden arm rests.
There are at most four other people in the whole car. I am stunned. For an extra 25 yuan we have complete privacy. I ask Miko why more people are not traveling first class. She tells me that 25 yuan ($3.13) is a lot of money to some people. At many noodle shops, 25 yuan would feed a family. We find our seat and sit down.
Over the public address system, the equivalent of what I suspect to be China’s National Public Radio plays. At one point, American teen pop invades the public address. Miko hears Hillary Duff. She tells me she used to like her. I wonder if she means she liked her before she met the American students. We hear another song by someone. We do not know who it is. It is a teen girl. She seems edgier than Avril. Miko likes it. I tell her I like it too. She says it sounds like my music. She uses the word ‘natural’ which surprises me. Perhaps, this came by way of the American students. This song we hear, I suppose, is all over the radio at the moment in the USA. I would have no idea. A key phrase is ‘What I like about you is what you like about me.’ At this moment, I feel a bit like a dad trying to find some small something to connect with his teen. I instantly feel sympathy for all parents of teens in industrialized nations all over the universe.
Miko has become quite fond of the words ‘shit’ and ‘poop.’ I turn her onto the word ‘crap.’ That is a bunch of crap. I tell her crap can be used even more rampantly than her two favorite words. This does not seem to phase her. She still loves the word ‘shit.’ She says that the Chinese word that she punches in for ‘shit’ is not that bad of a word. She is surprised that ‘shit’ is such a foul word. I tell her the Chinese words are probably the polite way to say it like ‘crap’ or ‘poop.’ ‘Shit’ is not one of my favorite words. I do not like or dislike the word. It does nothing for me. Miko looks for ways to phrase ‘shit.’ She laughs when she finds ‘shit on.’ I try to use this in a sentence but she does not understand. It only sounds rude if you know English which is maybe the beauty or the problem with language depending upon how you look at it.
A goofy looking older businessman walks by and I say “Man, he’s a real looker.” Miko repeats this as ‘The man is ill looker.’ I try to explain ‘looker.’ She says she understands; she doesn’t. I laugh. She laughs. Language.
Behind us is a man that she says she has seen before when she and Tess have taken the train home together. She punches a word into her translator. She shows the word to me ‘ape.’
“Ape,” I say.
“Ape-uh. He’s ape-uh.”
We both laugh again.
She tells me he likes strange girls. Where she got this information, I do not know.
She tells me we will arrive in Yuyao at 10:40. I tell her I thought the trip was a longer trip.
“No, not longer trip,” she tells me.
I tell her I will call Allen. I am afraid he will not answer. Did he misunderstand me? Does he know I am coming to the hotel tonight? Miko tells me her dad called and there are no vacancies at that hotel. I tell her I know that but they have a room for me nonetheless. She says okay. I dial Allen’s number at the hotel. I hope I am not making a mistake. I am very trusting. T.IC. Anything can happen.
Allen immediately answers the phone.
“This is Tyson. I will be at the train station at 10:40.”
“Okay, I will be picking you up at the station myself.”
I was fretting for nothing. He will be there to pick me up. He knows that I am coming.
Miko asks me about the word ‘already.’ “When do I use the word ‘already?”
I try to give her an example. “You can say ‘I have eaten already.’ If someone asks you to eat and you have eaten. ‘Already’ is a strange word.”
I tell her this. I never think about the word ‘already.’ It seems redundant and wrong when I am telling her about ‘already.’ She uses it a few times and I tell her she is correct. She tells me to correct her English. I tell her, her English is better than most of my students. She wants me to say she has the best English among the Shanghai90210. Once I have given it a bit of thought, I realize her English is probably better than the rest of the Shanghai90210. She has the sort of accent that a clothes designer or an artist would have. I do not tell her this. I just think this to myself.
I pull out the Shanghai Daily and thumb through it. The main headline reads ‘SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) intends to build a harmonious region.’ Five other countries are members of this organization – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. The presidents from these countries all gathered in Shanghai for this convention of harmony. Representatives from four observer countries – Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Iran – attended. From what I can tell, the organization promotes the ideas of trust and alliance between these countries. The article states President Hu spoke on the importance of ‘political trust, unity and coordination among SCO member states.’ Kyrgyzstan is the location for next year’s summit. Courtney Cox (wearing glasses) will host.
One of the American boys is staying in Max’s dorm room. Max went home for the weekend. He is not there. Miko calls the dorm room. I hear her talking in Chinese with a few English words sprinkled in along the way. I wonder if this will be our civilization in 100 years. One language made up of all languages. Perhaps English is already that one language. This is probably not a new thought. Some linguist at Stanford is probably working on this theory for his doctorate. When she hangs up the phone, I do not ask who she talked to. I assume it was a few of the students gathered in Max’s room.
These visiting American students are, for the most part, in advanced placement Chinese classes. They are close to being fluent in the language. The male chaperone that I talked to when they arrived told me that their school is the only public high school that offers Chinese in the San Diego school district. This stuns me. I would not expect for it to be offered in Small Town America but it seems like too important of a language to not be offered widely in bigger progressive areas.
At 10:40, Miko tells me we have ten more stops before we get to Yuyao. I look at her stunned. She tells me the train is running late. I tell her that means we will not get in for another hour at least. I am annoyed. I try not to show it. This cannot be helped; I refuse to sulk. I feel bad; I feel like I am putting Allen out.
“You’re the star,” Miko says.
“You’re right,” I say. “I am the star!” Then I add “He can wait.”
At 10:46 pm, the train pulls into the next station.
“Our stop,” Miko says.
“I thought you told me we had several more stations.”
“I was telling joke,” she responds.
“You got me,” I laugh.
“I got you,” she says putting the emphasis on ‘you.’
We gather our things and exit the train and walk along the platform and then down the stairs under the tracks through the tunnel. We walk back up the stairs to the opposite platform and the exit. The tunnel looks like the innards of a small Oklahoma town’s American Legion baseball bleachers. Before we go through the metal corral exit, we see a man. Miko tells me this is her father. I shake his hand and want to say “Nice to meet you” but I forget how. He tries to take my bag and I tell him it is okay I have it but I know he does not understand me. He keeps pulling at it. Finally, he gives up and takes Miko’s bag. On the other side of the corral, I start looking for Allen from the hotel. A man is smiling at me. I assume this is Allen and I walk up to him. Out of nowhere, another man comes up to me. This is like something out of Hitchcock. The man who came our of nowhere speaks:
We exchange hellos. Now, Miko, her dad, Allen and I are all walking in the same direction. Allen and Miko’s dad both look confused. Allen seems to be wondering if I brought these two people on the train with me. He is now wondering if he will have to find rooms for them in the hotel. Miko’s dad, I am sure, is wondering who this man is who has appeared out of nowhere. We walk. I do not know how to explain the situation. Miko does not try to explain the situation. We keep walking. At some point, we will split off into two pairs and at that point the confused will be the enlightened.
When we get to the parking lot, Miko’s dad points us in the direction of his car. I ask Allen where he is parked. He points in a different direction. I shake Miko’s dad’s hand in parting. Miko says something to her dad which seems to explain the situation. He and Miko walk off to his car. Miko’s dad waves one last time. I wonder if Miko will tell her dad that she has fallen in love with America.
Allen and I walk to Allen’s car. He asks me if that was a student. I tell him yes. He tells me that worked out to come to Yuyao with a student. I thank him for picking me up at such a late hour at the train station.
We walk in the direction of a cluster of black Volkswagen gypsy taxis. This seems odd that he would be driving a gypsy cab or that he would be chauffeured by a gypsy cab. As we get closer, there is a sleek black new model Audi amongst the Volkswagens. He opens the backdoor and tells me to throw my stuff in. I do and then I get into the front seat. We drive to the hotel.