We stood in the queue waiting at 北京北站. Suddenly, the doors to the platform opened. Pushing and shoving, everyone in line moved forward in unison. Once we got to the doors, it was a free for all. Everyone started running. I looked anxiously at John. “They must have oversold the seats!”
“Okay, Martin’s! Move your feet till you find a seat!” he rhymed in his usual humor. The race was on! We were in a modern train station with hundreds of primarily Chinese jockeying for positions. Everyone was running, bags flying, and one very long train to our left.
John moved us along and yelled, “Run to the front!”
Running was something we knew how to do. We were a running family, with 5K’s on the weekends, track meets in the spring, and cross country meets in the fall. Our three college-aged daughters were elegant runners, and I loved watching their blonde ponytails fly from side to side and their feet turn over and lift high as they ran ahead and away from me in races. For this race, I was leading our pack.
The train looked to be about twenty cars long. Breathing heavily, I was a bit embarrassed, thinking we must look like a silly American family running down the platform. What a crazy experience I was having at this moment in my life!
We were on the first leg of a month-long Asian adventure, and China had proved difficult. Indeed it was more challenging than many places we had taken our girls over the years because of the language barrier and our inability to gather basic information. For example, reading Chinese characters was impossible. Even buying a train ticket that day had been hard, but we managed to muddle through it.
Some of my favorite memories from previous trips abroad were meeting people as we waited in lines to enter museums or historic sites. I always look for opportunities because I want to teach my girls to be gracious. Meeting other travelers or locals added another dimension to our journeys, helpful tips, and great stories. Unfortunately, this trip had been different; we felt disconnected from the masses and hadn’t encountered any locals for our girls to meet.
Imagining the scene behind my back, I remembered the small camera in my purse. As I continued to run, I reached in and grabbed it, held it high above my head, and took a few pictures of the scene without turning around. When I did, a huge roar of laughter arose from the platform, and I realized everyone was laughing at us. I continued to snap pictures behind me. We ran and laughed our way down the platform. I was sure my husband was egging on the laughter and reveling at the moment. This interaction was the most fun we had had since we arrived.
Once we reached the first car, we congratulated each other on a job well done and boarded the train. We chose seats from the empty train car and sipped our water bottles, ready for the ride through the country. Soon, the car filled with happy passengers who were also tired from the long run. They patted us on the back, chatting to us in Chinese. They were clearly amused by our antics and crowded around us, wanting to know who we were and why we were on the local train. The mood of our trip had suddenly changed.
I looked over at my daughters, and I will never forget their smiles. They were beautiful! I was so proud of them and the effort they were making to interact with their former “competitors.” I watched our oldest teach a sweet little girl and her mother to play an old-fashioned clapping and singing game, and our blonde twins posed for every requested picture from their fellow passengers. Again, I was filled with gratitude.
On our two-hour journey to see the Great Wall, I was so thankful we had passed on the expensive bus tour and chose instead to spend a few yuan on a simple train ride with our new friends. It was a great run.
And, I have the pictures to prove it!