I usually tack train journeys onto surrounding posts, but since we boarded this particular train on a Saturday and disembarked the next Monday, I feel it warrants its own, albeit short, post between Chengdu and Ürümqi.

The first thing we noticed was the heat, sweltering and sweaty. We were thankfully relieved a few moments later, when a short jolt up the platform kickstarted the A/C. Not twenty minutes later, with the last of the Sun, we departed – although the Sun would arrive twice before we did.

After the first full night (“full night”) of sleep (“sleep”), I settled into a semi-waking state on my middle bunk, reading myself into a lull before dozing my way into wakefulness. I was roused shortly before lunchtime (lunch! Ha) by a ‘train activity for Father’s Day’ which involved writing a message for Dad and posing for a photo with the other participants. Waked from a stupor as I was, I found it bemusing but not unpleasant.

Before I knew it, we were back in Northern Gansu as the light started to fade again, rapidly approaching the Eastern edge of Xinjiang. I settled into a slightly deeper sleep, excited to wake back on home(ish) turf.

I was roused somewhat earlier than expected by a torch in the face and an anxious Evie, and to my surprise a full SWAT team resolved into focus behind my glasses. How unprecedented.

Now, I’ve heard that you improve at speaking languages while drunk, but it seems just-awake also does the trick. Or perhaps it’s the adrenaline that comes with this territory. Who’s to say? Regardless, I managed an alright job of their questions. We posed for photos outside the carriage loos (paps everywhere, what can I say) and they let us back to bed as the train pulled out of Hami.

I woke up to another train activity, this time for the Dragon Boat Festival, involving more zongzi and a boiled egg. The Chengdu zongzi was far preferable and I gave up on this one after one bite, feigning sickness. Ürümqi South rolled in and we wound our way through the foreigners-and-minorities security gate as directed. This is not how it was before.

Posing with our ‘blessings for our fathers’ – a really lovely activity, if unexpected! I’m including this photo, and not one of a SWAT team, since I didn’t take any of the latter (for hopefully obvious reasons).


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