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A Family’s Adventure in Wonderland – Prologue

(This is one of my earlier English essays.)

This is not a fantasy I am falling into, nor does it imply any attempt to copy Lewis Carrol’s writings of an imaginary world where the little girl dreams of wonders.  In retrospect, however, the more I think of it, the more I feel it a dream, a slice of imagination that definitely will, in eighteen following years, leave a trace of memory much clearer than that left in my mind eighteen years ago. 

The October sun greets us when we are on our way to the West Train Station on the 17th.  Along with us are eight pieces of luggage, each weighing more than ten kilograms.  Thanks to my father’s strength and a bit of help he has so wisely called, we manage to get on the train bound for Beijing with all the bags safely placed in the rack of a soft-seat stateroom.  Everything is settled.  No more translation assignments; no more books; no more struggles to look up English words in my mental note.  There are only three of us sitting around the table, looking at one another.  A big smile spreads on my face.  Father and Mother smile back.  With all these smiles the train quietly pulls out of the West Station.

Past the familiar city landscape that stretches between the West and South Train Stations, the train now travels across the Turpan terrain, where flat land runs miles and miles beyond the horizon.  Occasional sights of cattle and sheep herds pass by as deserts and hills, covered with thorny plants, glide in the setting sun.  The crystal clear sky grows dimmer, adopting a cold and lonely tone that vibrates through the semidarkness outside the window.  Inside the brightly lit stateroom, the prospect of forthcoming adventures fuels an aura of joy that keeps us wide awake.  We talk about
travel plans and make difficult decisions over hundreds of tourist attractions in the capital city of China.  Time seems forgotten.  It is not until the two roommates returned from the washroom and climbed up into their beds that we decide to save any more discussions for tomorrow.  Light
out, head on the pillow, I listen absentmindedly at the train clanking on the
vast fields of wilderness, enjoy the effect of lying in a swaying cradle, and
pray that the happiness I am now holding will swing its way to the end of this trip, and to the memories of the trio. 

Azure skies and more deserted land are what my eyes mostly prepare for the first six hours the next day. Out of habit I take out a little book I brought along and try to read, but give it up eventually after a few hours of looking at the page but not taking in a word.  For most of the time I keep
my gaze fixedly at the window.

“Look! The Yellow River!” I exclaim after lunch.

The desert magically transforms into a muddy mushy rippling
ribbon that surges parallel to the moving train, gushes of water splitting and splashing as they bounce off the cliffs and against unseen forces underneath. Then everything whooshes out of view just as quickly when the train entered yet another tunnel.

When the sun goes down, the train pulls out a stop at the Tianshui Station.

“Could you possibly imagine how life would turn out today the last time we were on the train to Beijing?”  Father asks, squinting at the shabby looking
buildings outside and trying hard not to sound too proud.

“You nearly died of a nosebleed!” My mother added unnecessarily.

“Yeah, I can still remember a dirty room crammed with so many beds.”

“It was a nightmare. We rushed to a hospital in this small town. No one there seemed to notice us in the dead of night. Her dad and I had to implore the chief physician for help.”

Our young roommates are listening attentively.

“We brought her back on the next train the minute the bleeding stopped.  It was too filthy even by the veterinary standard. She was hospitalized for a solid month when we finally arrived in Beijing.” Father continues. “But now she becomes a star translator in Xinjiang! I could not imagine that myself!”

“Well, I just always value responsibility.” I speak up with a shy smile.  

We have spent another night of clanking and swaying through more
tunnels, one of which is the longest land tunnel in Asia – 20.05 kilometers (12.46 miles) long.  I open my eyes the next morning, and to my delight scenes outside the window have changed.  The colors of gray and yellow
are retreating to patches of green in all shades.  Orchards, vineyards, crops, veggies, and other unknown plants stream backwards, joined by fish ponds, brick bungalows, and greenhouses.  Against a translucent sky, the sun shines upon a mist that lingers far beyond the land of fertility.  Some farmers bend over their plots sowing with small machines.  A woman stands in her pond looking down at something we cannot see.  Above almost every gate of the buildings hangs a red banner that reads: Prosperity Begins with a United Family.  

Does it not tell the truth of my dear family!  Husband and wife found a way of learning, enduring and accepting each other’s differences over the first two decades of their love-absent marriage.  Across the impoverished desert, past the ferocious river, through the pitchy tunnels, they have come to an enriched land where flowers of affection and fruits of attachment are in such abundance that life, once scarred by quarrels and fights, shines with belated love.  It is not an overheated love as exhibited by young people, but rather a kind of long-lasting sentiment, with which either party has the other’s best interests at heart; and from which prosperity arises to create three happy faces as we wear now. 

Time always goes faster with expectation.  After what seemed like just one second, skyscrapers, viaducts, highways, cars, and bicycles have replaced the green fields.  An airplane flies low towards us.  The Beijing West Train Station is just ahead.  My heart soars. 

It is where my parents sought medical help some twenty years ago, despite discrimination, poverty, and despair. It is where I earn part of my livings now.

It is where my mentor lives as well as my dear friends. It is where we will be exploring in days ahead. Lump in my throat, I walk to the aisle and join my parents in line to get ready for adventures in wonderland.


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