Although this is my last post about my Hunan trip (when I was in the countryside, worshipped in a village, and visited Mao’s storage caves), it actually starts at the very beginning. We traveled by the high speed train, sometimes known as a bullet train. This was my first bullet train ride in China, because they were not common when I lived here before. Train travel is one of the most popular ways to travel from place to place in China and the rail network is very well developed. There are however, millions of people travelling by train so it can be a very interesting experience. Pushing through a crowd of people in the train car with standing room tickets to find my seat, kicking someone out of my seat (sitting there because it was temporarily empty), and not being able to move the whole trip? Check. 24 hour overnight train to Guangzhou? Check. Overnight train on a slow train that stopped at every village with no AC (during the summer)? Check.
In comparison to some of those trips, the high speed trains are much more modern and convenient. It really is about as convenient as flying. Depending on the destination, the train can be slightly longer (but not by much when you factor in all the travel and waiting time in an airport) and air tickets slightly more expensive, but often the train is just more convenient. There are airline style seats, but with leg room! The cars and bathrooms are kept very clean and smoking is banned throughout the train. It really is a good experience.
This particular trip was about 6 hours long. It only takes 8 hours to go from Beijing to Guangzhou (near Hong Kong), which is amazing since it took almost 24 hours to get there when I lived in China before (leaving from a city south of Beijing). Once we got to the train station at our destination, we bought our return tickets for Thursday. Even though we waited to buy them until we got there, we could have bought them in Beijing before we left, which is an amazing upgrade in the world of Chinese train ticket buying!
Through the course of the week, we decided to try to come back on Wednesday afternoon. Our hosts thought we would be able to change the tickets, although we wouldn’t know for sure until we got to the train station, which was about 45 minutes away. We found out what time the last train was leaving for Beijing, packed up, checked out of our hotel, and drove to the train station. During that whole time we weren’t sure if we would be able to get the tickets or not. Given some of my previous train ticket buying experiences and my love of plans, I was pretty nervous this whole time. If I was alone, I probably wouldn’t have even been brave enough to try it, since I didn’t know what would happen if we couldn’t get tickets.
We got to the train station in plenty of time and went to the ticket hall. After waiting in line, we found that we could change our tickets. The next train was leaving in 10 minutes, and that’s what she gave us tickets for. She told us the time, and then leisurely (it felt) finished up issuing the tickets, stamping them, writing on them, and finally handing them over to us. We booked it over to the entrance, through security, and onto the train platform. If it had been Beijing, with all her crowds and distance, we would never have made it. This was a much smaller station, so we actually ended up waiting on the platform for a few minutes.
That’s my “I can’t believe we made it onto this train” face. At that point, the last hour or more had been a bit stressful to me. But as I’ve reflected on this experience over the last few weeks, I’ve found God teaching me something. Even though I was anxious, I was also somewhat relaxed, because I knew that if we couldn’t get tickets figuring out what to do wasn’t up to me. I was trusting others and following—giving up my control. If I’d been in charge, trying to control things, it would have been so much worse. Sometimes I need to give up control and plans in my life, and trust and relax that God is taking care of me. I don’t actually always need to have back-up plans in my life because if something goes wrong (or at least not according to my original plan), God is still taking care of me and will make new plans known to me. Much of my life is outside of my control. I’m learning anew to “find rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:5).