My wife and just over one-year old daughter and I were ın China in 1980, early days for American travel to the ‘Middle Kingdom.’ We had come at the urging of contacts I had at the Chinese embassy ın Ankara, Turkey. They gave us visas and we added the country to our around-the-world journey from Ankara to Helsinki, Finland. No, we were not taking the direct route. But since we were to take home leave in my adopted home California, and then go on to Finland, the cost was the same to go around-the-world.

We went to the Chinese tourist office in Hong Kong where we were informed that our visas only took us to Canton or Quangjo (pronetıc spelling). They said that perhaps we could get permission to go further there. So on to Canton by train, a short, comfortable trip without adventure, unless listening to ‘Edelweıss’ sung in Chinese on a TV was adventure.

Canton was worth the trip, but we wanted more, so off we went to the tourist police station. We walked in and I placed my 1+ year old daughter on the counter and said, ’she wants to go to Beijıng.’ Well we got the police to laugh and they told us to return later. When we got back they produced an elaborate booklet with what I understood was our names and permission to go to Beijing and Shanghai. I say, ‘understood,’ because that is what the police told us.

Then to the airline office to get plane tickets. This is no lie, we told the man at the counter that we wanted to go to Beıjıng. He took out a manifest, erased two names from the list, and inserted the word for ‘American’ twice. I told my wife if we got on the plane it would be a miracle. But board we did and we spent a few days exploring the capital city and the Great Wall.

Now for my wife`s main objective, Shanghai. I said why not take the train so we could see the countryside? She reluctantly agreed. I found that there were two fares, ‘hard’ bunk and ’soft’ bunk. When they said the fare for ’soft’ was twice that for ‘hard’ I booked two for ‘hard.’

We got on the coach and found that we were the only non-Chinese ın ‘hard’ bunk. And true to their word the bunk was a thin cushion on a bunk. But we then saw that the ’soft’ bunk car loaded with foreigners had a broken airconditioner while the one on our ‘hard’ bunk car worked like a charm. You don`t want to travel without airconditioning ın Central China in the summer.

The actual trip was a bit boring, mile after mile of rice fields broken by the occassıonal canal or river. The real action took place on the train. It seems our toddler daughter with her whispery blonde hair was fascinating for the Chinese and for the whole trip she held court while one after the other of the other riders came up to see her and touch her hair.

At my wife`s insistence, we flew from Shanghai back to Canton and took the hydrofoil boat back to Hong Kong.

I`m not sure the Chinese still have ‘hard’ and ’soft’ bunks on their trains. Anyway, the real adventure is on the train, not the scenary outside.