Reflections on Friendship

17 Jul

Those of you who know me know that I am sometimes critical. That is in large part a result of my upbringing and affects many aspects of my life. Something that I have not consciously realized is how I am also critical of friendships. Recently, I have been working on various personal issues and gaining new understands of myself and my relationships (past and present). At the same time, I have also had opportunities to visit with various groups of old friends (partly because I will be moving back to China soon). I have enjoyed these visits and did not feel the vague disappointment I have sometimes felt in the past when, after visiting with a group of friends, I felt like, “We didn’t talk about anything substantive.”

Don’t get me wrong. I still value deep, one-on-one discussions over other interactions but I am starting to appreciate other friendship relationships FOR WHAT THEY ARE. Basically, as with many other things, it is a matter of changing expectations. Instead of wanting things to be the way “I want”, I am starting to allow them to be what they are. And surprisingly (or not really), I am able to find new enjoyment in those friendships. In a way each friendship is special and brings something unique and that is what I am starting to see rather than looking at what is missing. The way you connect with someone is like two puzzle pieces – they fit together in a very specific way that are unique to that friendship.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Related to this is a feeling of gratitude for all the wonderful people I have in my life. Granted we are all very busy and sometimes long time passes before I am able to connect with some friends. But the wonderful thing is that, even after long absences, those friendships are still meaningful and the feelings remain unchanged. Of course there have also been some friendships that have been lost and that is always difficult. But I have accepted that and remain open to the possibility of potentially reviving those in the future. But since the possibility of that is not in my hands, I have let go of any expectations in that regard – in a way, it is interesting just to see how things will develop over time and what life will bring with it. And if a friendship is only meant to last for a short time, so be it. The duration of a friendship is not what defines it. Sometimes even a brief friendship can have a profound impact. People come into our lives for a reason and a purpose and when that reason and purpose are fulfilled, we may have to say goodbye to that friendship, grateful that we had a chance to experience it.

Bottom line, whether from the past or the present, I am very appreciative of all the people who have been there for me, cried with me, laughed with me, challenged me and made me a stronger, wiser and hopefully better person. Thank you, dear friends, one and all.


It’s a New Day – how do you want to live it?

21 Mar

Today is Naw Ruz, the New Year (or literally New Day) for Baha’is and Persians. For Baha’is the New Year comes after nineteen days (one Baha’i month) of fasting. The purpose of the fast is spiritual cleansing and renewal before the New Year. Except for a few years when I was pregnant or nursing, I have fasted every year since I became a Baha’i at the age of 20. Each year the fast is a unique experience – this year, it was one of those special fasts for me – probably because I had begun my “cleansing” months earlier as I dealt with personal challenges, both present and past. It was during the fast that the work I did to deal with these found a kind of resolution. But it wasn’t until last night, when I had yet another sleepless night that has become commonplace over the past few months (though the past week or so, my sleep had been much better), that I realized what I wanted to focus on in the coming year.

During this time of personal change, I have been trying to understand my automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) that caused me to have strong reactions to seemingly commonplace events. These are thoughts that I was not aware of, that had been with me for decades. Relatedly, I had also started trusting my heart and my intuition more. I have always had a very open and trusting heart but I often made decisions purely with logic and thinking; this was often effective but seeing things with my heart and intuition adds another important layer to my understanding of situations.

What’s more, I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship and those connections we feel to others. Have you ever started speaking to someone on a plane, at a lecture or elsewhere and found yourself connecting to that person, only to leave them when the plane landed or lecture ended, never to speak to them again? Or perhaps you got their contact info but never contacted them? I think it has happened to all of us. But what if that person was meant to be your friend, had something to teach you and/or you them and you missed that chance? I don’t want to miss those opportunities anymore and want to honour what my intuition tells me in those situations. So I have decided to make a more conscious effort to invest in new and existing friendships, to express the love I feel for others, and to accept friendship, in whatever form it may take, and offer it. May friendship and love cross your paths and may you follow where they lead you.


Personal Transformation and Change

24 Feb

For the last three months I have been going through a huge personal transformation. The source has been revisiting traumatic events from my past (childhood and youth) through writing and sharing with those closest to me. I have been making discoveries about how these events have impacted my life in ways that I literally had no idea about on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. It has been incredible how once the door was opened, realizations started coming one after another. Part of the reason that I think I was able to go through this right now is that I have been able to build a support network of friends, family, a counsellor and a support group that have all been there for me in incredible ways. It all just kind of came together and now each of these feeds off the others and my insights continue to grow. That is not to say that it has been an easy time – in fact, it has been very challenging and difficult but I have able to keep going, have needed to keep going because these things need to be dealt with and it feels like the right time now (though understandably I have not been able to dedicate as much time as I would like to academic and other obligations). Another result has been that this is affecting my relationships with others since when one person in a relationship changes, the nature of their relationship changes as well. I hope my change has been beneficial to others as well. One day I would like to share these stories with a wider audience so that perhaps they could help others who have been through similar experiences but this is not the time for that yet.

ButterflyInWaterOne big change has been that by uncovering and processing pain from past, I have started to have moments of joy. It’s not that I have not had such moments in the past but I have realized that I have been living with a constant burden weighing down on me and not even realizing that it is there or what its nature is. Now there are brief moments when the burden is lifted and I feel amazing freedom, joy and am able to fully enjoy the present moment.

For those who know me know that I am a planner. I typically live in the future; hardly even in the present. I think that planning urge comes partly from fear of the unknown and fear that terrible things like those that happened in my past could strike at any time and so I must plan in order to avoid them. Of course, planning has its benefits (esp. for my research, work and life path) but it has to be kept in check so that I can actually live my life, rather than just planning it, which is truly the source of connecting to the world and to ourselves.

Another realization has been learning to love myself. I am always very critical of myself and by extension of others. But I am starting to become more gentle with myself and more loving, which is also leading to being more loving and understanding with others. It also has the benefit of being able to give myself what I need rather than expecting and demanding that others fill my needs. It feels incredible to realize that I can fulfill many of my own needs.

IMAG2342One of the reasons that I wanted to share this, however vaguely, with my community is that people I know often think I have it all together and all figured out. Well things could not be farther from the truth. I am just like everyone else and I know we all struggle with different aspects of our lives. Also, I hope that by reading, you may be inspired to gain the courage to go through your own transformation and to confront things you may not have dealt with in the past when it was not possible to deal with them but that maybe you can deal with them now or whenever you feel the time is right. When that time comes, I hope you feel the courage to open the door and begin your own healing journeys.

I will try to share bits and pieces of insights as time goes by and the realizations continue. There is still a long way to go on my journey and I am both excited and scared but I know I have the courage within to keep going. A special thank you to my amazing support network – you know who you are but you have no idea what incredible gifts and blessings your friendship and support have brought to my life. I will be eternally grateful for you coming into my life.


7 Dec

Perseverance has been a theme in my life this fall, as I began the second year of my PhD studies. As I embarked on my self-imposed, crazy deadlines in order to finish my comps and proposal (successfully defended :) Nov. 26 on the five year anniversary of our move to China) and submit my ethics application by the end of November so that I could (hopefully) begin data collection in Jan/Feb (to be able to be in classes at least 5 months before moving to China for the next phase), I felt overwhelmed many times. One example: 16 consent forms to write and then translate into Chinese – yikes!

Two things kept me going. One was to take a deep breath and just do it, one tiny step at a time, to try not to think about the amount ahead of me. The second was the amazing help I got from friends: friends who helped me translate and those who gave me feedback on things I was struggling with, like my research questions – without you, I would not be where I am – thank you, you know who you are! There was also the encouragement. We all go through times when we lose all form of self-confidence! That’s when a friend can do wonders reminding you of what you already knew – that you are capable, that you can do it! And then a few days it’s your turn to help her. It works great that way :)

Roya doing "tawaza" (sp?)

Roya doing “tawaza” (sp?)

As is often the case, when we struggle with something our children do so as well. So my daughter, Roya, who has been doing karate since August 2012 (along with her brother) with relative ease, reached the point where was trying to pass a belt to reach intermediate level. Suddenly things became a challenge and her first instinct was to think about quitting. We met with her teachers at Intention Martial Arts and had a LONG talk about perseverance and how when things get hard is the time to really learn perseverance. From the beginning, I’ve been impressed with how the teachers at this dojo focus on teaching virtues along with the physical aspects. The talk really made an impact on Roya, who restarted with renewed energy and dedication. At the end of the three months when it was time for her belt test, she and a friend were both awarded two belts higher because of the amazing progress they had made. It was a very proud moment and a reminder that we accomplish amazing things when we choose to persevere.

Roya at her belt test

Roya at her belt test

My final reminder about perseverance came from Joyce, a Japanese-Canadian lady who had been interned as a child during World War II. We had taken our Rits-UBC exchange students on a field trip to the Nikkei Museum so they could learn about Japanese internment for our class about social exclusion in Canada. Joyce’s most difficult time was when she was a teenager, after the end of internment but before her family was allowed to return to the West Coast, when they lived on the prairies. She had to spend long days toiling on sugar beet farms to help her family make ends meet. She said this was when she learned perseverance. She felt that this made her the person she became even though she would not wish it on anyone. When her own children were teenagers they decided to pick berries as a summer job. Joyce told them if they decided to do it, they would have to persevere and do it until the end of summer. After a few days they were ready to quit but they didn’t. Joyce was proud that her children had learned perseverance. I couldn’t agree more – teaching my children perseverance is also my goal and it is great when others are able to help with this process. Perseverance is an important lesson for all of us and one that we will continue to learn as we face harder and harder challenges in life.

15 minutes a day

14 May

One of my learnings this year for me seems to be about developing consistent good habits for myself and my children. Earlier, around the time of Baha’i fast (March), I realized that I need to commit to a certain time to do my obligatory prayer if I am to remember to do it (yes, after so many years as a Baha’i I still struggle with this). It happened kind of naturally really as we are allowed to eat after sunset so I was ACUTELY aware of when sunset was. As I waited for that time of day, I realized I had not prayed yet and doing this several days, I made the conscious choice to make it part of my daily routine. This worked well because on days when I work, I get home at 5:30 and need a little time to myself before facing the family – the perfect time to pray. I also combined the prayer time with the time for my daily exercise routine. This works well for me because I am very mental and not really “in my body” most of the time but exercising made me much more present, which then helped me be present in my prayers. This routine worked really well during fast but slipped a bit afterwards then improved again. It is a work in progress but I am doing much better than I ever had before.

Another learning came a few weeks ago, thanks to our friend Matt, who is also Roya’s piano teacher. Let me just say that I think he is an amazing teacher – he is so patient and in tune with what Roya needs in terms of instruction and so flexible – I wish we had started her on piano with him much earlier! We will miss his lessons very much but are really grateful for his foundation….Back to what I learned from Matt – he and Roya started a daily practice chart where she would write how long she practiced every day. The great thing is, Matt told her at first that she should practice no more than 10 minutes a day – he was trying to develop the habit and chose such a short time so as to not encounter resistance. Well, it is now week 2 and she herself chose to move up the time on the weekends to 15 min. She feels a great sense of accomplishment when she does her time and checks it off. So I decided to do the same for the kids’ English reading – ie. have them read 15 min. with me every day. I had tried before to read “a little every day” but without a firm goal/plan, it was far from consistent. Plus when you tell them it will only be 15 minutes, it does not seem as daunting as “Come read with me (endlessly!)”

So after all this, I decided that I myself need to adopt this for my Chinese study. It has been almost a year since I stopped formal Chinese classes and I know my (intermediate) level is just not good enough (I mean esp. for my research which I want to do in China). This term was less busy than I’ve had in a long time and I started doing some Chinese on my own but again, not consistently. So today I began my 15 minutes of Chinese a day. If I want to do more, I can but it is a base I hope I can keep up with.

So if you want to work on something, why don’t you try doing it for 15 minutes a day?

Three Weeks of Craziness

4 Mar

It has been almost three weeks since we came back from our Thailand vacation and life has been crazy ever since. The first challenge of course was trying to adjust to the cold weather after the amazingly warm and beautiful Thailand – no small feat. Well, if that were not enough, we were greeted by mouse droppings all over the house and spend two whole days (after sleeping at the airport the night before) cleaning EVERYTHING. A note to all who live on the first floor and may get such a surprise – close your doors before you go so the mouse can only invade the main living area.

That first day Peiman actually saw the mouse in the kitchen and barricaded the kitchen door and the sewer hole through which it came but it managed to escape anyway. The next day a “mouse guy” came and looked everywhere and put out “traps” (extremely sticky cardboard with bread on it that only managed to trap my slipper two times). Well, there has been no sign of it since, though our overhead storage space we don’t use has two new holes in it. All that remains is Milad’s nightly plea of “Don’t let the rat get me!”

On a positive note, the thing that saved us before and after our trip has been our new washing machine that we are “testing” for a Chinese company that wants to sell it abroad. Well, let me tell you, we are the perfect washing machine testing family! Before we left, we had to wash all the summer clothes we were bringing on our trip because even though we had washed them all before putting them away in the fall, they still got a bit of a funny moldy smell to them. Then when we came back, we again washed all our clothes plus all the bed sheets (which we had washed before the trip but which were visited by the rat while we were gone). And, though we seldom use the dryer (yes, it actually has a dryer!), it is really great to dry bed sheets in the machine because it is hard to find enough hanging space for them in the winter.

Two days after being back in Nanjing, I received my rejection letter from U Penn. Well I have to say, I was hardly surprised by this. The whole process of applying to U Penn was one difficulty after another. They were very picky about how to send them transcripts, then they weren’t receiving them. Finally, at the last minute, I managed to get UBC to email them a copy which they accepted in the interim. All this is a very long and complicated story that I won’t bore you with but let’s just say that every step of the application process was fraught with difficulty. During that whole time, I kept thinking that this is just not meant to be and that it won’t happen because all the doors kept closing – unlike with UBC where the whole process was so smooth and easy. But I decided to test my theory and so I kept on doing all I could to make sure my application went through.

Then, a week before our trip, I received an email that I had been shortlisted by U Penn – one of about 10% of their PhD applicants. I was very happy but then realized how insane it would be for me to fly (all expenses paid by them) to U Penn for ONE DAY of meetings and conversations. And this was to happen smack in the middle of our Thailand trip – five days lost for a one day interview. Not to mention the crazy jetlag. Well though I was a bit disappointed it didn’t take long to decide to tell them I would like to skype with them instead, which they had said was not a problem. After that I heard nothing for a while and then just as we were about to go to the one place where we did not have internet, I got an email that they wanted to do a skype interview. I told them I wasn’t sure if I could skype at the time or not but got a Thai phone so I could receive free calls in case there was no internet.

It them turned out that they had internet but I had to use it in the middle of the outdoor restaurant which could be noisy. In the end, I did have my skype interview and there was no problem with the technical part but the interview was the strangest one I had ever had. Honestly, it felt like the person interviewing me had not even looked at my application! She was asking me about my research but had no comment about it. When I asked her point blank later on how she saw her work and mine matching, she paused and asked me to describe my research idea all over again. Then after a little more discussion about their program she said she had to go. That was it. That is when I knew I was not going to be accepted to U Penn. Honestly, I think she called out of obligation but that they had already selected those they were going to accept during the weekend interview.

It was at that time that I finally realized I was completely wrong for their program. Their age demographic is 21-30, no doubt most or all childless, with many coming in straight from a BA. Well that is not me at all. Not to mention that none of the professors are working in China or even Asia and though we see eye to eye on methodology I guess that is just not enough. So the rejection letter was no surprise and I was just grateful that I had enough sense to not ruin my Thailand vacation chasing after the wrong dream.

A week after coming back to Nanjing was my first day at work. The night before I did not sleep well and felt myself getting sick. That morning, like every morning, I checked my email to see if there was word from UBC. I was now super excited to be going there and felt strongly that I would be accepted but there was always that small fear of rejection. That morning, as I was about to check my email, I felt like I would actually be receiving something and there it was – an acceptance email along with a generous scholarship for my study. I was ecstatic! I went to work all happy and spent the whole day teaching in the freezing cold and feeling worse and worse. By the time I was taking the bus home, I had the chills and I knew something was very wrong because the bus was being heated (the only heated part of my whole day). Well, I went home, crawled into bed and stayed there for 6 days with a constant fever of about 39 degrees. I don’t remember the last time I got the flu like that. By the sixth day I was getting a bit worried so I called a foreign doctor that was a friend of a friend and he told me I should be fine as long as the fever went down by day eight or nine. Then, just as it had started, the fever went down. Now I still have a cough that is worse at night when my chest hurts when I cough but I feel I am on my way to a full recovery.

Knowing that we are actually leaving Nanjing in four months has put everything in perspective – not just for us, but for our friends as well. We have several groups of them who are studying Baha’i materials with us and participating in the community building process, and we want to help them as much as we can before we leave. So with the thought of accelerating their study and activities, we have been talking to them about where we would like them to be and how we can best help prepare them for their service. Well, their response has been amazing. Of course they (like we) are sad that we are leaving but the pace of all our activities has doubled or tripled. Not only that but friends who had stopped studying with us are restarting their study. It seems our departure is just the push they needed to get back on track. So now, we are very excited about all the work we will be able to accomplish before we go and have confidence that the work will continue after we are gone. I have to say, there are some truly amazing human beings in Nanjing that I have so much admiration and respect for, people who want to make a difference in their community and who have a vision of how they can help their friends and colleagues lead a more fulfilling life. We will miss them so much but they will always live on in our hearts (and we will definitely be visiting them when we move back to China even if we are not in Nanjing).

So that brings my three weeks of craziness story to an end (though I am sure it is not the end at all but just the beginning :))!!!

Train Travel in China

17 Jan

Travelling in China by train has proven to be very challenging. The main challenge is trying to buy tickets but the travel itself has at times been taxing as well.

Map of China

Our first difficult experience was travelling from Guilin to Nanning. We arrived about 15 minutes before the train was to depart (we had to take a bus from Yangshuo, eat lunch and then walk to the train station). The waiting room was completely packed with people standing (and a few sitting) but they wouldn’t let anyone go on the platform since the train had not arrived yet.

A “hard seat” (second class) wagon on our way to Nanning – the people standing have no seats.

The train ended up being late by maybe 20 minutes and people were even waiting outside the big waiting room. When the train finally came, people pushed and shoved their way out of the waiting room onto the platform but then we all had to drag our bags up two flights of stairs, cross to another platform and go down two flights again. Then there were huge lines in front of each car and they would only let people in on one side of each car so even though our seats were close to the front end, we had to go up from the back and then spent five to ten minutes trying to shove past people without seats to get to our seats, in which people were already sitting. I told them that those were our seats and they got up but the train was very crowded and there were many people standing without seats.

The group of youth trying to all take a picture of our kids.

We made friends with two young girls who were travelling as part of a travelling trip. (As an aside, there were over 20 young people from about 12 years old to maybe 16 travelling with one 21 year old tour guide to different cities for a week or so – something that would never be possible in Canada.) Near the end of our 6 hour trip, the young people finally got the courage to ask to take pictures of our kids; then they all stood around with their cell phones trying to get them to look, which of course they didn’t. Finally, after about 15 minutes of this, I told the kids to look up once so everyone could take their picture and then put their phones away and that more or less worked.

“Soft seat” (first class) wagon with empty seats on the way to Beihai.

After that experience, especially for my mother’s sake, we decided to try to buy soft (first class) seats for the rest of our trip. The first was to Beihai. I always thought the benefit of soft seats was a little more sitting room but actually it is that standing only people are not allowed in soft seat areas. So when we travelled to Beihai, there were even empty seats and we travelled very comfortably.

low bunk ceiling making sitting for tall people uncomfortable

However, some trains don’t have soft seats. The least comfortable was the train from Kunming to Dali, where you had to sit on the bottom of a hard sleeper waggon. Each bottom bunk was to seat four people. When we arrived, there were already four adults and two children there and we had bought five tickets (even one for Milad) so we would be comfortable for the long 6 hour trip. It turned out one person was supposed to be in another room and he moved and one of the children moved too (they were a multi-generational family spread over three rooms). Then we sat okay except for Peiman. He was too tall and couldn’t sit up straight in the seat due to the other bunk on top. He tried to lie down on the top bunk but he was told by the conductor that he couldn’t because he only bought a hard seat. Then he went for a walk but couldn’t see anything because the windows in the aisle are at sitting height, not standing height. The kids also couldn’t go on the top bunk as it was not “safe”. There seemed to be one conductor who was going around just telling people to get down from the top bunk. Yet we were told it is even worse travelling by bus in Western China as the roads are very bad and if it rains, you may even get stuck due to a mud slide.

As for buying tickets, that has been even more challenging. Our first problem arose when we tried to buy a ticket from Nanning to Kunming in Beihai. They simply had no sleeper tickets at all for a whole week in advance. The reason is that when you try to buy tickets in a city other than the city of departure, they don’t release many tickets for sale. I had originally planned to buy our tickets when we were in Nanning, before going to Beihai but when we were leaving, we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay in each place as we had decided we wanted to spend less time in Nanning and not go to Detian Falls so we thought we would either spend more time in Beihai or Kunming but we wanted to see Beihai first before deciding so I completely forgot about buying the tickets. Because of the change in itinerary, we also did not plan to spend any more time in Nanning before going to Kunming so there was little chance to buy a sleeper ticket once we arrived in the afternoon. So the last night in Beihai when we had no tickets to Kunming, my mother asked us to try to buy plane tickets. Being on a budget, paying three times the price (or more) for plane tickets was not appealing. However, I felt bad for having planned so well but then being stuck in Nanning. I went online and there were tickets on sale for the day we would arrive in Nanning and at a reasonable price but one website showed “low availability” and the other actually said “two seats left”. Then there were no seats. A little later in the evening, it had “low availability” again so I decided to call and try to get tickets. I called and was told there were only 4 seats left and we were 5. Peiman quickly said he would take the train (seat only on an overnight train) and we could fly and meet him later so I tried to get the tickets but because the company could only order adult and child tickets separately, and there was a big discussion of how I would pay for them (since it was less than 24 hours, I couldn’t use a foreign credit card but only cash but the lady wasn’t sure where in Beihai or Nanning I could pick them up), by the time I bought the adult ones there were no more for the kids. The lady actually thought I could still use the adult ones and when I said they would have to be cancelled, she wasn’t sure if I had to pay a penalty for it! In the end her colleague said she could cancel it for free and after about an hour on the phone, I had nothing to show for it.

After that we went to bed but just before and several times in the morning, I checked the website again to see if there would again be tickets available (having lived in China, I knew that “no tickets” doesn’t actually mean “no tickets”, just no tickets “for now”) but nothing. Since our train wasn’t until ten to twelve, I decided to finish writing my Northern Guangxi blog entry. Finally done and ready to check out, I decided to check one last time the website and low and behold suddenly there were tickets available on the same flight and not even “low availability”. Quickly I called and this time got a competent operator who booked all five tickets in less than ten minutes – success!!! My mother was truly happy when I told her that we had plane tickets and we could enjoy our time going to Nanning. When we got to Nanning, I still wanted to see if there were any sleepers and also buy our next ticket to Dali. Well, good thing we got our plane tickets as there were no more sleepers that evening and the next day only the terribly timed train leaving at 4pm and arriving at 5am had hard sleepers. The plane tickets were also a blessing because as we headed to the airport in a shuttle Roya started complaining of stomach pain and by the time we were flying (after arriving at the airport four hours early to pick up our tickets and then the flight being delayed for one hour), she had a fever. She spent the next day mostly in bed, though unfortunately we also had to change hotels as the one we had before didn’t have room for an extra night (since we were not travelling overnight).

In our comfy soft sleeper (four beds, all ours, with a compartment door) on the way to Chengdu

Having had such an experience, we were intent on buying our train tickets as early as possible. Unfortunately, the train buying system was not in our favour. First I went to buy sleeper tickets from Lijiang back to Kunming but was told you can only buy those 6 days in advance (possibly because we were buying them in Kunming not Lijiang?) Then the next day it was the 2nd so I thought I could buy the overnight tickets from Kunming to Chengdu for the 12th (10 days early) only to be told that I could buy them the next day for 10 days early so not sure when it is counted from. In Nanjing you can buy them from 3pm 10 days before but here they said the next day in the morning I could buy them. We were leaving just after 10am to Dali so 45 min before I lined up for the tickets. Well, all seemed to be going well until I said I wanted to buy 4 tickets – three adult and one child. The lady first tried to convince me that the child could sleep with us but I said we have two kids and needed a bed for them to share. Finally she told me that according to the “rules” I could only buy 3 tickets and if I wanted more I had to go to special window number 2. Well, I first said that if my husband came, could he buy another ticket. She said yes so I called him to come over (he was waiting outside with everyone) but then I realized if we don’t buy the tickets together, we may not have our beds together and she confirmed this when I told her and told me again to go to window 2. Well, I told her how I had already come twice to buy tickets and couldn’t and how now I had a train to catch and couldn’t line up again so she got her supervisor who overrode something on her computer and she was able to sell me the tickets. I felt triumphant but very stressed.

When arriving in Dali, I immediately went to buy tickets to Lijiang. However, even though it wasfor several days later, I was told there were only standing tickets. This was likely because a) most people take the train from Kunming to Lijiang directly and get first dibs at tickets (longer distance tickets are always more available than short distance ones) and b) tour companies or scalpers buy out large sums of tickets. Since the trip was only about 2 hours, I bought the standing tickets and we went to our hotel (which was quite a distance away in the old town). However, as I said in the blog entry about Yunnan, we later decided against going to Lijiang, one because of the cold weather (and we were told it would be even colder in Lijiang because of the higher altitude) and another because the kids were getting very tired of travelling and were also having much fun with their new little friends in town. So once we decided we had to go back and refund our tickets. As I lined up, a scalper offered to buy my tickets off me for 100 yuan (without even knowing how much I had paid). I told her I paid over 100 (I forget how much) and wouldn’t sell to her (also I don’t like scalpers). Well once it was finally my turn I was told that there was a refund penalty and I only got back 98 yuan haha. After that, I also tried to buy tickets back to Kunming but these were sold out as well so we ended up buying bus tickets. Buses are not a very popular mode of travel in China, no doubt because of the inconvenience of not having an easily accessible toilet, being able to walk around, etc. So there was no problem buying bus tickets and we got ones in the very front with a great view.

Overnight train to Xian: my mother laughing as she tries to eat very watery congee (rice porridge) with chopsticks – not sure how exactly one is supposed to do that. In addition her train breakfast included plain steamed bun, hard boiled egg and some pickled vegetables – I opted for some fruit I had brought with me.

It was also in Dali that Peiman and I decided that he and the kids would go back to Nanjing instead of continuing on to the rest of the trip so he could get back in his workshop and they could have a break from travelling. Then came the ordeal of trying to find flights back for them. I first looked at flights from Kunming (which would also mean returning Peiman’s and Roya’s sleeper tickets) but they were too expensive. The flights from Chengdu, our next stop, were cheaper but still a bit much. The cheapest were from Chongqing (the largest city in China with the greater city having roughly the same population as Canada!), a two hour train ride away from Chengdu. I bought these and then hoped and prayed that I could get them train tickets to Chongqing.

We shared our soft sleeper with this mother and daughter (and grandma). Unfortunately, the little girl got a fever and diarrhea soon after boarding and was sick all night – I was very impressed with how the young mother handled such a challenging situation. By morning, she was feeling better :)

We had already asked a friend we were visiting in Chengdu to buy my mom and I sleeper tickets to Xian, our next stop, which he had done without any problems. However, I didn’t want to bother him again so, now back in Kunming, I went to a train ticket place to buy them myself. Unfortunately, I was told that high speed train tickets could only be purchased at the railway station. So I took a taxi there and lined up at the “special window” – the famed window 2 where I was told to go the last time I was buying tickets in Kunming. Of course, by the time it was my turn, they were sold out. My next move was to ask our friend to buy them but he was not able to buy the either. This shows another problem with ticket selling in China – sometimes, tickets will not be available, not because there aren’t any but because they have not been “released” yet and if you ask later, you will be able to buy them. So as soon as we arrived in Chengdu (back to the sweltering heat!), we lined up at the computers where you can buy self-serve tickets. Unfortunately, when it was finally our turn, we discovered we could not use the machines because high speed train tickets now requires the use of id (to prevent scalpers from buying them up) but the machine could only read Chinese id cards, not foreign passports. So I went to line up directly at the “special” window which I now knew the existence of from my problems in Kunming. And lo and behold, I was able to buy the tickets no problem!!!

I then tried to buy tickets for my mom and I from Xian to Beijing, the last leg of our trip. The lady, however, misunderstood me and sold me tickets from Chengdu to Beijing, which I luckily noticed as I was leaving and was able to return without a penalty. The tickets I wanted were of course not available. So I called on my last resource, a friend of a friend from Nanjing who lives in Xian, to ask him to get us two sleeper tickets to Beijing. Well, this friend told me that these tickets could only be bought four days in advance. This was very confusing as it had always been ten so I got very nervous. After a few days I learned that the government had actually changed the amount of days from ten to four at just that time (now it is different again). When we got to Xian, this friend told us that we were very lucky because he was only able to get these tickets through a Chinese friend of his who works for the railway and was able to get them with a special additional fee. He said that had he tried the regular way, we would not have been able to get any as the train trip between these two cities was very booked up all the time. In fact, we got on a special train that goes directly with no stops. Finally, in Beijing, as I was there for an extended time, not only for sightseeing with my mom but for an important international conference afterwards, I had no problem getting a ticket back to Nanjing.

And so ends my account of buying train tickets in China. May I just say that I was able to accomplish this travelling feat ONLY because I can now more or less converse in Chinese AND I have some friends who really helped me out. I honestly don’t know how a person who doesn’t speak Chinese and doesn’t understand at least a little that there are many strange rules when buying train tix in China nor has any friends here, could ever possibly travel by train in China!

P.S. As of this fall, it is apparently possible to buy high speed train tickets online though there is only a Chinese version of the site. Slowly it will probably be possible to buy other types of train tickets as well. And maybe one day the site will also be available in English. But then people will miss out on a lot of crazy adventures!!!


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