A ride on the train K9663 was like a trip to the china in the 90s—the greenish, pathetic thing had to spend eleven plus hours to accomplish a journey between Pingliang to Lanzhou that usually took a bus less than four hours. As the railway system in the whole country has been enjoying waves of upgrades, K9663 was one of the few “non-air conditioned non-high speed” trains that travelled over two of the most destitute provinces in China: Gansu and Ning Xia.
Apart from the mosquito threats, my trip on K9663 was rather pleasant. Without the roaring sound of air conditioning, plus the old engine and railway, it is an authentic train experience: symphony between the rail and the train wheel was louder than ever, and the rhythmic vibration underneath the train made my teeth tremble.
The train toilet was another story. It was indeed a hole on the train that dumped everything we dumped to it onto the railroad. The experience could be pleasant, if one liked the feeling of little breeze tenderly caressing one’s private parts at those awkward moments. In winter, however, the caressing might feel like knifing pain.
I opened the window and stretched my hand out a bit for some chilling night breeze. It was late, the night out there was as dark as inside a tunnel, but one could tell by listening to the roaring sound echoed by the heart of the mountains.
Choo…the train crawled out of darkness clustering Pingliang, a city in Eastern Gansu, at about 10 pm. About another hour later, it arrived in Gu Yuan, a town in Ningxia, an ethnic minority autonomous region inhabited mainly by Muslims. Few hours later it went back into Gansu and headed directly to Lan Zhou, the capital city of Gansu province, along the way there were dozens of mountains and hundreds of tunnels.