Monday, March 29, 2010

The Iron and Silk Road

Several years ago, I took a train from Beijing to Moscow. It took about two weeks, although I did make a few stops along the way. If I’d gone express, it would have taken just about exactly one week.

People always ask me if I found seven days of train travel boring, and the answer is that I really didn’t until the very last day. I’m not sure if that’s because the trip really was one day too long, or if I just didn’t allow myself to get antsy until I was within sight of the finish. In any case, I can safely say that for me, the idea of taking a week to travel from the heart of the Middle Kingdom to the edge of Europe is pretty reasonable.

Which is why I have mixed feelings about this article, announcing China’s plan to build a high-speed train that would cover the distance between London and Beijing in about two days. I can see that this would be an amazing feat of technology, and would really make life easier for people who can’t afford to fly and who don’t have the luxury of two weeks to spend on a round-trip.

But two days? That’s just too fast. Imagine sleeping through all of Siberia, or blinking and missing Poland. You’d get almost all of the disorientation and jet lag of air travel, and little of the scenery gazing and platform pierogi breaks of train travel.

(And if you think I’m indignant, imagine how horrified an actual ancient Silk Road trader would be. They’re probably already upset that the trip can now be done in a week, without even a stop to barter for fresh camels in Samarkand.)

No comments: