With the voice of V.I.K.I. sending a chill through first-class car #2, we are instructed to “insure that your luggage is firmly secured so as to not injure yourself or others.” “Welcome aboard Harmony.”
And with that we are on our way to Beijing via the anti-Amtrak, a 300 KPH, bullet train that will cover the almost 1100 kilometers in under 5 hours. This high speed, technologically advanced transport is made even more remarkable by the images that will blur past our eyes over next few hours and it will help shape, in my mind, the massive cultural complexity that is modern China.
The countryside immediately outside of Shanghai is a collection of small walled communities and a checkerboard of tiny, brown farms. My experience of endless fields of corn in Indiana and the mind-numbing repetition of soybean fields in Illinois gives way to the reality of these small, subsistence farms where the absence of plumbing means that human waste is excreted and collected to be used as fertilizer on these fields, after it ages. These are not he farms that make up China’s “Great Rice Basket” , they are hardscrabble plots more akin to China’s Appalachia, if anything.
Most of the farms we slid past were being worked by two to four people, hoeing the remnants of the harvest. Occasionally, we spotted a small, red tractor chugging through a field, but often the machinery appeared to be rusting on the edge of a field.
At irregular points along the way we witnessed the ground yield an unanticipated crop: Ghost Cities. Large constructs of 20 – 30 high rise apartment buildings that appeared to be pulled from the ground by their rooftop cranes. These lonely sentinels wait for tenants and workers who may never come.
Harmony speeds past these dirt poor farms and the empty ghost cites they grow. And nobody is getting off.