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Inner Mongolia

returning to my childhood home

The overnight train

The old rail lines connect the Bayanur region to the rest of China. My final destination is the city of LinHe, where most of my extended family still reside.

Each "soft-sleeper" cabin is shared by 4 passengers. The locals aren't shy and eagerly strike up a conversation. I find myself in the company of a doctor on the way to a conference, and a mother and child returning home to BaoTou.

What the train lacks in convenience and privacy it certainly makes up in character. I'm rocked to sleep by the click-clacking of the rail tracks, broken by the occasional tremor as the train stops at a station.

I make my way to my temporary residence, my aunt's house in the HuTongs of the old district. For years the neighbourhood had stubbornly refused to change as if in proud defiance of the encroach of modernity. Now the tendrils of development are at its doorstep, replacing bricks with asphalt, bicycles with cars.

Outside my room on the second floor.

The days here are mostly quiet. The distant beeping of traffic is interrupted by an occasional merchant on a tricycle, shouting something indecipherable in a thick local accent.

The streets of LinHe would be a familiar sight anywhere in China. The bottom floor of buildings are occupied by various businesses, while the upper floors are used for residence. Having everything in walking distance is a convenience I greatly miss in the west.

There seem to be condos being built on every street corner. The green cocoons of Chinese construction peel away to reveal concrete towers beneath, every one of them identical. The buildings always seem rather skeletal, as if they were an exercise in minimalism in some titanic art installation.