Chapter Six – Passage Six
Vigor and youth are honestly wasted on the young. I reflect to myself, shaking my head. But even the curmudgeon in me can’t help but marvel at this antiquated world that has been meticulously maintained around us. All modern cities at some point face a dilemma with their central transit systems: How much history and tradition to preserve? How much of the future to embrace? And most places end up compromising. The gaudy Americans embraced it all, of course. And this is why you see flatscreen LCD displays at a place like Grand Central or Union Station. New Yorkers apparently believe putting some museum exhibit enclosed in a glass case next to the bleeding-edge technology somehow classes up the joint.
But here, at Northlight Station, Xi’an’s main HSR hub, other than the futuristic maglev trains that we rode in on, everything else appears to have been frozen in time. No compromise of any sort here. From our wooden platform I spy horse-drawn carriages outside of the marble archways. Additionally, for the poorer folk, rickshaws pulled by humans on both foot and bicycle are also available for service.
I don’t see a single automobile anywhere.
There is something enormously strange, impossible to describe with mere words, about being suddenly transported nearly two centuries back in time. Most of my days, I move through the world brimming with confidence. I’ve spent a lifetime studying and acquiring skills. I know things. Additionally, I’ve watched my countrymen put a man on the moon. I’ve watched us drop the atomic bomb. I’ve seen the full might and potential of the human species come to bear. But abruptly arriving here at Northlight Station, where I don’t anywhere see a single smartphone, tablet, computer, or automobile– this evokes an entirely differently combination of emotions that I’ve not felt in a long time.
A sense of humility and awe.
Suddenly, I feel incredibly, incredibly small. A feeling washes over me all at once that there’s a wondrous force much larger than imaginable which is at work. Words and logic fail to describe this sensation but it’s an acute and sharp feeling that undoubtedly exists. Like a feeling that you’ve known always true but is so horribly inconvenient that you’ve simply shoved away in the deepest recesses of your brain, suddenly surfacing and finding air once more.
Beside me, Coleman takes out his smartphone to snap a few photos but Deepak snatches it from him, faster than I’d expect.
“Hey! What the hell?”
Coleman’s phone in his hand, not yet on, Deepak explains: “They’ve set up a constant EMP sphere here in Xi’an. You turn on anything electronic, a cellphone, computer, anything— and the device will be instantly fried. The only things that run electric here are the incoming HSR lines.”
Deepak hands Coleman back his phone. “Be careful.”
Coleman can only stare, jaw agape. No Spotify, music, or earmuffs for this young man today.
“C’mon, guys!” calls Alan from the marble steps leading out of the station foyer. His shout interrupts our ad-hoc lesson and I see that he’s already several yards ahead of us, a dozen steps up, blazing ahead like the consummate scout leader he is. “Places to be and people to meet!” He grins and opens his arms expansively back at us, suddenly a theatrical showman.
“Welcome to Xi’an.”