The train runs in Jiayang, Qianwei County, Le Shan (乐山市犍为县嘉阳小火车). Visitors can reach it from Chengdu by taking a bus to Jiayang from the Xinnanmen Transportation Center for RMB15. From the Shiyangchang bus station in Jiayang, take the bus to Qianwei. The bus departs every 15 minutes starting from 6 a.m. and costs RMB45. From the Qianwei bus station, take a bus to Sanjing (三井) for RMB3. Tickets on board the tourist train are RMB30; tickets on board the commuter train on the same line are RMB3. The nearly 20-kilometer journey on the tourist train—which makes longer stops—requires approximately two-and-a-half hours. The train departs four times daily.
The following is lyrical photo story by An Li'nan(安礼楠). Translation by Marvin Tan.
Little train, daytime
[For half a century, running alongside time]
It's cold inside these mountains. It rained at night; the early morning brought more fog.
At dawn, the whole world seems full of some special fragrance.
I walk along the tracks for a very long time, but still find no bright color.
Maybe there are things that once were bright
Only during the harmonization of rainfall, they blurred into the background without a sound.
The sunshine here is so delicate, delicacy that lacks the power to go through this gray curmudgeon.
Any time the raindrops float down, it makes the soaked silence of the surroundings see-through,
As far as my eyes can see, there are many waiting.
Suddenly, a faint whistle comes through the fog in the mountains.
The sound drives all the confusion and anxiety away, like an awakening.
Another whistle comes, closer this time.
The whistle breaks the peace of the empty mountains, reverberating for a long time.
I focus on the direction of the little train.
The anxiety of a minute before changes into anticipation. I don't even blink once in this moment.
In the fog, the old steam coach arrives trailing white smoke, like an old gentleman.
With its own pace, not too quick, not too slow, it comes into my vision step by step.
All the folks look at it happily, even laugh out.
The rain and fog are still here, just like its background, so perfect.
The plot opens out now. It's a fairy tale, I guess.
Twenty-four hours ago,
I happily embarked upon this journey.
And if we go back even earlier, much, much earlier—
In the summer of 1959, the Jianwei-Bashizhai narrow-gauge railway was constructed in these mountains and valleys.
From then, exactly half a century has passed.
This half a century that has passed, I have no way to imagine the picture at that time, the journey of the little train for half a century.
Now all I can see is just a simple line, some scattered points.
And the little train? How many has it carried to their destinations? Whether it's happiness or sadness, people or objects, there are still those things we have no way to describe.
"The first time you see an antique steam-engine train,
The first time you stand at that simple platform,
You turn around, and the smokestack at the front is spitting forth steam
You will hear the whistle blow, that sound is like a sigh from long ago,
The people nearby start showing their anxiety.
At this moment, can you really be sure of the place you're headed?"
I thought about that.
I didn't answer. There's no way to answer.
Everyone is inherently connected.
Everyone has a different point of view.
Every car is doing the same thing—the thick doors closed with a bump, making a dull sound.
He's biting into a steamed bun.
There are some colors that don't match any other in the picture.
Mifengyan, the third stop on the route of the little train.
The little train will go through the interchange here, and then turn around, running in the opposite direction.
Under the spotlight, it is a superstar.
It's crowded inside the car.
The small space is filled with all kinds of stuff.
He stands by the window.
The light comes from outside becomes obvious.
She looks out the window.
Every color is in harmony in this frame.
Where does the little train go?
I think it goes to the other side of time.
Little train, night to morning
What kind of time is this? What kind of journey is this?
It's like being in a dream.
The carriage once crowded, now empty.
This is the last train of the day.
I reach my hand out of the window and suddenly a scene pops into my head ...
The show is over. He's removed the makeup from his face, everyone's left.
He opened the back door of the theater. In the cold rain, alone, he opened his umbrella.
The streetlights dim. At home, the day's applause becomes meaningless.
I wonder if the silence of the moment is true and splendid.
The little train bumps along, clearly shaking off the vanity.
Rumbling and whistling, with dust obscuring the road the whole way.
The smell of burning in the air. Let it be, I won't speak of it again.
It'll be dark soon. Lights begin to appear in the distance of growing darkness.
When they light up, the once-bright rapeseed flowers fade away.
Just like this, the world seems more and more unclear.
I'm getting stuck on those lights. I like their decoration.
I count them. At that moment, I even believe they are some kind of hope.
But, when the road keeps going and takes turns in new directions, I can find them no more.
They were always the eyes of the dark night, not mine.
But now, in this swinging journey
Even the night is falling asleep.
I feel lost. Soon there will be nothing but darkness left on a dark background.
Wind blows in through the window, carrying with it some raindrops.
I hear a regular rhythm like snoring.
I don't want to guess. I decide to go out to have a look.
And then, I see it ...
The headlight of the little train is shining.
Whether or not it intends to, it illuminates a small path ahead.
So we are moving forward, never stopping.
Some kind of mood emerges. But I don't have the words to describe it.
I keep my eyes on the light for a very long time, unable to avert my sight.
Perhaps it's a guiding light, or something else ...
Dream? Warmth? Loneliness or courage? It's bright ... that's already enough.
How much farther is the journey? I don't know.
Inside the train, it's silent, I lean on the window, feeling some kind of small happiness.
How much longer is the journey? I don't know that, either.
But at least we are lucky enough to know the direction.
In the middle of the night
I hesitated before knocking on the door because it was so quiet.
The old man opened the door. He looked quite vigorous.
I explained that I came to ask whether the train timetable I downloaded from the Internet was accurate or not.
He shook his head and said that once evening comes his eyes cannot read text.
I asked his name. His name is Sun. Uncle Sun.
This stop is just a tiny building. Only he is there, and he's in charge.
He told me I can look at the timetable outside the house.
But it doesn't have the information I need about the late train.
I thanked him, prepared to leave.
Just then he stopped me, looking at my camera.
He spoke shyly.
He said, would I be able to take a photo of him?
"I'm 58 now. I've spent my life here, I still have two more years before I retire.
If I have a picture, I can take it to my grandchildren and tell them I once worked here."
I agreed, I cannot refuse.
"Please wait ... I should have my tie on...
Do you think it will be better if I have my hat on? I usually wear it when I'm working."
He put his tie on and sat down. I looked at the things on his table.
They seemed frozen still, for how many nights.
He must have looked upon them longer than I.
"I'll sit just here ... how's that?"
He sat so unnaturally. He seemed constrained, even his hands was not in the right place.
I understand that's the reaction of most people who rarely have their photos taken
I didn't rectify him. I wanted this to be his.
I took lots of pictures. Afterward he was very eager. He kept thanking me.
And he told me his house is not too far away, said that I must have dinner at his home the next day.
I said I will, next time, this time I was too busy.
And then after these few homely exchanges, I went on my way.
Uncle Sun must have received the pictures by now.
I hope they please him.
That's how old our generation's fathers are.
When the little train rumbled along, he was 8 years old.
Seven thirty in the morning.
The sun is just starting to rise.
Under the streetlight, the workers sweep up burned cinders from the street.
After the rain, they had no heat anymore.
More and more people arrive.
Word has it, today is market day
All kinds of people carrying all kinds of things, waiting...
The little train will take them there.
The rain is fading away.
The color of the umbrellas will appear.
Passes on information again and again.
From one stop to another,
From one person to another.
It's on time.
It has thought of everything.
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 28 ("DIY").