The International Steam Pages

Shibanxi Holiday 2011 - Day 16 - Starting them Young

Click here for the main Shibanxi Holiday 2011 page. This page covers the relatively short walk up the hill from Huangcun (covered in part of the Huangcun - Bagou North Side hike) and then along the contour half way up the hill (the final part of the Huangcun Horseshoe hike).


I have actually known Zhao Gang and Ding Feng Yuan longer than I have known Yuehong. I first met them in Ganhe in Inner Mongolia in March 2002 where we were all photographing the logging railway there in its final season (below is what we were waiting for). Zhao Gang was the first serious railway enthusiast I had ever met in China. Just under a year later, they met Yuehong and her friend Du Jian Bin in Weihe where they were filming for what became the Logging Off DVD. The two of them told Yuehong (perhaps not entirely accurately) that I was a 'good guy' and that helped break the ice when we met in the snow drift at the top of the hill between Shuangfeng and Pinglin in February 2003 while waiting a couple of hours for a train and later Zhao Gang was Yuehong's chaperone when we had dinner in Beijing in December 2003. Fortunately, he went home early... These days he is an accomplished and successful professional photographer, a career which followed naturally from his gricing hobby.

02 arrives on the fulls

Now they have a four year old son Zhao Tian You and this was his first major narrow gauge gricing trip. It is dangerous to use the word 'indoctrination' in a Chinese context but what else would be appropriate when he has been surrounded by models, books and photographs of steam trains since birth? Alas I wasn't present for the young lad's first encounter with one of Shibanxi's steam locos, but next morning we walked up to Huangcun. Foolishly, I stood front 3/4 for the arrival and of course the last place he wanted to look at was the camera and in a few seconds the loco was uncoupled and gone. Rushing to the other end of the train, this time I got it right, Yuehong provided the close up. 

Yuehong snapped the happy family, Ding having long since given up trying to wean the two males off steam:

Just as the train was leaving, there was a very nice 'photo opportunity'. Yuehong captured Zhao Gang, JoJo and I at the vital moment:

It was Zhao Gang's first visit to the railway so we took him up to see the coal loading next to the railway's funeral coach. Once the novelty had worn off, Tian You did what any small boy would do and started to build a very grey sand castle:

The passenger train had brought up two tourist coaches with a goodly supply of customers for the museum. The problem with professional photographers is that they never bother to look to see what other photographers might be up to:

Up the hill we went above the coal mine, the scene was enlivened by an early 'Qing Ming' tomb cleaning party:

Young Tian You was enjoying himself hugely and was happy to pose outside the small temple at the top of the hill. He asked what the statues were and was told 'Landlord and Landlady'. Obviously he attends the wrong kind of kindergarten in Beijing as he gave a very politically correct response. At which point it was gently suggested that it might be a good idea to apologise to the Gods...

By now he was playing to the gallery big time, but when Jin Jizhou declared a tea break he was straight in there helping:

To be honest, jabbering Chinese tea parties don't do a great deal for me even in beautiful surroundings and when a table and set of chairs came past. it suggested something more interesting might be going on in the neighbourhood. After a quick recce, I went back to get Yuehong so she could tell me what was going on...

It was a large 'lunch', but not as big as the next day would be as that would be when the bride would come to her new home...

This kind of celebration doesn't come cheap for what cannot be a wealthy family. The enterprising shop owner opposite the Tianya Guest House was ferrying up liquid supplies and confirmed that over 100 guests were expected:

After which there was what could be considered yet another photo opportunity or an educational experience according to your point of view.

The third (out of an eventual four) coal trains was heard going up to Huangcun and we got to Bagou station with about 30 seconds to spare. You need a little extra interest for tender first trains, Tian You and his father provided it:

The expression 'chip off the old block' can rarely have been more appropriate...

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson