We’ve insulted a lot of people on this trip — usually ones who can’t comprehend what we’re saying. Lack of a common language and culture can obviously lead to misunderstandings and missed cues, and more often than not we’ve shamefully realized this after we’ve already berated a cabbie, or business owner, or someone staring at us, or a baboushka who was trying to feed us. However, in the case of The Nutkin Family, it’s doubtful that even if they spoke perfect English, or we spoke perfect Uygher, we would have any goddamn idea what exactly was going on in their heads. So we’ll just give you our interpretation of them.
The Beginning – Rescue Dad and Basement Girl
The Nutkins entered our lives on the 36-hour ride from Urumqi to Xian, our first and foulest Chinese train trip, when we scrambled into our seats and looked up to behold an eerily similar father and pre-teen daughter, lower lips drooping lazily, crescent-shaped eyes betraying no apparent sign of interest in us, or life itself. We attempted a greeting in English, then Mandarin, then Russian, but if their blank looks were anything to go by, we’d come to a linguistic canyon — probably Uygher — that we were incapable of traversing. As we drew upon our Baijiu reserves, reflected upon our circumstances for the next two days — a hard bench on a cramped, rattly, smelly, sleep-extinguishing train car — and as a result grew more surly than usual, Devon noted that the girl’s agape mouth, generally befuddled look and wide, vacant eyes fixed unflinchingly on the dry, dead empty nothingness that rocketed past, made her seem “like one of those kids who’s been living in a basement their whole life.”
In an instant we had become witnesses to the Flight of Basement Girl, saved from her subterranean fate by Rescue Dad. We drew out their storyline a bit, considering how alike they looked and amusing the possibility that she was his clone, or he had been zapped with a gamma ray and had given birth to her, only to have her kidnapped and held in a basement for eleven odd years. If we’d been more productive, we might have written a script for them, or drawn a comic book. Instead, we said things like, “Rescue Dad, what does a see-saw look like?” in a high-pitched voice, giggled, and went to sleep.
Before that though, Devon observed some actual weirdness on the part of Rescue Dad. A few minutes after it happened, Steve was informed that as Basement Girl was sleeping across his lap, Rescue Dad had with great dexterity and care moved his hand to the elastic waist of her pants, raised them, then briefly scrutinized her backside. Whether to examine for poo, or check the washing instructions on her undergarments, Devon’s conclusion about the matter was, “…it struck me as odd.” Steve responded with a furious, “YEAH. It IS odd. It’s REALLY fucking odd.” And this sentiment arguably colored our perspective of them for the rest of the ride.
A New Day, A New Nickname
The next morning, after we were gently stirred awake by old, phlegmatic Chinese men ferociously arguing before the sun had even come out, we nodded to Rescue Dad and Basement Girl, and looked forward to the uneasiness their behavior would produce in us. They didn’t disappoint. At around 7 AM, Rescue Dad produced from his belongings a 1-kilo bag of sunflower seeds, and he and the possibly-poo-stained apple of his eye commenced its consumption. Without words, or even physical acknowledgment of each other’s presence — or ours — they stared out at the perpetually featureless grey desert cracking, then chewing with loud, spitty, open-mouthed chomps, then spitting out those sunflower seeds, as voraciously as if they had never had a sunflower seed before and might never again. Without exception. Without interruption. Every last one. For two and a half hours.
As we tried to pry away our consciousness and force ourselves into a morning nap, the cracking provided a mildly annoying ambient sound, then steadily grew into a deafening roar of enamel-upon-sunflower malice. Every fifteen minutes or so one of us would stir and painfully demand, “Are they still eating those fucking things?!?” only to have our dread confirmed and our minds further boggled. On the brightside, because of their single-minded squirrel-like indulgences, they provided us a new name with which to refer to them, The Nutkins.
The next great twist in our study of the Nutkins came later in the day, when we realized that they were not alone. Earlier on the trip we’d noticed across the aisle a pair of feet poking out from under the seats, presumably connected to someone sleeping on the floor — the same floor that everyone on the train was constantly spitting, throwing trash and chewed-up food products onto. This sneaky snoozer had shrewdly laid down a newspaper to combat the huge amount of filth that might touch them all over their body, but it was still a pretty gross sight to see, so we took a picture of them.
Well, that turned out to be Mother Nutkin, who was accompanied by the Nutkin Son, sitting two rows behind the ones gnashing away in front of us — though the almost total lack of any communication whatsoever between family members made this relationship difficult to establish. The whole Nutkin clan had seen us take a picture of their prostrate matron, but luckily their understanding of human cynicism wasn’t developed enough to feel insulted, or we may have been gnawed to death. (Actually, Daughter Nutkin kept putting her trash and spitty sunflower seeds in Devon’s food bag, so maybe that was her revenge.)
The Nutkin Son was more industrious than the rest of his family, running between his seat and the water boiler to fill up the family’s multiple ramen soups and tea thermoses throughout the trip. His face was noteworthy too, as it was, unlike those of his family, capable of expressing more emotions than “brainless astonishment” and “vexed apathy”. Aaaand that’s all we remember about him.
In his final hours with us, the Nutkin Pater appeared to have realized that there were two foreigners sitting opposite him, and he was stirred from his stupor. Making haste to learn all he could about us, he grabbed everything we happened to have in our hands at any given time and inspected it — far more closely than his daughter’s butt we might add — whether it be a book, cell phone, journal, or, inexplicably, the same brand of mass-produced Chinese ramen that he was eating. Our mere ownership of something rendered it magical. He left us in the wee hours of our second night on-board, with the rest of the Nutkins in tow, satisfied that he’s figured us out. This leads to me to suspect that somewhere out there in cyberspace, there’s a Uygher blog entry snarkily speculating about us and what we were doing.
So if anyone ever finds an article called “The Two Drunken Moustachey Book Faggots”, let us know so we can link to it.
Here’s post-Baijiu Devon doing his best impression of a Nutkin scrutinizing a mundane everyday object.