Fortunately the other couple is congenial. IF I haven't been talking about the weather, it's because there hasn't been any. Eleven days into our journey, and I haven't had to violate the seal of my packaged plastic raincoat. It's been summer-shirt temperature, sometimes muggy, sometimes gray, often sunny, never terrible. We're already agreeing I shouldn't have brought the second jacket and third pair of pants. Joan swears she would pack half as much next time. And we see that the small space taken by our purchases of silk (enough for three different blouses for $25) make it an ideal shopping item (though there has been a little too much stopping for shopping).
As it is, our one checked suitcase apiece is only carry-on size. We're glad they're no bigger when we board the train in Peking today for our several thousand miles on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
All baggage accompanies you in your compartment on this train. With four people in each compartment, plus neighbors dropping in, I can imagine a Marx Brothers crowded-stateroom scene. Which might be fun to the accompaniment of loudspeakers blaring ``The Stars and Stripes Forever,'' ``Green Eyes,'' and ``Auld Lang Syne.''
Fortunately we are placed with a congenial couple no larger than we are, and with not much more luggage. Taking turns on a small stepladder, we wrestle our suitcases onto a high shelf over the door. The idea is to leave them there and live out of the little red tour-group bags.
It soon becomes clear that Joan and I will not need our new bathrobes, bought in reckless anticipation of who knows what Old World decorum in sophisticated company hurtling through the night across the steppes. In dark or daylight, passengers keep coming out of their compartments fully dressed, if only in the clothes they've slept in.
The train starts promptly as advertised at 7:40 a.m. And there is plenty to look at. Last glimpses of the Great Wall . . . the grasslands of Inner Mongolia . . . a whole peering, smiling coalfield village coming out to invite and dodge our photos, melting away and returning as a policeman repeats (I'm guessing), ``All right, folks, break it up.''
We're delayed by floods up ahead, and the late-night stop at Erlian becomes even later. This is where the train's wheels are changed to fit the gauge of Soviet tracks.
In the station a sign says, ``There will be a film tonight.'' But people near it have that blinking after-movie look. One of them, a Russian I think, smiles at me and says: ``Is finish.''
Roderick Nordell is the Monitor's feature editor. Tomorrow he wakes up in the Gobi Desert.