|June 24,2016--MA Shemu wipes the floor of the vestibule with paper hand towels, puts down his black jacket, faces West, kneels down on his jacket and prays for 20 minutes.
Ma, from northwest China’s Gansu Province, is a member of the Hui ethnic group. As with Muslims everywhere who are observing the holy month of Ramadan, Ma prays five times a day, even when he is on the train.
The Z917 train from the provincial capital of Lanzhou is taking Ma to Nyingchi in southwest China’s Tibet. He is visiting his son who has been running a business there for four years.
To catch the early train, Ma stayed at a relative’s home near the station. At 4am he had beef noodles for “suhur,” the meal eaten before daybreak that will sustain him through his day’s fast.
Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn to dusk during the holy month, a practice widely observed in China by Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uygur and Uzbek ethnic minorities, among others.
On the train, Ma makes small talk with another passenger, Su Hebibu, also Hui, from Linxia of Gansu where they boarded the train together.
Su, 35, runs a fruit business in Nagqu, Tibet. He returns home every May or June, when business is quiet. He too is fasting.
“I sometimes feel dizzy and weak during the day, pretty much like the altitude sickness I encountered when I first arrived in Nagqu,” Su said.
At 8:45pm, Ma takes out tea leaves, pancakes and some salad and begins to prepare “iftar,” a most welcome meal taken when the sun finally sets.
He bought the salad at a halal noodle stall before getting on the train.
“We usually break our fast at 8:40pm at home, but on the train, I will delay my dinner because of the time difference,” he said pointing at the sun, still hovering above the horizon.
At 9 pm, bidding farewell to some fellow Muslim passengers disembarking at Golmud Station, Ma gulps the tea before tucking in to the salad and pancakes.
The train, carrying 787 passengers, is running on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s highest, and a lifeline between Tibet and the rest of China.
On July 1 this year, the line will celebrate its 10th anniversary.