the needle-nosed CRH380A


A ll month she had been practicing, standing for hours in front of the bathroom mirror in her tiny Shanghai flat, delicately gripping a chopstick sideways between her teeth as her supervisor had instructed her, and, by dint of some nimble dental gymnastics with it, learning how to smile in precisely the way that China High-Speed Railways had officially demanded of their new stewardesses. Make an Eight-Teeth Smile: that was the phrase; that was the order. It took work: long hours, aching jaws, but gradually this pretty artifice of sincerity and amity became second nature to her—such that by June 30, the eve of the 90th anniversary of the founding of her country’s Communist Party (the Youth League of which she was a proud member), the 20-year-old Huang Yun had her Eight-Teeth Smile and her welcome face finally down pat and was nervously ready for her big day. She stood before her approving parents in the doorway, primed to go: her back ramrod-straight, just like the soldiers outside the Forbidden City—who, unlike her, never smiled—her makeup flawless, her purple-and-white uniform impeccably ironed, her yellow-and-blue silk scarf neatly tied, her pumps gleaming, her cap, with its tiny red railroad badge, tilted forward just so.

more from Simon Winchester at Vanity Fair here.