Today’s guest post is a contribution from the new established website My New Chinese Wife, a resource for foreigners on finding a Chinese wife and dating Chinese women. The post tells us the story of how adventurous a train travel can be during Chinese national holidays. For everyone who is thinking on going on a journey the upcoming national holidays in October should read this story first.
Train Trip From Hell
These days I was travelling with my Chinese girlfriend from Harbin to Changchun and we were talking about the new Chinese train prototype that will reach speeds of up to 3000 km/h. Since we were in the subject of trains, I could not help it but remember an episode that happened to me a few years back.
In January of 2011 I was an exchange student at the Tongji University in Shanghai and very much eager to see the real China. I had been living in the financial heart of Mainland China for about 7 months and had taken weekend trips to several large and well-known eastern cities like Nanjing, Beijing and Shenzhen. Deep within my heart, I always knew these cities were just for show and there was a whole different China out there waiting to be explored.
In order to get the most out of my time and money, I layed out a plan to travel by train on a route that would take me 7000 KM around the heart of central and southern China into places like Kunming, Guilin, Chengdu, Xi’an and finally back to Shanghai. I had travelled by train before on short routes out of Shanghai to neighboring cities like Suzhou, for example. I must say I was impressed by the modern Chinese stations and their brand new high speed rail system. It never occured to me that things could be different. The whole trip was schedule to last about 12 days and with the upcoming 10-day Chinese Spring Festival, the timing seemed perfect.
In the days leading up to the trip I told my Chinese friends about my adventure and they seemed to react strangely to the fact that I was going to take such a long journey right in the middle of the Spring Festival. I was constantly warned by them and they all seemed to think I was either incredibly brave or outrageously dumb! Anyway, I didn’t think much of it and began making plans for my epic train trip anyway. I didn’t know at the time, but I should have listened to my Chinese friends.
I could already picture myself sitting in one of those modern trains I had taken from Shanghai to Suzhou. I knew the trip would be long, so I prepared a nice collection of books, bought an extra battery for my laptop and loaded my phone with my favorite tunes. About a week before the trip, I walked into a small ticket office in Shanghai Jiading and purchased all my tickets. Back then, I was so incredibly naive I had no idea what was the difference between a K-Train or a G-Train or a D-Train… I just let the lady book away and was happy to have gotten such cheap rates! Looking back now, I really was digging my own grave!
My troubles began when I arrived at the Shanghai train station to catch my „express train“ to Guilin. I timed everything perfectly and had left myself a good 40 minutes to check in and board the train. The only thing standing between me and my transportation was a line of around 700 people. Yes, it seemed that half the population of China had turned up and decided to block my path, and it would have taken a good two or three hours to wade through the seething ocean of humanity before me.
Tears began to roll my cheeks as I took the escalator down to the platform and slowly came to realize that my train was actually much different than what I had imagined. Instead of the beautiful sleak white coaches, I saw old busted red cars that seemed to have pulled in from a Western style movie. Everywhere there were peasants carrying huge amounts of bags and cages containing all sorts of animals. For a moment there, I actually forgot I was in Shanghai. Praying that it was all a mistake and that I was on the wrong platform, I checked my ticket several times. It was no mistake. Even more sadly I could clearly read the characters painted on the side of every damn train car: 上海桂林 (Shanghai-Guilin). However in a brief flash of desperate heroism I grabbed my bags, completly ignored the 10000 other passengers starring at me and boarded the train.
Now, I got myself a hard seat ticket and upon entering the train car I could notice that there were already over 200 people in there even though the car was made for no more than 110 passengers. The seat was of an odd configuration, and obviously of Chinese design as there is no way any other culture would have constructed a mode of transportation so bone-reshapingly uncomfortable. Six people were supposed to sit in two groups of 3 facing one another. In the middle there was a fragile looking table (already covered with rests of food and sunflower seeds). I had to beg someone to leave my seat, to which they pretended they did not understand and just scoot over, leaving me enough room for about half of my ass. We were now 8 people crammed into the a seat made for 6. There was absolutely no way to recline the seat and it was just about as comfortable as a bench you’d find in a public park. I began asking myself if I would still have an ass in the end of my 22-hour journey to Guilin.
After the train began moving, what was already bad became even worst. An old lady sitting behind me seemed to be carrying a duck in a box and precisely every 15 minutes or so the duck would go: QUACK! Damn! You could set a clock by this duck.
The Chinese are quite a pleasant race to live among, until you happen to be crammed into a small space with 300 of them in close proximity. In the afternoon hours of my trip I was witness to a veritable smorgasbord of farting, burping, scratching, spitting, sneezing, coughing, sniffing, and on one occasion having an occupant of the bus place his buttocks besides my face and almost suffocating me. I can only assume that he was leaning against my seat and honestly didn’t notice I was there, or he attempted to kill me. By this time, the duck was going on and on every 5 minutes now: QUACK! QUACK! QUACK!
All through the ride the train floor looked like the slums of Mumbai, India. Every hour or so, the train clerk would sweep the isle with a wide broom, piling grotesque amounts of chicken bones, sunflower seeds, orange peels, dirty baby diapers and cigarette butts. At around 11 pm my ass was flat. After 7 hours of sitting on that hard seat, I could seriously benefit from a buttox injection in the buttocks. There was indeed a small television on the train for entertainment but after four consecutive Jackie Chan movies in Chinese I felt myself beginning to lose my sanity. QUACK!
The train was endowed with a small toilet, about the size of a washing machine, which in itself required incredible amounts of dexterity to use properly. To answer nature’s call while using this particular lavatory, you had to crouch to stop your head from being bashed by the roof, while placing one hand on a metal pole for support and the other on the door to prevent it from swinging open, as there was asolutely no lock. All this had to be done while the train is moving at over 100 kilometres per hour, shuddering and swaying from side to side. As we were close to 10 hours into the journey the toilet had taken on a rather unique odor, on account of the frequent ‘near misses’ of those trying to use the toilet. QUACK!
I decided that the best thing for me to do was to put myself to sleep. My eyes were already burning from the almost dense cheap cigarette smog hovering about, so I just closed them and hoped I would wake up only in Guilin. Unfortunately, this did not work out so well. Children began to cry everywhere and the duck was now ferociously quacking! For some reason every person who wanted to use the toilet had to walk past my seat, stop, cough, light a cigarette, and then ‘accidentally’ brush against my head.
I don’t quite understand how, but I made it through the night. At 8 am the Jackie Chan series restarted, but I just sat there looking out the window and trying to imagine what fresh air must be like. Finally, at precisely 1 pm, some 22 hours after I had left Shanghai, the train pulled into the Guilin station. I could hardly believe that the journey had come to an end, but was horrified at the thought that it would resume only 3 days later. I walked about the platform in Guilin trying to get my legs to respond again. At every step, I could feel a deep sting within my buttock. My nails were black and my skin was oily. The fresh winter air hurt my lungs. I had arrived, but after this trip I no longer feared hell.
I had 4 other routes like this one, but eventually completed my 7000 KM train trip around China. I have since learned my lesson and prefer to travel mostly by air and never during national holidays. China continues to be an intriguing place, which I constantly go back to. I have since been to over 20 Chinese cities and seen many of it’s regions. Travelling around the Kingdom of the Middle in the days prior to it’s rise as a major world power has taught me the meaning of duality. During my days there I have had dinner with the richest of men, but also shared a simple cup of tea with peasants in the heart of rural China. No matter what the situation, I have come to admire this countra and always enjoy discovering more of China’s most precious resource: it’s people.
If you enjoyed reading this story, I’d like to invite you to invite you to read some more of my writing about my experiences in a relationship with my Chinese girlfriend. If you are interested, then just head over to www.mynewchinesewife.com.
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