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2014-04-01

Popularity 3Viewed 973 times 2014-4-1 11:38 |System category:Life

3-Part Disharmony – The Train Ride

 

Before boarding that train, I’d like to make something perfectly clear: This is an adventure I sought out and welcomed (while I was planning it). Other than the hostesses, the temperature, and the food problems on the plane, I was in control/in charge of every single aspect of this trip. Although it does sound grueling, I take full responsibility for it and all the mishaps that happened along the way. I hope that I’m relaying these events in such a way that you will see it as a sometimes humorous but always factual narrative, not a ploy for sympathy or pity. I was definitely not a victim of some evil travel demon who had me in his sights, I was merely a victim of a soul that thirsts for adventure. This time, I got more than I was ready for, that’s all.

 OK: it is now 13:20. All Aboard! Final Destination: Wuchang Railway Station!

 Boarding a train in China is somewhat akin to the cattle rushes of yore. Once those gates open you (the cattle) rush through and hope to not get trampled or separated from your luggage, and then you have to go downstairs to the platform. Nothing so genteel as an elevator, such as the ones available at the Amtrak stations in the States, and definitely no porters around to help you! By now I saw my luggage as extensions of my own arms and heaved them effortlessly down the stairs, racing to car #7 so that I might get to my reserved seat (#117) and get settled in before too many people crowded the platform or the train car.

 I was in luck! Being the only foreigner on the platform, many people stopped and stared, or deferred to me and I got to sail through the crowds like a ship sailing into harbor. I boarded the train with the approval of the conductor. And then, my suitcase zipper broke, right in the doorway of the train between cars 7 and 8. I got to block the way for several moments while I picked up my things. Fortunately it was a smaller pocket at the side of the suitcase, and it only held some health/beauty aids. I had moved out of the way and kicked everything over so that others could board, and I thought I had everything picked up until I noticed a young lady with one of my razor cartridges in her hand. She was laughing and wondering what it was. Shamelessly, I plucked it out of her hand and told her in Chinese ‘It is mine’. She immediately stopped grinning and hurried along. I was too tired to care if I had offended her.

 Because of my zipper mishap, I had lost my ‘early boarding’ advantage and was now in the mainstream of boarding traffic. Not an enviable position for someone as big and as burdened as I. Another problem; although I am intellectually aware that there is not much in the way of niceties when it comes to public transportation in China, I could not bring myself to bully my way into the line of people streaming on. A kindly gentleman allowed me to go before him, and once again I was carrying suitcases down the narrow aisle to my seat.

 All luggage is to go overhead; there are no vacant seats to store your suitcase on and there is no aisle space. Somehow I managed to lift two of my three bags (remember their weight/size) over my head - one at a time of course! - and heave them onto the luggage racks above. The people already seated marveled at the feat and commented on my great strength – and my great size. I wish I could have been amused, but for the sake of their good mood and to maintain companionability, I mimed an Iron Man – So Strong! – gesture. Everyone in the vicinity burst out laughing, and then asked me to hoist their bags overhead. Just what I needed. I sighed and sat down after hoisting 2 of their bags to prove I’m game. My third bag I kept cradled on my lap for the entire journey.

 I should have written about the Amtrak trains, and maybe I’ll make up that omission in a later post. For now I’ll just say that Amtrak train seats are luxurious, wide, clean and comfortable. Chinese train seats have nothing in common with them. They are just wide enough to accommodate a Chinese posterior, hard, uncomfortable and covered by a dust cloth that does not stay on. People step on the seats to put their luggage overhead; some even remove their shoes or move the dust cover before climbing up. No wonder I was such a hit storing baggage!

I finally got my coveted aisle seat, but in this context that was not a good thing because my posterior is modestly larger than a Chinese one. My right side, hanging over the seat and into the aisle, was flogged/beaten by all manner of baggage and appendage as people progressed down the aisle to their seat. “Par for the course” I whimpered, feeling sorry for myself. I let myself get beat; there was nowhere else to move to.

 Soon enough the whistle sounded, the last few passengers scurried on board or flat out sprinted down the platform and hustled through the car. And now, we’re moving… but wait! I had a reserved seat: #117. What are all these people doing, standing in the aisle? How could the ticket taker authorize 150 people in a car designed for occupancy of 118? I still don’t have an answer.

 And then, madness ensued. Not my own, personal madness – I think I’ve already established a measure of personal madness by undertaking this journey, but madness in the train car. People broke out food, games, little stools so they could sit in the aisles, only to have to get up and move so the push-cart vendors could make their way through, hawking their wares. Some vendors had food, some had fruit, some were renting computers for 20 yuan per half hour. Others were selling trinkets and newspapers which were eagerly bought, not to be read but to line the floor so people could sit down in the wake of the pushcarts. Every vendor cart that came through caused a throng of people to push themselves into the seated passengers. I was nothing special anymore; I was crowded/banged into just like everyone else. This went on for hours. And hours. For 17 of them, to be exact.

 At 7:00pm, my hunger vulture returned. It had been 12 hours since KFC. The food vendor had all manner of unrecognizable food and I no longer felt adventurous, but the fruit cart had appealing stuff, so I bought 8 plums for 10 yuan – about $1.50. I eagerly bit into the first plum, even though it was hard, bitter and unripe. I lost my appetite again, and saved the other 7 for later, when they would ripen.

Being unable to sleep in this ruckus and confinement, again I watched. There were riotous moments, like when the youth and the train official got into an argument and it escalated into blows. Yes, he actually balled up his fist and tried to hit her. Fortunately, several passengers intervened and the fight ended quickly. There were families who did not get seats together, negotiating with passengers near them so they could sit with their loved ones. A married couple who looked more like father and daughter. She cross-stitched while they talked and laughed a blue streak, gazing lovingly at each other. There was the father who removed his shirt to wrap around his son, who was shivering in his sleep. When the shirt did not do the trick, he took drapes off the train windows to wrap the boy up. There was a mother who stood sleepily in the aisle for hours so that her son could sprawl out on the double seat. Every so often, she made sure he was covered, and then she went back to dozing while standing. There were two girls who did not look more than 14 years old, traveling together, huddled for warmth and curled up around each other. This greatly annoyed the businessman sitting next to them, as they occasionally leaned on him and rumpled his suit. He pushed them away every time they slumped on him.  

Somewhere around 4:00 in the morning, I could not stand being hungry anymore. I carefully looked at the wares on the vendor cart: vacuum packed fowl leg – chicken or duck, who knew? Some sausages, some other things I couldn’t identify, AH! Vacuum packed peanuts! I snatched them, and a can of what looked like soup. Grand total: 15 yuan. The soup turned out to be a sweet peanut soup, which wasn’t that bad once I put some of the salty vacuum packed peanuts into it. All of the passengers who were awake watched me eat; maybe it was weird to them that I put peanuts in the peanut soup.

I have to admit that the soup, while not satisfying, certainly helped with the hunger pangs. Add an unripe plum for dessert, and I felt at least fortified. Which was a good thing, because Wuchang station was coming up, and I had to get the luggage down and get ready to meet my sponsor.   

 If you come to China, you must experience riding the train; it is a microcosm of humanity that is absolutely alien to the American way of life. Through the discomfort, the cold, the hunger, the cramped confines and the hard seat that made my back and backside ache, I kept thinking how fortunate I am to have the strength to experience this. I hope, by this narration, that you experience it too.

 Come on! Let’s get off the train, meet our sponsor and get our first glimpse of our new home!  

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report AndrewHLi 2017-9-24 17:21
wonderful depiction

facelist doodle Doodle board

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  • 2014-04-01 2017-9-24 17:21

    wonderful depiction

  • The 'Face' Effect 2017-8-17 16:51

    In the USA blacks demand all people of other races to call them "African American" Yet they call each other the"N" word everyday.Maybe they should folllow the law. Respect is earned and can not be foreced on you by any law.

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