Friday, July 16, 2010

To train or not to train?

I haven’t been on a train in Australia since 1996, when I had to go to the big smoke and was too chicken to drive into the city of Brisbane. Something I used to do daily in my younger years, but living out in the ‘sticks’ kind of makes you city shy.

The next time I boarded a train was eleven years later, in Beijing. With a population of around 17 million and at the city’s central station during peak was quite an  harrowing ordeal adventure. Susan and Jim our appointed tour guides were wonderful. After a few days and nights of organised eating of Peking Duck, Chinese Acrobats and walking the Great Wall, they informed us of our pick up time which was more than hour before our over night train departed. I thought, 'are you kidding? Half an hour would be more than ample! Wouldn’t it?'

Our hotel, which for the life of me cannot remember the name of, was, in a quiet side street and just down the road from the Forbidden City, by Bung Bung (photos - view from the Bung Bung at night. Stray and Susan on the Wall) and across the road from the central train station.

Susan and Jim showed up early on time and we packed our then massive luggage into the boot of the taxi. They had been the most informative of hosts/drivers, attentive and genuinely caring. Susan, however, may have grown a little weary of Stray’s sense of humour, especially since our visit to the Great Wall and his reminiscing of ‘keep the rabbits out!
It took us at least half an hour to cross the main road by car. We eventually parked in an underground car park next to the station. Susan and Jim insisted (almost fought for the right) on dragging our suitcases and we followed closely with our small bags. In those days we used to travel heavy.

The main doors of the station were closed, so we congregated outside with the local crowd of commuters. Hundreds and hundreds of them, probably thousands. We stood crammed under the moonlight...or did we? Stray and I stared upwards, which was the only direction that had an unobscured view. Stray said ‘hey...there aren’t any stars!’, or moon for that matter. I agreed. Susan and Jim stared upwards also, but didn’t enquire what we were looking at. A Beijingese lady nearby looked to the heavens with us and we said...'look, no stars’ and she just smiled and nodded as though we were complete morons.

I suppose the massive amount of city lights, combined with the hideous amount of pollution wipes out any chance of seeing those little jewels in the sky. The doors open and a sea of people started heading, stampeding, crushing towards the opening. this point there is no room to move. If you don’t know where you are going....find out VERY SOON. Luckily our trusty guides are guiding us.

They have steered us and our luggage to another set of large and closed double doors. We are all shoulder to shoulder. The heat and air is stifling and stagnant. There is no air conditioning. An old Chinese couple are struggling to keep their bag by their side and it momentarily gets swept away in the current/flow of the crowd. Stray, kicks it gently back onto its right course and they nod and smile at him with appreciation.

I’m lucky he’s averagely tall and blonde..spottable in a sea of short dark haired people.

I am feeling REALLY unwell and he checks on me to see if I am OK. The doors finally bloody open. Susan and Jim diligently trot down the side of the train past food stands loaded up with strange and sometimes, odorous morsels, to find our carriage and cabin. We say thank you and farewell and give them tokens of our appreciation.

Our stint on mainland China was booked by a travel agent, and in every hotel we were received as MR and MR Johnson. I had apparently suddenly grown an extra appendage. Stray had to run down to reception on a couple of occasions to request another room....a room with one bed please.

We settled into our four berth cabin. Me on the lower bunk, Stray above me and two guys opposite. What do ya’ know, an all boy cabin.

The young guy on the top bunk could speak a little English and invited his Mum and Aunty  (photo) in for a chat and a supper of dried fish and even drier bread. We graciously accepted it and I swilled it down with some Shiraz I had disguised in a water bottle.

The cabins were clean enough, although logistics awkward for me at times, being a female. The bunk bed was incredibly short as I had to share mine with my suitcase...not enough storage space. We shared a late night meal of fried rice in the dining cart, prepared by cooks happily smoking (cigarettes) away  over a hot stove. It was dirty and depressing. One of those times when you're too tired to worry about hygiene standards and wished you hadn't seen the kitchen. The bathroom/toilets were atrocious so I avoided them like the plague.

Time to retire for the evening. I lay awake, listening to the clackity clack and moving to the rocking of the train ALL night long as Stray snored away in peaceful bliss.

He, refreshed, me, feeling like Dracula's bride, disembarked the next morning in Shanghai. It's true what they say about trains, you DO meet the most interesting people on them, but I swore, a train, NEVER AGAIN.

Disclaimer - To train or not to train? postings are written out of context and with slight tongue in cheek. They are in no way reflective of my TOTAL experiences in that country, which have all been fantastic.

To be continued.


Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Geeze not a second of dullness reading your blog Snap. I had my fair share of train ride but nothing like yours.

Love reading your blog. Snap and Stray, you make life worthwhile with lots of features in it.



Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks Christina...but I'm afraid I am reliving old adventures while waiting for my new one's to happen. Not long now!

Nikki said... Best Blogger Tips

:) Funny and should also visit India and then see the difference around there!!Loved many of the expressions in your post so much so that not easy to pick and quote one here.

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Nikki, I'm afraid I could not brave the trains in India, at least judging by the documentary I watched recently...I am afraid of heights and low overhead tunnels ;)