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Car 13

So for whatever reason this blog seemed to cut off in the end and it has taken me this long to fix it. Sorry it took so long, if you enjoy the way it ends than you should thank Amy Bugg for fussing me about it everytime she talked to me.
By midnight the toilet at the south Shangqiu train station flung an oder of piss that was deafening. I sat against a pillar near the door on top of my fancy backpackers backpack. I am a white boy, which means that me and my backpack stood out in a room of a hundred Han Chinese. The station had chairs across the room but I had picked my spot for strategic reasons, I wanted my position prime for the upcoming malay of bodies rushing the door when the train shows up any minute now. In my right had was my train ticket, in my left the letter May had written for me to give to the conductor. The letter felt just like a note from mother on the first day of school, but the note was important in that it carried my hope for peace and quiet sleep this long night and long day which would follow. In Chinese it explained that I spoke very little Chinese and was going all the way to Guangzhou (the far end of the line), and could you please help me get a bed or a seat if there is an extra. See, I had bought my ticket a couple of days ago and it had sold out everything except standing room only. Standing room only would be a little bit of a drag for a two hour ride, there is always a chance you get a seat but a great chance that you don’t. It is the glimmer of hope that I find makes the whole thing so hectic. This is ok for a few hours, tolerable anyway, BUT this train leaves Shangqiu at 12:12 at night and doesn’t get to Guangzhou until 4 the next afternoon. That’s a long damn time, folks, as I understand a great deal longer than anyone else in standing room only was in for.
When the train pulled in 30 people wind sprinted to the platform. I showed my letter from mother to a conductor, he scowled. He asked me in Chinese how many people and I told him just me, also in Chinese. He showed the note to another conductor. This conductor frowned. A third conductor shook his head. They led me to a door on the side of the train into the compartment between train car 9 and 10, car 9 being the classy sleeper. A man on his way into car 9 spoke a little English, just enough to translate that the conductor wanted me to wait in the compartment, which of coarse I had gathered anyway. After about 5 minutes the head conductor came told me there were no more beds or seats and I would have to go into car 10. The compartment between car 10 and 9 had a door on either side with a window. On the other side of car 10’s window was a sea of humanity packed like sardines. Souls huddled on the floor, those with children sleeping in their laps granted wider allowance, those without squished in tight, everyone else standing with both hands against the wall vainly trying to ease the weight of their feet. I could not see an unoccupied square inch for me or my back pack. I looked around the compartment between car 9 and 10. Nobody. I laid my backpack on the ground and sat laid my shoulders on top of it like a big couch pillow and folded my legs. After a few minutes the conductor opened the doors to the 2 cars to let the people in car 10 get to the john in car 9. When this happened the door to car 10 opened and latched itself perpendicular across the compartment forming a wall which isolated me in a tiny pen. The luxury suite, I decided, and I pulled a black ski cap over my head to block the yellow green fluorescence and thought about all the shitty jobs and traffic and nasty places in America that were nowhere near as cool as sleeping on the floor of a train going across China. My head rattled against the wall with the engine like leaning on the window of a yellow cheese bus back in high school. A sleeping pill helped me finally get about an hour of sleep at 3, then we got to a stop and they needed me out of the doorway so I got up and was crammed into car 10, but just for a few minutes. Soon others from car 10 were digging on my idea and gathering in the compartment, though I still had my tiny pen behind the door and I think I got 20 or 30 minutes of sleep every other hour.
In the morning, maybe around 7 I had the bright idea to stretch my legs and have a look-see if maybe some seats had opened up some place. On the other end of the narrow hallway in car10 was the dining car where everyone laughed at me and my backpack. One man could speak pretty good English and I told him about my whole situation which he found surprising, he agreed that 15 hours was a crazy amount of time to do standing room. He turned and told everyone else in the dinner car, they all discussed this issue with each other over their breakfasts. We were just pulling into Wuhan which was my new English speakers stop. He told me that the consensus reached by the men and woman in the dining car was that they should give me a bed and I should go to car 13. “Car 13 you say?” Car 13″ the man assured me smiling. I thanked him for his help and he got off. Wuhan is a large and major Chinese city as they go, not Beijing or Hong Kong big, but big still. I was optimistic as this would have to mean a lot of people getting off. Unable to perform simple threads of logic I didn’t see that this would also imply many new people getting on.
So at the beginning and end of each car was a insurmountable clot of of people. Cars 11, 12, and 13 each had seats on either side, each bench was made to hold 2 but holding any where from 3 to 5. the floor was covered with crouched bodies, the bodies were flanked by legs of those not lucky enough to sit. I have never, ever, ever felt so claustrophobic. And I really mean that from my heart, I had to stop and reflect on my life just now, and yeah, never. The worst was the bodies standing had nowhere to go but to squeeze into more bodies sometimes. Often there was no room for my backpack behind me and I could feel the whole crowd crushing as I had to wedge my way through, and over people, saying “I’m sorry” in Chinese the whole time. Yet nobody was angry, at least they didn’t show it. If they could they would get out of my way, many stood to let me pass. I wasn’t the only one trying to get through, the whole Wuhan crowd of newbies were pulling and pushing through the maw as well.
And after 30 minutes of this I made it to car 13, through car 13, and to the compartment past. In the compartment I handed my note to to a conductor, he read it and frowned like the others had. He left and after a minute he came back and pointed for me to go back in the direction I had come from. I couldn’t imagine doing that to those people again, so I found an inch to stand in with my bad on the floor upright. After some time a lady came through pushing a snack cart which took up the whole isle, forcing the sea of people to part in crushed piles of flesh and luggage, teeth gritting. I didn’t see anyone wanting to buy snacks. After an hour standing there I finally gave up and tried to make my way home, back to my little corner that only I knew just past the dining car. I took me a long time, when I finally got back to car 10 all the people smiled and laughed and waved at me. I got the feeling I was still the chief topic of breakfast conversation so my return was met with grand interest. My luxury suite had been discovered by a soldier in the Chinese army who slept in the fetal position in the little hole behind the open perpendicular door. But I found a nice spot to curl up on the floor nearby with my book. The view out the window was getting good too, the terrain had gotten hilly and green and pretty. Much different from the flat farmland all around Henan. I guess a couple of hours later the conductor came and kicked everyone out of the compartment, so I started back through the dinner, where lady handed me a hand written English note that said now there were beds free and I should ask again at car 13. This time I picked up my bag and lifted it above my head like a conoe portage. This time everyone was settled so I was waking up people sleeping on the floor, which felt terrible. This time at the end of car 13 I found a desk which had been covered with people and hidden last time, behind this desk were the conductors who could help. I gave them my note from mother and yeah, there was a bed, it was gonna cost me too. Everyone in car 13 was watching with great interest. I felt weird asking for a bed with all the others on the floor but they were all in it for a few hours, I was talking 15. I paid the extra and was lead to car 7, on the way the people in the dining car cheered when they saw me with a conductor, I had been quite a point of conversation for them. And in car 7 they took me to my bed which was occupied by an entire family. They suggested I sit in a nearby chair. I motioned to the top bed which was empty and told them in Chinese I was tired and they agreed. I still don’t know if it was one of their beds or someone elses. I do know that at 11 that day I blinked my eyes and slept until 3 in the after noon. The train got to Guangzhou at 6, two hours late. I hadn’t eaten anything all day except for a couple of peaches. But it was ok, the whole time it was ok. Sometimes it gets to a point where a former you would have thrown up you hands and said “fuck it” and given up, but getting buried alive in another culture as I have I find that you just got to sigh and smile it off to a certain extent. Sometimes its the only way. Hell, China’s just like that sometimes.
So I wrote that a while ago, Fridaynight I have another standing room only ticket for Yantai, 10 hours away. From there I will go by boat to Dalian to visit Jane. I am not so worried this time, I know it will suck and I am all set for it.

One Response to “Car 13”

  1. Amy Bugg Says:

    Yay! Now, more, more! =)

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