I’d like to think you are all to blame for that.
Remember the other month when I wrote that post about my love for Chinese high-speed trains? And how I’ve diligently managed to avoid taking any slow trains since I moved here because I’m impatient and I like to throw my money around if it means I can get somewhere faster? Besides, I like to think of myself as a classy lady (stop laughing!) who likes the finer things in life, and you can’t get much finer than a high-speed train.
And then some of you decided to share your horrible slow train stories in the comments and tell me how much I’d totally hate the slow train and myself and the entire universe if I ever took one? (You know who you are, Jaime and Daniel.)
Yeah, so thanks, guys. That was really awesome of you.I can’t say I was feeling any better about my trip when I showed up at the ticket office in Chengdu and was told that they didn’t have any soft sleeper tickets available for the 18-hour ride to Kunming — only hard sleeper ones.
I don’t know about you, but the words “hard” and “sleeper” should really never go together. It’s like saying “good blind date.” Or “low-fat cheese.” (Yes, I know low-fat cheese exists. But it shouldn’t. So there.)
Figuring it had to be better than sitting for eighteen hours, I bought the hard sleeper ticket. And then I made the mistake of announcing that on Twitter and Facebook, and everybody was all like, “Wow! Good luck! You’ll probably totally die. Or at least hate yourself afterwards”
Geez, guys. Thanks, again. Really.When I entered the Chengdu Train Station on the day of my trip, I noticed there was a special waiting room just for the soft sleeper passengers.
Making my way to the general waiting room, I glanced longingly at the floral arrangements and impeccably dressed train station attendant who stood ready to greet each soft sleeper passenger — probably with a coupon for a complimentary foot massage. I imagined all of the soft sleeper passengers in there drinking flutes of fine champagne with their pinkies in the air and laughing about the riff-raff over in the general waiting room.
Meanwhile, the only thing greeting me in the general waiting room was a seething mass of humanity. And luggage. It’s possible I saw a few farm animals in there, too. I can’t really be sure.
Even though I was over an hour early for the train, there were no seats left so I had to squat on the floor next to the only garbage bin in the room — which happened to be overflowing at that point. I suspected all the other garbage bins had snuck over to the soft sleeper lounge. They were probably getting filled up with the kind of trash high-class people throw out — like, Wall Street Journals and Hermes handbags which had been used more than twice.
The state of the general waiting room wasn’t making me feel particularly hopeful about my eighteen-hour hard sleeper journey. I mean, I could barely survive the hour-long wait in the lobby without wanting to kill someone. Or myself. I sincerely doubted I’d be able to survive eighteen hours trapped on a train with these people. And myself.But, you know what, guys, the trip really wasn’t that bad.
Even if it did kind of help usher in the Cold of Death, which I suffered for the better half of my time in Kunming, it still wasn’t that bad.
My “hard-sleeper” bunk was more like a padded bench – not particularly soft, but also not particularly hard. (China Railway System, maybe you’d like to rethink the name? I’d suggest “Not As Bad As You Think It Might Be Sleeper” or “You May Actually Get Some Sleep Sleeper.”)
As I was on the lower bunk, I had full view of the window and could watch the pretty scenery go by.
When I wasn’t staring at the scenery, I was snickering to myself while photographing all the funny English signs in the car. Like, this one on the hot water dispenser.
Even the bathroom wasn’t that bad.
Okay, admittedly, it probably doesn’t look very nice in this photo, but when you compare it to some of the other bathrooms I’ve been in in this country, it really wasn’t that bad. After all, there was a toilet! And a sink! And a door!
Which is more than I can say for this bathroom that I encountered at a temple in Kunming:
While smoking is technically not allowed in the cars, there is a “smoking room” at the end of each car. This is basically just the end bit where the two cars come together.
In the hard sleeper there are no doors separating the sleeping bunks from the so-called “smoking room,” so you get to spend the entire ride breathing in everyone’s cigarette smoke. So, sitting on the train for eighteen hours was basically the equivalent of smoking eighteen hundred packs of cigarettes. More or less.
And, while I’d like to think my lungs have toughened up a bit during their time in China, they were no match for all that smoke. Hence, the Cold of Death.
But, other than the little issue of my possibly contracting lung cancer, the ride wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. After all, I can’t say curling up with my iPod and a hot bottle of tea while watching the Chinese countryside go by was a bad way to spend eighteen hours of my life.
And, let me just tell you, those soft-sleeper cars had some nice things.
My lower bunk was draped with doilies.
And my pillow was carefully embroidered in blue thread.
Each car came with a bouquet of flowers, lace curtains and the latest copy of People’s Railway Gazette. You know, should you have forgotten your copy of The Wall Street Journal, and you need a little light reading.
Instead of having to hang your jacket on a hook like, well, the common folk, there were hangers provided — fuzzy hangers! Because wire and plastic hangers are just so pedestrian, don’t you think?
There was even a thermometer in our cabin. You know, so we could make sure the temperature suited our delicate, refined constitutions.
Best of all, there was a door to each cabin. That opened! And closed! And I’m pretty sure it even locked! So while there was still plenty of smoking going on at the end of the car, the cabin itself was not that smoky.
The restroom in the soft-sleeper car had a Western toilet, a sink and floral wall decorations.
There was a handy cell phone hammock on the back of the restroom door. Because after all your power conversations with corporate attorneys and stock-brokers, chances are your cell phone could use a little siesta.
The only disappointment was the surprising lack of funny English signs everywhere. Probably because the soft-sleeper car can afford to spell-check.Instead of amusing myself by photographing every single English sign in the car, I had to amuse myself by watching my fellow cabin-mates. Who, in turn, spent their time amusing themselves by watching me.
I was of particular interest to the two children in my cabin, who both stared at me for the first hour non-stop, probably waiting for me to do something exciting. Like sing or dance or explode.
When they realized how truly boring I was, they used the rest of their twenty-four hours on the train to invent games. And I used my twenty-four hours to write down a list of the games they had invented. Because, hey, we had to entertain ourselves somehow! And I’m pretty sure none of us were interested in reading the People’s Railway Gazette.
Some of the games they invented included:
- The Screaming Game (Self-explanatory)
- The Screaming and Running Game (Like the screaming game. But now with running!)
- The Screaming and Running and Hitting Game (This one, luckily, didn’t last that long as the parents intervened.)
- The Yell All the English You Know at the Foreigner Game (This involved them each yelling an English word at me and me yelling it back at them. Unfortunately, they only knew three words, so this got a bit repetitive.)
- The Yell All the Chinese You Know at the Foreigner Game (This involved them yelling lots of Chinese words at me. And my staring blankly back at them. Which they found hilarious. Because, you do have to admit, it’s pretty funny that I’m such an idiot.)
- The Jump on the Bunks Game (Bonus points if you happen to jump on or land on the foreigner.)
- Hide and Seek (Kind of like the Screaming and Running Game. Mostly because there weren’t a lot of places to hide.)
- The Bring Other Children From Other Cabins to Your Cabin to Show Them the Foreigner Game (I suspect they were charging admission. I mean, I would have.)
When the train finally reached Guilin, I got off feeling much better than I thought I would after twenty-four hours cooped up on a train.
And, despite what all you guys said, I didn’t hate myself or the universe.
Heck, I didn’t even hate those kids even if they had to have yelled “apple” at me at least twenty-four million times.
I do, oddly, never want to eat apples again, though.What’s the longest journey you’ve ever taken? How was it?