On Friday morning I began my epic journey back home to Xiamen. I packed up, checked out, and caught a taxi headed to Beijing West (one of about 4 train stations in Beijing).
I made it to the train station in perfect time for my scheduled departure at 11:57 . . . but a bit early for the new, delayed departure at 13:58. Chinese train stations have seating for approximately 5% of their peak capacity, which meant I spent the two extra hours standing. It’s not like I won’t have enough time to sit on the 31-hour train, right?
No one has been paying me much attention today, which is totally fine by me. There was just one guy who came up to me wanting to practice English. I was feeling too sick, tired, and frustrated to be much of a conversation partner, and even too sick, tired, and frustrated to feel bad about it. He did mention that there are half-price discounts on student train tickets, and I wasn’t too sick, tired, and frustrated to be more than slightly annoyed by the fact that I was just finding this out.
The line to get on our train was crazy. I swear, lifeboats on the Titanic were not fought over so heatedly as places in the average Chinese train boarding line. Also, I hear there were gentlemen on the Titanic who insisted that women and children go before them. HAHAHAHA. The very idea is hilarious to me right now. Not that I can point any fingers; I’ve learned well from the Chinese that surround me every day. I can ‘China’ with the best of them, which usually takes my fellow passengers by surprise – no one ever expects such mad skillz from a foreigner.
My parents just called – they made it home to Coon Rapids before I even start on my way back home. I’m ready to go, though – in my seat, #84 out of about a hundred in my car. The seats are arranged in rows of two or three, facing each other over postage-stamp sized tables. The rows of seats are more like couches or loveseats, as they lack armrests or anything to separate passengers from each other. This would all be way cooler if I were actually sharing the train with several hundred of my closest friends.
Just finished my 4th small pack of Kleenex for the day. I’m miserable. The man next to me, also headed for Xiamen, just remarked that we still have 31 hours. When I corrected him and said it was only 30 by now, he said that the train usually gets in late. So . . . 31 hours to go. FAIL. There are still people standing in the aisles. I thought it was just while people were getting settled, but at this point it’s obvious that people outnumber seats. From what I overheard, I gather that they’re getting off soon; I hope so – for their sakes and mine.
I slept for a while – not uncomfortable except for every time I switch directions with my neck. I was awoken by the sound of my entire car shouting. From what I can pick up (a lot of 老婆 and 不是好东西 and 美女 and 爱情), it’s a very vocal Battle of the Sexes of sorts. From one man: “If I see a pretty girl and I don’t feel something, then isn’t there something wrong with my body?” I’m far too exhausted to interact with anyone, so I think they figure I don’t understand.
We must have just crossed the Yangtze, because someone just told me we’re officially in the south of China. Perhaps in honor of this, my fellow passengers have started up some karaoke. Apparently the lights never go off in the sitting cars . . . and the fun never stops.
The ‘sun’ is up over a soaked Jiangxi (I think?) province. In other news, I’ve now officially gone 24 hours without going to the bathroom. The man next to me has just finished his second bowl of ramen, which seems to be about average for every passenger on board except for me. I don’t mind the ramen, but when they slice tubed ham into it like Mom puts chunks of banana in her Rice Krispies, it’s really too much for me to take. Out of all the strange, unappetizing foods I’ve seen here in China, I think tubed ham may be the worst. Its sickly pink color is like no meat I’ve ever seen, and it suspiciously doesn’t need to be refrigerated at all. That probably shouldn’t surprise me; most plastics don’t.
Most of our car just got off, somewhere in Jiangxi. I have my group of four seats to myself now – here’s hoping the last 10 hours are the best . . . My butt is numb now, so it can’t feel any more pain at least.
I may have only eaten Snickers, milk candy, a few oranges, and some sourdough bread thus far on the trip, but I think I’m eating like a king compared to my fellow passengers. Man Next To Me just polished off his third bowl of shrimp-flavored, tubed-ham-garnished ramen, and a guy across the aisle just bought a meal off the cart that’s been pushing the same tired food up and down the cart since we left Beijing – 28 hours ago.
We made it in to Xiamen around 10:30, after 31 1/2 hours on the train. It wasn’t quite as warm as I was hoping, and it definitely wasn’t raining in my returning-to-Xiamen fantasies. But then again, there were a lot of differences between my fantasies and the reality I found upon returning home. I guess I hadn’t given much thought to the bathroom situation back home, but if I had I would have imagined a working toilet.
After such a long, crappy three days, I was really looking forward to being home. But then home wasn’t as homelike as I was hoping for, and I ended up crying myself to sleep. I was just really looking forward to using a clean toilet . . .