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The train is full. E-mail
City Life - Blogs & Columns
Written by Leyla Lopos
Well, I'm not just saying all the seats have been taken; yes, they are indeed, but more than that-- all the space on the train is taken. "3 hours, only 3 hours left!" The guy next to me did his routine job again. "Shut up!" That's what really I want to tell him. Past 23 hours, He's been counting down the time left every 20 minutes. Totally annoying. Time seems to pass slowly when we pay attention to it, so I usually take off my watch and don't check time that often. When I'm alone, I could deal with the slow train pretty well, but this time, I couldn't wait to get out of this goddamn train.

It's the worst train I've ever seen, probably the worst and oldest train in China. I was kinda disappointed when I first saw it. Hard seat, I've got a real hard seat this time--as hard as cement. And it's hot inside the train. No air-conditioner, the rotations of the ceiling fans are whipping stale air against my head. The windows are always open, dusty and noisy.

Sometimes the wind is too strong, which gives me a headache. There's no trash tray on the train table, as if a sign to tell us we could (and should) throw away everything out of the windows. The light above me doesn't work, it's is too dark to read at night.

Right now it's nine in the evening. Haven't had my dinner yet, I'm starving. I want to eat instant noodles, but there's no water. They don't provide 24 hours hot water on this train; I have to wait till eight in the morning for the hot water. Besides hunger, I'm thirsty, but I've been trying to drink as little water as possible. The train is packed, I've never imagined that a train could hold so many people. The whole journey is from Hangzhou to Xi'an-- 26 hours, and 32 stops. Though all the seats have already been taken in Hangzhou, more and more passengers keep getting on the train during another 30 stops, and very few people get off. People who have no seats are standing or sitting or sleeping in the aisles, under the seats, in front of the toilets, on the train sinks... Any space, any space which could be used is taken. I even lack enough space for my feet. So making the way to the toilets isn't easy.

First, an announcement has to be made or nobody would give a damn-- "Excuse me, I need to go to the toilet. Could you stand up and let me pass? Please! I can't hold it anymore. Please!--" Getting to the toilet is hard, but that's only the beginning of the nightmare. The toilet is awfully disgusting. The squat toilet doesn't have a flush, and the train attendants don't clean it at all. You could imagine how dirty it is. I have to hold my breath and try not to watch what's in the toilet every time I go inside. After going back from the toilet, I don't feel like eating anything.

Speaking of the train attendants, there's no such thing as service on this train. They were trying to sell some food during the first few hours when the train was not that full, and then, they just disappeared. Beside food, they also sold cigarette and alcohol. "Cigarette? Wanna cigarette?" They shouted loudly, and the business wasn't bad. Since they always leave the windows open, smoking is perfectly allowed and somehow encouraged on this train. Terrible. All the guys around me are smokers. They smoke a lot. Especially that time-counting guy next to me, he's totally generous; every time he wants to smoke, he always offers the cigarette to people nearby, "Hey buddy, wanna cigarette too?" What a friendly guy, asshole. I hate this smoky, dirty, noisy, crowed train.

Since there's not much to do on the train, I spend lots of time on observing other passengers. One thing kinda surprises me is though at least one third of people don't have seats, it seems nobody complains. Content with the space they've got, they are sitting or sleeping or eating or chatting. 32 stops, 80 percent stops are small and relatively poor places, so most passengers are from rural areas and small villages. They have dark skins and are more tolerant to hard conditions.

Though they don't have seats, everyone pays as much as hard seat passengers. That's not fair, I think the price should be cut down. There seems to be no trains starting from their towns, only trains from other cities would pass by. Today is an ordinary day, not national holiday or spring festival or anything, so I guess the train is always that crowded, which also means it's always impossible for people getting on the train half way to get seats. Do these people complain or they're simply satisfied that there're trains passing by? Does the train company take advantage of the tolerances these people have? If there're always so many people catching this train, why not add one more train every day? I mean they could leave half the seats empty in Hangzhou, saving them for people from other stops. I know that's not an economic idea, but the train company is state owned, it's supposed to serve people rather than making lots of money.

I think gradually, I'm getting used to train travel; after all, the cheap price beats everything. And the hard conditions are becoming more bearable to me as well. I still miss airplane travel though. Apart from more expensive, I love travel by plane. Like this time, if I could afford 10 times money on the ticket, I would be on a plane. Then people around me would probably be in nice and clean dresses, an air hostess would offer me free drink and food with big smile, and a clean toilet would be waiting for me to drop by... If I chose airplane travel, beside taking me less time to get to my destination, the service would be good, and the whole atmosphere would be different.

But right now, all this is just in my imagination. I didn't even pay twice money to get a hard sleeper. Being on such train is like a torture, I don't regret having decided to take a hard seat though. Who put me on such place to be tortured? It's me, myself. I know once I've experienced the worst, more things will become tolerable later on. And what am I looking for? Life is way too comfortable at home; I don't expect to get comfortable and nice trips. If I put myself on a plane, it'd be less fun, and I didn't have chance to get into other people's lives. I'm eager for new and different experience, even it's tough or hard soemtimes, in the end I'll be learning from what I've seen and what I've done.

Looking around, I also wonder how many people here have been once on a plane. One tenth? Or less? What I see on the plane is so different from what I see on the train like this. They're two sides of China, which side is the mainstream? Which side shows the real living condition of most Chinese people? And which is more China? I've been living in southeastern China, one of the most developed areas in China. I take many things for granted; I don't really see why China is listed as an undeveloped country, I don't get why China belongs to the third world, and I don't know how a better life could be. I know there're tons of Chinese people still living poor lives, but I don't have a concept of how it's really like. I've been traveling a lot lately, I want to see more about this coutry, I want to know about others' lives. I hope someday, I could be more confidently saying, "Hey, I'm a Chinese, and I know a lot about China."

Our valuable Editor Leyla Lopos has been with us since Sunday, 17 April 2011.

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