The city formerly known as Peking (pt. 1 The train)

I had no wifi and a sloppy computer at my last hostel, so I’m sorry for my absence. However, I’ve been keeping some notes along the way over my last few days in Beijing. This may be disjointed and my handwriting is a little dodgy…

Sunday, Sept. 11

We left breakfast early, pack and say goodbye to Motel 168, Shanghai. Check-out, minor kerfuffle over my deposit. Mental note to check credit card in very near future.

Head straight to the train station, never taken a train before in China and I’m a little concerned – especially since the night before a friend told me it can be a bit of a mad scramble.

So we sit in the train station lobby drinking beer at 1300, our bags are packed away with lockers that use face-recognition technology to determine the rightful owner. This is what the future looks like. My face.

The train leaves at 1830. With nothing to kill but time, we wander outside into a mall with four stories of stores that sell basically the same clothes – not even the hyper colour fashion of Shanghai, just drab sweaters, dress shirts, boring.

Move to the square outside, four hours to go, a book of suduko to help time pass. A girl walks by with bright redish orange hair. Sara and I discuss how it seems many of the girls in Shanghai must wear wigs. You can tell because of the hairline, says Sara. Girls know these things I suppose.

About 20 minutes later, we turn to a “Hello/Ni hao!” and she sits down beside us in awkward silence. Offers cigarettes (no thanks) and turns away the beggars that approach us.

Two hours to go still and we decide to head back to the station to wait. It’s a huge waiting room with people waiting for multiple trains. A giant screen shows images of beautiful China and happy children from CCTV. A Chinese voice blares across loudspeakers followed by the occasional English comment to get on your train.

I’m sitting straight, rigid, trying to get a handle on the scene. Finally, the people beside me grab their bags. Soon enough, we’re all standing in a cluster waiting for the green light. The gates open and we all move at once, not really a one-behind-the-other line, but more of clump squeezing through a bottleneck. I laugh outloud thinking how shocking this would be back home on the Via Train between Ottawa and Toronto. The pushing would be followed by angry, angry looks. Here, we’re all just doing what we can to get to our assigned seats on the train.

We’ve booked a “hard sleeper” – a pretty direct translation. We sleep on the top bunk (of three), nearly seven feet in the air. The bed is roughly 6 x 2 feet with not enough room to sit up. A mob of 10 girls set up shop below us, although they’re quickly dispirsed when the rightful owners of the beds arrive.

Instant noodles and a can of beer are supper for today. At 830 we crawl up the narrow ladder to our bed. Sara sleeps briefly then reads her book. I listen to Wilco and put a black mask over my eyes, drifting off. Lights off at 10 with the obvious exception of cellphones used as torches. Trip to the squat toliet, more Wilco, and rocked to sleep by the train until 2am. I wake consistently every hour until the morning light comes on at 630.

Three hours later, I get off the train in Beijing.

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