October 22, 2011

The Train Ride, Part 1

A few hours into the ride, and I was feeling better. Atleast, my stomach was. With the news of being on a train for 10 hours longer than I had originally been told, I wasn’t impressed. But how bad could it be? After fearing blood clots in the leg Amanda and David set off to find the “Restaurant car” on the train. They were gone only a short while.

“Well?” I asked “Should we go eat?” They looked at each other. “How about we wait. Save that for a later time.”

One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Each minute felt like an hour in itself. No where to stretch, no where to move. The day slowly turned into our first night. I was told I was the “Lucky” one. Having the “Only pillow” on board. I quickly reminded my fellow passengers that I was scoffed at for even wanting to bring such pillow! Also? I happened to be lucky because I was by the “Window” at least I could “lean on it.” Somehow, I then became the designated pillow. At one point Amanda leaned on me, and David on her. Talk about a heavy load! At another point I had a pile of legs on me while David attempted to stretch out and sleep. To little avail.

It was a long night, made longer by the fact that someone had turned the A/C off. At first we assumed that we were at a stop – they turned the A/C off when they stopped, but soon it became obvious. We were moving, but the air was not. The train grew eerily quiet. Now, it wasn’t that the A/C actually made the air cool, it simple made it breathable. But now that it was off, all that was left was hot, sticky, and stale air. With no promise of it ever coming back on!

The air was SO thick when the AC was turned off it was difficult to breath. Even at night the temperatures outside were at least 70! David took to the job of “Fanning.” It wasn’t much. But we were grateful for whatever “breeze” we could get.

Night turned to day, and still, there was no air. The train was absolutely silent. As if no one dared to speak, except the man who drove his “Food cart” up and down the crowed rows. Screaming something to the effect of “Allllaaaaeaeaeaaaaaaa” while collecting money and slopping some slop into styrofoam containers. We were hungry. But not THAT hungry. At least, not yet.

Then, a trickle of water. Turned into what seemed to be a flash flood on the train.

In china, it is an accepted fact that children don’t wear diapers. Their clothing is designed to accommodate this, meaning there are portions of the clothing missing, where diapers are absent. Because of this, the kids are free to go whenever they feel the need. And are often washed off in sinks. The sink, happened to be two seats up from us, and at one point during the hot night, a flood of brown muddy water started coming towards us. Because of the heat, people were desperate to stay cool – they were using the sinks so often that they plugged up, and water started coming over the dirty basins. Fearing the worse we attempted to get our bags off the floor. But there was no room to put them anywhere else, and eventually, we had to give up. And pray for the best.

The English /Chinese speaking man, who quickly became our friend, and was often referred to as our “Tour guide” (why we would take a tour on that train was lost on us!) informed us that someone had complained about being “Cold” and so they turned the A/C off. We offered our blanket, telling them to please turn the A/C on or we would surely die. Others felt the same way. With hours still to go, our own water supply quickly vanished, and the trains supply emptied quicker too, now that the A/C was off.

“How about we go to the restaurant.” I suggested to Amanda, hoping to keep her mind of the “Lack of water, and therefore we will all die” thoughts. She burst into tears. “THERE IS NO RESTAURANT ON HERE!” she sobbed. “WHAT!” I exclaimed. “What about the one you saw?” She sobbed some more. “There was only a table. WITH people ON it. And a window. Where the man makes that slop.” She confessed. A hole for a kitchen. A hole for a bathroom. Now. I was worried.

Once the water ran out, we came up with a plan. At most of the stops, there were carts, venders selling water and other random items. Before arriving at the stop however, we came up with a plan. We needed a strategy for no one to get left behind, the train left minutes after arriving, so it was a risk. But one Amanda was willing to take. Thankfully she made it off and back on, with some water, in the amount of time she was given.

6 long, hot, exhausting, and somewhat terrifying hours passed before they finally turned the A/C back on, and once again there was air that was somewhat breathable. Once again there was a subtle chatter. Even the babies started to cry again. Suddenly things didn’t seem so bad, at least we had air!

After sitting for over 12 hours, I suggested a walk. We decided that since we were hungry enough (and overly tired of the food they served: Pickled watermelon rinds, spicy tofu, and rice) we took our “Cup of noodles” to find some hot water. This proved to be a difficult task.

This man dined on many different things that we considered odd. But what really blew us away was when he pulled out a bag of chicken feet and ate them! All but the nails, which he spit out!

There were people laying in the aisles. Sitting on buckets. And some were even standing.

We later found out that what they had bought was considered a “Standing ticket” which meant that they sat wherever they could – in our seats when we weren’t there, on buckets they had brought, on laps, or even the floor – the muddy mess of a flood. At that point, we became thankful for our seats. No matter how hard and stiff they were. We had a seat. And for that moment, it was something. It was more than what some had.

The noodles we soon found out were nothing like we were used to. They were spicy. So spicy our noses burned. Cheap noodles, spices, and peppers were the main ingredients. And oil. Spicy, nasty oil.

We tripped over people, tried not to step on them, and made it back to our seats – where someone was sitting. It was then we realized why earlier people had gotten mad at us for being in THEIR seats! Seats were precious, and we felt almost privileged to have one. But they were not something to be taken lightly.

Even in the midst of everything, we were grateful for what we had. The small things, like a seat. And air!

But we still had over ½ our journey to finish.

It was a long ride. One we were happy to get off. When asked our thoughts at the end, David, Amanda and I all agreed it was probably one of the most haggard rides we had been on. Mom said she would do it again, and dad commented on the rolling green hills that he had seen. We exchanged a look. What hills? What green? What beautiful scenery? What would make THAT worth doing again?

Maybe these were the “Green Hills?”

Mom continued to say that she was glad we had done the ride. For most Chinese people, what we did was something that would be considered “Extravagant.” Most of them purchased the “Cheaper” tickets. The standing tickets. By the time we got off, there were people standing by our seats, leaning on them. There was barely room to stand up if we wanted, and when one of the people sitting across from us would get up – the ones sitting beside them would either lay down for a minute, or their seat was quickly snatched by a standing person. Sometimes the sitting passenger would allow this tired person to stay and other times they would poke them. We were glad to have gotten a seat (and somewhat scared to leave them!) Although at the time, we were just thankful to made it to our destination. Alive.

And thankful, for the small things that we take advantage of, everyday. Things that are considered “Normal” are not so normal in some places. And we were thankful to be given the opportunity, to not only take the trip (no matter how we took it!) and come out alive, and healthy.

Watch out China! Here we come!

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