October 18, 2011

After flying for almost twelve hours, spending a sleepless night in a Chinese airport, and finally making a connecting flight to Shanghi, Mom, Dad and I arrived at our destination.

I sighed relief. Finally. We were meeting with David and Amanda and together we would all be able to navigate our way, peacefully through China. After a brief meeting over water, and muffins, David and Amanda took us back to where they had been staying. Telling stories along the way. They had been in Shanghi for a few days already. They had mastered the streets of China, found good food – ice cream even! And had the next leg of our trip all worked out.

Or so we thought.

After a brief lunch, a shower, and a quick change of clothes we were off on our next adventure. Unaware that this was really, just the tip of the iceberg. The very start. If even! We attempted to purchase tickets – to no avail. It took six trips across a street, to an ATM, a few phone calls and a bunch of frustration to FINALLY get the money we needed. By this time we were running late, and in order to catch the subway to the train station we would need to hustle. And fast!

Only in Shanghi do they line up patiently while waiting for a means of transportation.

Down the streets we tried to run. Running isn’t something that comes easily when you have 6 bags and everything else that had been accumulated along the way. We arrived, finally, at the train station, and assuming it would be a nice relaxing train ride – we didn’t stress too much. We purchased a few “Cup of noodles” Chinese version for funnies – having been told that there was a “Restaurant cart” on the train, I wasn’t worried too much about what we would eat. Or drink. I was looking forward to a nice train ride through the country side of China. Catching up on lost times with Amanda, and maybe even getting some sleep. I patted my pillow. I was the only one who thought it would be a good idea to bring a pillow.

We saw the number of the train on the board, and suddenly, there were flocks of people pushing to get in line. We weren’t too concerned, we still had over an hour, but the sudden rush of people inspired us to get in line too! Just in case. As we made our way through the barricade and ‘security’ the people started rushing. Running even. Down the stairs to the platform. Even though it was the middle of the day, it seemed dark. We ran with the crowd fearing that we would somehow miss the train that wasn’t scheduled to depart for another 30 minutes. We ran to one car – wrong one. Down the platform we ran. Faster and faster until finally we reached the right car.

But when we tried to get on we were surrounded by a mob. All yelling something and shoving. HARD! We were worried about getting separated, and worried about getting on the train. There seemed to be no order, you push – you shove – you get on. We handed our tickets and tried to step through the narrow doors but every time we tried we would get shoved to the side by some loud person speaking Chinese; who was obviously in a hurry!

Finally, dad blocked the way. Shoving his bag against the hurried crowd and ordering us to “GO!” We all froze. “GO!” he yelled again. We shuffled on and soon were squeezed in between the narrow doors, and other people. It was worse than rush hour on a subway. People didn’t seem to understand the concept of “Haste makes waste” when shoving to get on!

We hurried down the rows. My first thought when we stepped on the train was a feeling of relief; glad that we had made it, and glad that this wasn’t the car we were going to be traveling on. A dark, dingy car, with low lighting, and a smell that lingered. We made our way down the cars, but each looked the same. People scattered here and there. Bags being tossed. Words being yelled. Eventually we made it to our seats – which is when the truth was discovered – we were in a car that was exactly the same as the one we had first gotten on. Dark, dingy, tight fitting, and smelly.

Our “seats” had someone sitting in them too, and after a squabble over “THAT’S OUR SEAT!” and a slight moment of panic, the man who would be sitting across from us for the next 36 hours explained to the people in their language that those were our seats. They got out. We sat down. In what we assumed to be, our seats.

No sooner had the train started off with a lunge and a lout whistle did I start to feel sick. My stomach felt like it had lurched off with the train. I felt light headed, and queasy. “Wheres the bathroom?” I asked, fearing the worse. Amanda and I went off in search. A few rows down there was a door – that opened…to a room with a hole in the ground. The smell that lingered through out the train was magnified a hundred times, and I felt even more ill then that I had before. There was a hole in the ground, and a tiny lever on the wall that when pulled opened the “Hatch” to the tracks. Because of the lurching of the train, and the size of the hole, there was “evidence” that hadn’t made it to the tracks. I turned around. Suddenly sitting in my seat didn’t sound so bad.

“26 hours” I muttered to myself. “One night. One day. And a little more.” I grabbed my pillow, and leaned against the window, drifting off to sleep, hoping to pass some time. Suddenly, I was awaken! Someone was jabbing their finger in me! I opened my eyes and looked around. Mom and dad stood in the row. Amanda glared angrily from her seat across the row and a Chinese woman was jabbing my neck yelling something in Chinese; angrily! I grabbed my pillow. “NO YOU CANT HAVE IT.” I yelled back. Amanda yelled something too. Soon there was yelling from every side. Turns out, I was in her seat. My seat was with David and Amanda and instead of taking that seat, she opt to waking me up, rudely, to kick me out.

I was mad. Amanda was mad. Everyone was mad. I shuffled seats, muttered something else and went back to sleep. What seemed like hours later, I woke again. Only minutes had passed. I looked around, taking in my surroundings for the first time since arriving on the train.

Me…staring at my pillow that had been hijacked!

Knee to knee I sat. Staring directly into the face of three Chinese men. Who sat shoulder to shoulder across from us. A tiny table between us. Amanda and David were shoulder to shoulder with me. There was no room to stretch. No room to move. No room to turn without hitting someone either beside or across from you.

I turned, carefully to see mom and dad in the same situation.

Then I turned to Amanda. “25 hours?” I asked. She smiled, ever so cautiously.

“Actually, its more like 36 hours.”

{To be continued}

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