Friday, April 06, 2007

China travel diary - excerpt 1

I'm on a sleeper train on my way from Shanghai to Beijing. I feel as though a little birdie is trying to tell me I shouldn't be on this trip since I've had awful luck with transportation in the past few days. It's taken numerous tries to get on this train including 1 missed flight, 1 missed train, and a few tearful frustrations as I had to climb over railing, converse with a sour non English speaking station attendee, gesture to my ticket in the hopes they'd understand that I have no idea where to go, and run down what seemed like mile long train halls without slipping on the wet floor. But I made it, finally, and boy, do I need a beer.

My hosts in Shanghai have taken wonderful care of me. They've made sure I've eaten well, slept well (in a very luxurious four bedroom apartment), have given me a cell phone, have constantly checked up on me, and have bargained down for me every single purchase I've made including Chairman Mao watch (30 Yuan!) and a fake Tiffany butterfly neckace (35 Yuan!). I'm used to stepping out my comfort zone on vacations, but so far I've stepped into the lap of luxury, one that I almost never experience back at home.

I'm bunking with an adorable, stylish and smiling girl, most likely in her early twenties. She is wearing a stain black jacket with a furry hood, similar to the white one I'm wearing. She layers on beaded jewlry, the shiny, flashy kind that Asian stores sell and was one of the few things I couldn't bring myself to buy, even as a gift for someone. Her jeans are dark and fashionably tapered, and her orange flats stand out. I'm thankful I didn't get stuck with a surly, loud talking leery eyed man, one of the many that eyed me while I was waiting for the train to arrive, before I was pushed and shoved onto the platform by people hurrying to get into an empty sleeper car. Even as a jaded New Yorker, I'm struck by how rude and pushy people can be on public transport here. There seems to be no sense of organization when buying subway tickets or even Starbucks coffee. Lines zigzag out of the cafe and once people reach the cashier, they wave their hands frantically waiting to order the latest latte edition. It's even more chaotic at the monstrous Shanghai train station, and it's depressing to climb of tens of stairs trying not to step on shoeless families with tired eyes. It strikes me deep, and makes me realize that poverty in China is something I've yet to see.

The train conductor comes by and gives me a red card. I have no idea what this card is for, and I imagine I will have to ask many people before I get a response.

I have two bottles of water for the trip, but I put them through a Soviet style X-ray machine and am now hesitant to drink them. I thought dinner was being served on the train, but now I see people eating KFC and adding hot water to the ramen noodles they brought on with them. I suspect I'll be hungry and thirsty for the next 12 hours.

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