24th Mar 2009
Locomotive to limbo
I’m putting pen to paper here in an attempt to ease the impending woes that await on yet another arduous twenty hour plus train journey deep into the South of China. Seconds ago I reclined on my middle bunk – there are three beds each side, army style – and was instantly aware of how claustrophobic I felt with another bed just inches above my nose. The middle bunk gives the ominous impression of being in a coffin – the prospect of being in a moving coffin for a day and night is traumatizing. Needless to say that the early romance I was experiencing about spending hours winding around dramatic mountains and awe-inspiring lakes faded sometime ago. Now I see these stamina testing locomotive marathons akin to a prison. In my opinion I have spent five nights of this epic journey around China in a prison – and have at least another two to go. Travelling on your own on day long train journeys in China is just about the loneliest situation one can put ones self in. After about 15 minutes I’ve exhausted all the Chinese I’ve learnt as I attempt to communicate with my cell mates, sorry, fellow passengers, leaving me to endure painfully awkward moments as I confess to the passengers I don’t understand. Uninterrupted stares increase in length the more bored the passengers become – the slightest movement from me prompts a carriage load of people to point and murmur like they are watching a tv drama. Usually when these moments arise outside of a train I simply walk away, easing the anxiety but on a train I’m trapped in my coffin, locked in with the awkwardness for hours and hours, feeling every-bit like the alien everyone perceives me to be. By the end of this current day in prison I would have spent a staggering 42 hours living in this way – 42 hours only prevented from being 3 days because I slept on a park bench the other day in a fairly non-descript city called Guiyang. Yesterday, I made a series of errors that landed me with a catalogue of uninviting situations. The biggest of which was my considerable underestimation of how long one particular train journey would take. Looking at the map of China, I hazard a guess of a manageable 8 hour journey. Therefore I decided to take the hard-seat option to conserve funds. I boarded the train, feigning a smile as I dragged my eye-catching large, rucksack to the luggage compartment, turning every slack-jawed head in the carriage. When I saw the seat reserved for me I realized I’d made a big mistake. The seat was just a small space at the end of a bench without a table or legroom – hard-seat option indeed. I sat down on it to discover it was uncomfortable enough to make a dead man grown in pain. An agonizing 18 hours later I was still sitting, tortured by the excruciating hard-seat. Luckily I had brought two books about characters in far worse situations than my own which eased the grimness of my journey. I recommend doing this to anyone embarking on a gruelling journey. I’ve learnt a lot about myself on this trip though. I’ve learnt I can tolerate just about any situation I’m in, with minimum fuss. Every other Chinese passenger on the train went through a period of looking particularly restless, twitching about, gormless expressions of boredom plastered about their faces and sighing incessantly. During these theatrics I barely moved, remaining engrossed in my books ignoring the badly designed, pain-inducing seating arrangements. With temperatures soaring, merciless seats and a seemingly endless journey time almost all passengers were reduced to a semi-sleeping zombielike stupor. These train rides through the vast countryside of China give the impression of being lost in a locomotive limbo, doomed to suffer a fate of uncomfortable seating for all eternity.
About two-thirds of the way through the journey, the militant train crew adopt a temporary change of tact prompting the most curiously strange situation to occur. The crew start walking through the carriages carrying the kind of crass novelty toys that, under normal circumstances, would only hold the attention of a toddler for a few minutes. Ticket inspectors suddenly transform into tat vendors. Bizarrely, as they start their totally surreal pitch the whole atmosphere of the carriage changes. Full grown adults, from swish looking businessmen to weather beaten migrant workers, suddenly become entranced by the tacky lights or shrill noises given off by the toys. Their eyes, light up, they must see the toys as a relief from the mind deadening boredom the limbo has landed them in, following the usually limited lure of the lights as a way out of brain-crippling listlessness. Most of these people then purchase the kind gimmicks that they would no doubt be completely indifferent to in any other circumstance. Full grown men reduced to playing with toys, an eerie- vacant look in their eyes as they become entranced by, and start playing with the simplistic devices. It’s both comical and unsettling to witness this. It also hints at the madness these journeys can drive one to. I want to write some more but my eye has just caught sight of the most captivating, gloriously lit spinning top I have ever seen. Oh my god, it’s magical! Magical I tell you!!
|982 Words | This page has been read 61 times||View Printable Version|