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thePULL : TRAVEL Waiting for a Free-For-All Train   Leave a comment

The following chronicles one of the many events along the train from Dali to Lijiang Yunnan China, a time distance of approximately 100 minutes and a travel distance of 200 km, and an experience hopefully you get to avoid.

4:00 pm.  My palm to my chin and a blank stare out at the flashbomb shine by the sun, forehead sweat wiggles a maze through the dirt on my face down to the length of my fingers, like worker ants digging out their underground labyrinthine.

4:10 pm.  The train departs at 4:45, as the ticket says.  Without moving any muscles below my nose, I hear my extraocular muscles shift to the left, the stress of pupils adjusting from the near focus to the distant like sheets of sandpaper rubbing together when zooming in, and absorb the restlessness of the circle of humans already pressed against the entrance gate.  No line up, no order, no patience.  At least the entrance gate was a strong, thick layer of tempered glass – I believe it will withstand the zombies.

4:20 pm.  The crowd has tripled in size, taking up the amount of floor space as three 24-seater travel buses.  The train from Kunming toots its horn and settles in.  The humans become anxious. I squint my lips then blow, cooling my hands, then shaking the heat away.  Time to go.

4:25 pm.  Eyebrows drooped, upright stance – Like a pawn in a chess match awaiting its next move.  I get enveloped in the seemingly endless aggregation of humans – tall and lanky, short and feeble, tiny and silent.  I can feel the asphyxiation coming soon.  Pant.  Pant.  Pant.  I spin around and scout the crowd.  Everyone was staring at the door, the only door, to the entrance where the train attendants stand guard on the opposite side.

4:30 pm.  The door parts slightly.  The crowd shoves and waddles like hunger to the scent of pie towards another boundary.  A trick?  No, the disabled and handicapped are led through first.  One, two, perhaps three altogether, stepping up to the overpass before heading down to the platform.  The healthy onlookers look on, reasonably saying to themselves that this is fair and good, but I know they all have a slight envy that they get first dibs on the filthy but coveted seats on the train.  A slight breeze enters, and a hush of comforting sighs is met with some smiles.

4:44 pm.  We have not moved.  My knapsack creates the beautiful sweat stain road down my spine.  My hands are numb and engraved from holding a cotton bag full of gifts.  So thirsty from the salty and sour meals before.  So fatigued from the lack of sleep of the nigh before.  So painful are the knees and ankles from hiking and wondering around the uneven paths of Dali .   But the crowd is sophisticated today.  No one is yelling nor inquiring.  There is a common sense of understanding, the time will come when the time is ready.  It surprises me that a crowd in complete disarray except for gazing forward can have the silence and patience to wait for this one central barrier.

4:50 pm.  I imagine the next events would happen like a Mario Kart race, but with thousands of contestants.  Everyone is revving their engines, spitting tires, spinning out, giving that push for that extra boost of speed, as the light sounds: BEEEP-BEEEP-BEEEP-BOOP! (3-2-1-GO!)  The earthquake shudders the platform, the humans are released to the trains.  The front line, scatter and swarm the platform in a mess of a hurry, like a disturbed bee hive, running out into the sweet crispness of the air and down to the loading platforms.  We at the rear glance and laugh together to the crowd ahead, gather our things, and walk happily through to the trains.

4:55 pm.  Now, here was the second issue:  The train was overbooked.  Looking left, looking right, some like I had the same situation ‘无座’, meaning no seats or no seating reserved.  This is the tricky part and luck would have it, I managed to squeeze myself into a nice spot with some sleek and savvy negotiations.  For others, they would be stuck sitting along the walkways of the train for 100 minutes.  Now, that’s not too bad of a wait between Dali and Lijiang, but I have heard that this can happen on longer trips, 8 hours or perhaps more!

5:00 pm.  Sweet Departure.

 

LEFT: My trip back to Lijiang.
RIGHT: No designated seats 无座 From Guangzhou to Xi’an – that’s over 25 hours and 2030km!

This was one of the longest hours I’ve ever had, along with some job interviews, a resisting lavatory sit-down and sitting through a hot summer’s traffic jam.

TIPS: Get a sleeper cabin for overnight trips.  Buy your ticket early especially during peak seasons (Major holidays, Spring Festival/University breaks, Summer Holidays), and make sure to get seats.  If you get stuck with ‘无座’, then… well… get yourself as comfy as possible, away from the washrooms, and… good luck!

DISCLAIMER:  I am not trying to discourage taking the trains in China, or anywhere.  They are one of the best ways and cheapest ways to get around landscapes, especially China.
COMMENT: from Louisa, our friend Jan had a 54 hour train ride in Australia. Doubt it was as crowded but nonetheless given a 无座 free-for-all!

Riding high,
Darwin Ma
(This is a repost from my other blog; reposting here when relevant!)

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