Sunday, November 4, 2012

Overnight Train To Guilin

Met the other 3 members of my group – Suzanne from Holland, and Helen and David from the UK. A much smaller group than I was expecting but these young whippersnappers (25ish all of them) all seemed like eager and easy going companions. No silly divas (nightmare) but also no cute single Aussies (hopes dashed).

After intros, we took an hourlong subway ride to the train station in Shengzhen just outside Hong Kong in mainland China- my first opportunity to listen to my iPod. The train station in Shengzhen is enormous, and surrounded by a shopping centre. We shared a large meal with some typical dishes of the area which included some very sweet confections that are eaten as part of the main meal, rather than as dessert i.e. large white egg-like dough balls filled with a yellow custard. We had also some rice pudding inside lotus leaves which was very good but extremely hard to cut into edible sized portions with chopsticks- still an amateur chopstick user at this point.
Shengzhen Station

 After stuffing ourselves, we took a couple hours to walk around the centre and stock up on some snacks for the overnight train ride. We saw one curiousity where store workers were binding live crabs with twine before placing them on ice in the shop window. They made quite a fuss at us making a fuss and seemed bewildered that were not interested in buying them. But I’ve never found fresh crab on a train to be very practical…

Who wants crabs?

The overnight train itself was humungous- 30 cars with 20 compartments to a car and 6 bunks to each compartment. The highest bunk is 9 feet up and the middle at about 6 feet , and all are about 2 feet wide and 7 feet long. Not a lot of wiggle room! Linens and pillows were supplied- looked and smelled fresh and clean. Washrooms (and I use that term loosely) were at the end of each compartment- hole in the floor toilets behind a door, and sinks in a separate room. Spigots for hot water nearby- these spigots are everywhere in China for people to make tea and ramen noodles. Tea and ramen noodles are equal in commonality to coffee or pop and sandwiches for us. To my disappointment coffee(and sandwiches for that matter) are extremely hard to find in China.

I took a middle bunk and we settled in. Our guide Sally got out a Mahjong set and instructed us how to play. I enjoyed it once I mastered the basics, but we needed help with the Chinese characters on the tiles. A crowd of Chinese soon gathered to watch the foreigners struggle with their national game. As I’m not a big game player and was falling asleep sitting up, I let one of them take over my place and clambered up into my bunk.

It was not a very restful night with a lot of noise, light, frequent stops and starts and alternating arctic and desert temperatures. My 4am expedition to the toilet was the stuff dreams are made of- stumbling in the semi-dark to a slippery metal floored room- you must look down so you don’t fall in the hole, but believe me looking down is the very LAST thing you want to do. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer and antibacterial hand wipes.

The loudspeaker announced our imminent arrival in Guilin and we sat bleary eyed on the bottom bunks and watched the karst mountain countryside roll by until we pulled into the station.

We sleepily dragged our luggage aboard our bus where we were, again, the only foreigners on board. I breakfasted on dried lemon slices peanuts and Coke Zero-miraculously Coke Zero is fairly easy to get in China. Finding snack food and train meals here is a big challenge for me. I ate so much ramen noodles in university I now gag at the sight of them, and am trying to maintain as clean a diet as possible even while on holiday. Beyond chips and chocolate which are widely available, there is very little non-perishable items, unless you want to try the freeze dried chicken feet which are so adored here. Pass!

Hmm chicken wings or chicken feet- how can a girl choose?
Translation: Coke Zero (or Thank Frigging God Finally Some Caffeine)

I could hardly keep awake to enjoy the striking scenery but our bathroom stop at a gas station jolted all of us wide awake. Mother Nature insisted I participate, but nothing yet had prepared me for the dangerous and in-despicably horrible open trench toilet. Not the place to drop your wallet or passport! This one took the prize for Scariest Bathroom Ever and I yearned to shower in hand sanitizer after that disgusting experience.

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