I was amongst the crowd at a busy Beijing railway station, fighting my way onto my train back to Zhengzhou. It was a Friday night, and all the lowly paid migrant workers were on their way back to Henan Provice for the weekend.I had at least got a seat, I was sure of that. My ticket had a seat number. Coach 9, seat 12. Hard seat class.
|Waiting to buy train tickets in China|
They call it hard seat class but that's a misleading name. The seats are soft and relatively comfortable despite being packed rather closely together. I'd spent 6 happy hours playing poker with some policemen in the hard seat class of a train from Zhengzhou to Wuhan when I first arrived in China.
As I boarded the train, it was clearly packed. The migrant workers were busily shoving their sacks into any vacant nook or cranny they could find. There was the normal queue of people when you board a train but that would go away when everyone had sat down in their seats.
|A man with a sack boarding a train in China|
Outside, dozens of people were still trying to get on, shouting at the guards who were struggling to hold them all back.
The train started to move and the chaotic queue still hadn’t gone away. I suddenly noticed that all the seats were taken. Including mine! There was no way I could move, we were packed in like sardines. At this point many of the migrant workers had begun sitting down on their sacks. Others had cracked open the snacks and were scoffing seeds, a few had even begun swigging Baijiu.
|Standing room only, good luck finding a place to sit down here!|
Within a minute, all of the floorspace had been taken by migrants sitting on sacks. What of, I hadn’t a clue. Maybe, rice, flour, random fluff, who knows. They were all brightly coloured but old, clearly faded sacks, they'd obviously been well used.
I was absolutely shattered, my eyes were heavy and my legs ached. I'd spent the whole day running around Beijing being a tourist, thinking to myself, "I can sleep on the train". There was nowhere to sit and I had nothing to lean on.
So I just stood.
About four hours into our eleven hour journey, most of the migrant workers were asleep, safe and snug on their faded florescent plastic sacks. The fatigue had mutilated my sense of balance. I couldn’t stop wobbling all over the place. Convinced I would soon fall over, crushing a few migrant workers, I decided to attempt a trip to the toilet.
I crept quietly and carefully, placing my feet precisely between the little gaps between the sacks. I was only about 3 meters from the toilet but it took about 5 minutes of careful manoeuvring to get there. I mustered up all of my remaining strength to open the door just enough to be able to squeeze in.
|How do I get to the toilet!?|
To my astonishment, the cubicle was clean! Obviously no one had though the arduous task of getting to the toilet was possible and were simply holding it in. I was a pioneer, and for my exploration, I was awarded a great new land, with boundless space, "clean" running water and no pesky Indians to kill.
I hung up my bag and lent on the wall and took a well deserved rest.
I stayed in my little haven for about an hour before I decided to be selfless and let others use the amenities. But for my little bit of R&R in the toilet of the hard seated class of a cheap Chinese train, I felt refreshed and re-invigorated.
The feeling however, didn’t last long, a few hours later, I was in hell. I now know why sleep deprivation is considered torture. Your legs hurt, your eyes become sore, you get a headache, you start sweating profusely despite being freezing cold. I even started to feel sick for the movement and began to imagine that just outside the window there was a doppelgänger of me when I was 17 on roller-skates racing with the train. He wasn't very good, he kept on crashing into objects along the railway line.
The hallucination kept me entertained for a while, but not as much as clockwatching in the last 2 hours.
I started counting numbers, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,..............,1009,1010,...................,7890, 7891,7892,7893,
ANYTHING to pass the time. I tired to see how accurate my seconds were compared to real seconds.
|Zhengzhou's beautiful train station!|
By the time the train arrived in Zhengzhou, I was jelly. I staggered with my bag to the taxi rank, and went home, balls to the cost. It was now 8am, I'd got on the train at 7pm the previous night, the train was late and was delayed on the way, 2 extra hours of hell for leaves on the line, probably.
I got home, changed my clothes and had a shower.
Work started at 10.