Travels without Porpoise, part two

Travels without Porpoise, part two.

Two female conductors came by to check tickets. When they found out the two young men in my cabin were Japanese they suddenly wanted identification papers. Some Chinese are still living out WWII—the “rape of Nanjing” is more than a page in a history book.

The conductors didn’t want my papers and they hadn’t been asking for them anywhere else in the train car. The were on a private little mission of revenge and were masters of torture; they even pretended not to understand the English word for passport and exchanged comments in Chinese like “foreign devils” until the two poor lads were sweating with panic. I helped out and when the Japanese produced the proper passports and visas, the conductors finally left them in peace.

Food is sold two ways on the train, from the dining car and by carts wheeled down the aisle. I got a bruise on my leg to prove that. The women come by and yell “EAT” in Chinese. Every two hours they also sold drinks. Most of the passengers ate constantly. In addition, at every station stop you could buy food. The Chinese family fed me cake, pineapple from a jar and anything else they could get me to eat. All trash goes out the windows.

Not wanting to throw a Styrofoam container out into the magnificent countryside of Sichuan province I asked a conductor if they had a garbage can. She told me to just throw it out the window. During my 36 hour train ride I saw a line of garbage along the track bed. I tried to tell people this is not a good practice. The dad of the family in my cabin is a university professor and he told me, as if it was a resolution, that China is an undeveloped country. So I had a talk with his ten year old son about it. The kid had never given it a thought and at the time, I thought he didn’t care less about what I was saying.

Late that night—when I was trying to sleep—I heard him lecture an adult in the corridor who’d just availed himself of the out the window method. The child delivered a quite remarkable speech, a bit like a piece of Maoist propaganda, which went something like this: “Look at all the garbage out there! China is the best nation and we should not be destroying our natural resources.” Shortly after this, having again given up sleep, I was rooked into giving the kid an English lesson by his doting mother.

In the middle of the night, the two Japanese got off and three Chinese replaced them in our cabin. A couple with an eleven year old daughter. I ended up teaching the two kids how to play Go Fish. I later realized that with all my sleep deprivation I had screwed up the rules of the card game. So if you ever go to Xian, you might see the locals playing a great American card game that vaguely resembles….

August 14, four a.m.
The train is now in Chongqing. The station is huge, dirty and crowded. Lots of homeless people sleeping on the pavement. No lines here, just crowds trying to squeeze through two narrow exits. I use my elbows, backpack, knees and just barely survive. The outside was not well it and it was dark outside. I asked a cop for the taxi stand. He looked at me and gestured without a word. Following his lead, I forded waste water, mud, construction and sleeping bodies to a place where buses, vans, cars, bikes and people were all packed in every which way. All the vehicles were honking their horns. (This is a feature of driving in China.) Since the vehicles were facing every which way no one was able to move. It took my taxi 30 minutes just to reach the exit of the parking lot. He drove me to the hotel and left me at a totally dark entrance.

The city of Chongqing is built on very steep hills which line the Yangtse (Chang jiang) river. The hotel was on a hilltop and steps led up to the darkened entrance. The sun hadn’t risen, the driveway had no lights. Only one bulb on a nearby building lit my way up the steps. To my relief I found the glass doors unlocked.
I entered a dark lobby and could just make out two humps on the sofas that lined the far wall. “Anyone here?” I shouted.

The two lumps threw off blankets and morphed into female employees. They asked me if I had a reservation, then called a third woman. They couldn’t find my reservation. I’d already paid for the room, but at 5 a.m. and a 36 hour train ride through the hinterlands of China, I just wanted a rest.

“Just get me a room because I am going to die,” I said, only half-joking.

I probably looked like it because the head woman got a uniformed young man—woke him up no doubt—to carry my bag to a different lobby. This one had lights on; turns out there are two lobbies. This one also was densely populated with sleeping hotel employees. There are a few reasons for this, one being the lobby has air conditioning and the employee living quarters do not, nor do their homes. The other reason is they don’t have a night shift, even if they advertise 24-hour service.

My room was very nice and cool as well. Even had bottled water. I slept until nine a.m. and decided to go out and see the town. Too tired to do anything requiring thought, I took a cab to the zoo. The entire city was either being demolished or had naturally fallen into ruins; everywhere I looked I saw piles of rubble and garbage.

The zoo didn’t look much better, but the people there were very friendly and many little kids rushed over to try out their English on me. They usually asked “Where do you come from?” or “What is the climate in your country?” When I answered in English they couldn’t understand a word.

I asked for the pandas and was taken to an outdoor compound. A panda sat there eating bamboo quite a distance away, then I found another one sleeping. On a wall I noticed some snapshots of a panda with people around it and a sign saying 30 Yuan next to this. At this time 30 Chinese dollars came to about $3.80 U.S. A woman appeared and told me in Chinese I could pet the panda. I couldn’t believe this and since she didn’t have a uniform or ID on her, I didn’t know if she was pulling the leg of the foreigner or up to some other trick. But she kept on telling me I should do this so I checked my funds to make sure I could get back to the hotel if I paid her because you never know what a taxi will end up costing. The money looked okay so I decided to go for it.
To be continued.

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~ by mickeyhoffman on March 1, 2011.

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