Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sleep with Never-ending Interruptions

Unable to get a sleeper car for my 34 hour train ride from Nanning to Xian, I had a hard seat for the whole way. The train is a tight space, a narrow aisle with no leg room. Seats face each other and your legs bump into the person who is sitting across from you. All four or six of you share a table. Since I sat on the aisle, one would think I could stretch out except people were always moving down the aisle!

As soon as it got dark I was ready to try to fall asleep, to sleep away some of the hours of the 34 hour trip. As soon as I'd almost be asleep, my neck would snap down and I would almost fall off the seat. I'd doze again, but then the hot food 15 RMB meal cart would pass. I'd doze again, but then the magazine cart would pass. I'd doze again, then the 10 RMB meal cart would pass. I'd move out of the way not to be hit. I'd doze again, then the fruit seller would come by, then the packaged food and drink cart, then the 5 RMB meal cart. I'd be almost asleep and then all of those carts would come back again after making their way to the last train car.

I'd almost be dead to the world when the movie guy with DVD players to rent would go yelling by. Next the toothbrush seller, then the bright light and singing toy top seller, then the gold card with a fortune written on it seller, a seller who had a 10 minute speech and would shush anyone who was talking or making noise. Because the people I sat with had money, they stopped every seller to buy something. These people were the ones who wanted to buy a hard sleeper bed, but who had been denied. They had extra money to spend and bought everything. Our tight space became even tighter with the extra person and their goods. My head would snap into the backside of the seller. My feet would kick the seller's basket of goods. People don't just buy and go. No, buying was a long process at least 10 minutes as questions were asked and colors of toothbrushes were inspected and bargaining and small talk comments were given.

I could get 5 minutes of shut eye before I was disturbed again.

As the summer holiday comes to an end, China's population is rearranging itself. Millions of students board trains sometimes with their parents and extended family. Whenever we stopped at a railroad station, a ton of people would climb on all looking for an empty seat on a train that had been standing room only since 3 hours after we departed Nanning. The aisles would fill and my leg room would disappear. Next the ladies with plastic stools for $1 would come by, something else to fill the aisles with.

As things started to calm down and as I started to think maybe the lights would go out since it was 11 pm, 3 cell phones started playing loud annoying music, speakers that crackle due to the poor quality and excessive volume. I stuffed ear plugs into my ears. The clack of the train tracks and people's loud conversations died out leaving the 3 cell phones and their music loud as day, a mixture of 3 melodies mushed together into chaos.

The next thing to interrupt my sleep was a gang of 6 train conductors bullying their way down the full lanes asking in mean voices to see everyone's ticket.

Finally at midnight, things started to calm down. People pulled down curtains and put them on the dirty floor. They crawled under the seats, their knees and shoes visible in the aisles, road bumps for the selling carts. Maybe now the carts would stop passing by. As I slouched down and stretched out my legs hoping not to be interrupted again, I started to doze off. Quiet finally existed in the terribly noisy night when the woman across from me turned on her cell phone, full blast, Bryan Adams, a lullaby, I could not fall asleep too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your writing is so good that I could clearly see and hear the people, carts,phones, conductors, even your table mates. My neck hurts as I write this. I have seen various pictures posted taken on the trains, but they went right over my head. Now I feel the train. Thanks, keep writing.