I’m sure you’ve all missed by absence of late (I’m determined to believe it, no matter what you say to the contrary). It was due to the fact that my dear mother has come out to China to see me. So I’ve been focusing my attention on ensuring that she doesn’t get lost, ripped off or bored in her time in the glorious confusion that is China.
I may write about the travelling we did at some point, but today I want to tell you about taking Chinese sleeper trains. The following is an excerpt I wrote on the journey home from taking my dear old ma down to Hunan province.
I write this blog from the
discomfort of my 22 hour sleeper train from Zhangjiajie back up to Beijing. When taking sleeper trains, foreign passengers get a lot of attention simply because we are a curiosity. Thus, Chinese speaking foreigners are faced with a conundrum; do you pretend that you can’t speak Chinese and deal with the boredom that may follow, or do you reveal your Chinese and leave yourself open to the inevitable onslaught of Bai Jiu (56% rice wine that tastes like dead things and fire), unidentified animal parts in vacuum “snack” packs and a lecturing on how great China is?
I don’t mean to sound conceited, but such is the enthusiasm and generosity of the people who want to speak to you, that you end up feeling as though you MUST drink and eat all of what you are given, which is usually without end.
This time round I was coaxed down out of my bunk by two friendly chaps who generously thrust a beer in to my hands. All seemed well to begin with. However, after my novelty and their consequent curiosity began to dwindle, one of the guys took to playing on his phone, leaving his much drunker friend to repeatedly inform me of the atrocities Britain committed in the Opium Wars, followed by repetitions of how much larger than England China is.
Shouted one of the men, proudly using his English to say it. He went on to do this about once every 10 minutes. I faked a phone call to escape, and I thought I’d managed it, but as I sat down to write this he stumbled over, wafting the familiar reek of dead things and fire into my terrified nostrils, demanding that I go over and condemn every burp I do for the rest of the evening to remind me of the 56% nightmare that is Bai Jiu.
I thought my prayers had been answered when the second bottle he’d planned to give to me couldn’t be opened, but my hopes were dashed by a man with a Swiss Army Knife; fuck you Switzerland, you practical bastards! Once that bottle was down I thought I was in the free and clear. How naïve! When he brought the next one out I didn’t know whether to run, cry or weep into the vacuum packed pig intestines I’d been given.
This, it seems, was to be his toast. After drinking a couple of sips I could truly no longer handle it, and I tried to hide up by the toilet area for a while, finally managing to sneak back to my bunk without being seen after about 10 minutes. Once there I managed to get to sleep without too much trouble.
So, next time I take a sleeper train I will know the course of action: keep my mouth SHUT and stay bored!