You know those never-ending journeys when you were kids? The ones that went on and on and were only punctuated by the eternal question: “Are we nearly there yet?”
Well, imagine that trip and times it by a million and that was our journey from Chengdu to Shanghai.
Chinese trains are interesting at the best of times. In the sleeping carriages there is no privacy in the triple bunks and it’s not unusual to come back to your bed to find someone else sitting on it. My friends and I had been particularly unlucky on that journey to be in bunks opposite a family of three generations – a matriarchal grandmother, her uninterested daughter and her very high-spirited toddler grandson. We’d already endured screaming, shouting and tantrums (and that was just grandma) and after 24 hours we were more than ready to get to Shanghai.
At 5pm the end was finally in sight. Shanghai, with its skyscrapers and fancy restaurants, beckoned and we started causing chaos in the carriage as we pulled down our huge backpacks from the overhead storage racks. It was only after we’d been stood with them on our backs, poised and ready to go, for about half an hour that we realised something wasn’t quite right. Our fellow passengers, who are usually queuing at the door as soon as the train approaches a station, continued to sit quite calmly.
It was Jenny who broached the subject first: “Why did we think it was five in the afternoon by the way?” Feeling a growing sense of doom, I quickly looked for the piece of paper where I’d written the train times. To be fair I’d scribbled them down quite quickly as I’d had a massive queue of Chinese travellers behind me at the station and was having to use a lot of sign language and miming to buy the tickets in the first place. But sure enough, there is was, a clear 5. Although as we continued to look at the paper, it suddenly dawned on us one by one that maybe that could actually stand for 5am.
Our fears were confirmed by our neighbours’ laughter as we tried to ask them what was going on. Yes, the train was due to arrive into Shanghai at 5am. Which meant another 12 hours on the train. I’m not going to lie, those hours were not the greatest of my life, especially as they included the traumatic moment of watching grandma allow her grandson to poo in the corridor of the train…
Just another instalment in It Could Only Happen To Me.