We booked an early train from Shanghai to Hangzhou to walk around for the day. Trains vary in China, and when you buy the ticket at the train station, it’s sometimes difficult to know what you’re going to end up with. Last time I was in China, Ren and I took a 42 hour train from Shenyang to Chengdu. That’s 42 hours, each way. This train was a highspeed one though, and the 2nd class tickets looked pretty damn first class to me. An easy 50 minutes and we were in Hangzhou.
The high speed rail infrastructure is much better now than the last time I traveled China. This country now has 19,000 kilometers of high speed railway, which is two thirds of the world’s total, and it usually operates at 303km/hour, which is fast as fuck. We had originally planned to hike the mountains at Huangshan but the weather was looking pretty terrible so we rerouted to Hangzhou. This is Hangzhou.
Isn’t it beautiful??!! I’m sure it is, but this is what it looks like with rain and smog.
We planned to take a train later that same day from Hangzhou to Nanjing, the old capital of China. “Bei” (pronounced Bay) means north, “Nan” (pronounced like your nanny, not the Indian bread), means south. So Beijing means north capital, Nanjing is the southern one. It’s also the Rape of Nanking sight, so if you’re really in the mood to feel Chinese resentment towards the Japanese, take a hike over to Nanjing and walk around for a while.
I bought the train tickets to Nanjing when we arrived at the Hangzhou station earlier that morning, I heard it was an easy ride, probably only an hour. Hangzhou was cool, one of the highlights for me was a cafe that had self serve rice. I don’t know why, it made me happier than most things would. Just a big rice cooker open to all who want it. It’s a sure show of class and graciousness. At the train station around 7pm, an hour before departure time, Flowers told me that he read the train time is closer to 2-3 hours. Ugh. I’d gotten so used to nice, short train rides. I asked around in Chinese and they all looked at me funny and held up two fingers. Two? Eh, not bad. We got on the train and it was one of those trains, the type I had gotten so used to before Vietnam and Taiwan, realllllllllllll Chinese trains. Oh well. About an hour into the ride Flowers pulled out the map on his phone and it showed we were nowhere near Nanjing.
“Maybe it speeds up after this stop” he said. So I went to the conductor and asked what time we arrive at Nanjing.
“Two? Like, in two hours?”
“We arrive at 2am. Your Chinese is so good! Wow, really good pronunciation.”
“Hey guys, I have some bad news. The train arrives at two in the morning.”
I could see their eyes searching for an alternative option. We had been walking all day, I had told the hostel we would arrive at 10pm and with no wifi there was no guarantee it would be open for us. Meanwhile, on the current train, workers constantly walked up and down the aisle selling usb chords or toothbrushes or whatever, and the train was filled with smoke. Smoking sections in 2nd class sections of the train means you go in between cars and light up. But there isn’t any opening there. It’s just a little further away from everyone. Which makes no sense. The table in between us was covered with crumbs and everything was sticky. EVERTHING. The boys were troopers though, calling on all their positivity.
Once in a while I would notice them putting their hands on their heads in disbelief and when I asked what was wrong they said, “It doesn’t even register to you anymore, does it?”
“The spitting noises and spitting on the floor.”
I guess it doesn’t really register to me anymore. I hit that breaking point a few weeks ago and my body adjusted to it.
Towards the middle of the ride I saw Nick’s jaw drop in complete shock. He put his hand to his mouth. I took off my headphones to see what was happening. A man had brought his two year old daughter into the seats diagonally behind us and she just started peeing. The pants she was wearing had no covering over her private parts, they were just open to the smoke-wind, so after she peed a bit on the seat, the dad said, “Ohh, ohhhhh!” and lifted her up to pee in the aisle instead. Well, doesn’t that just solve everything. One kid sitting there jumped across into the other seat but other than that nobody did anything. Nobody even acknowledged that anything was happening. In fact, most people just got a kick out of Nick’s reaction more than anything. It was the hardest I’ve laughed in a few years. Flowers next to me laughed, Nick laughed, and the trip got a little bit shorter. Nick was on alert to see if anyone would sit on the piss, and sure enough, within 10 minutes some guy put his bag right on it. Later, at 2am when the train was pulling in, we waited in between the cars and the dad and daughter were right across from us. The dad held her in his lap and pointed at us, to show her what foreigners look like. She ran in our direction, stopped, and peed all over again, right on the floor.
We made it to the hostel pretty easy despite the rain, slept until 11am, walked around all day, and hopped on another train to Qufu. Back to the north on an expensive, smoke free, worth it, high speed train.
This second time to Qufu was just to let the boys take a look around a small city in northern China, and an excuse for me to walk around the Confucian Forest one more time. It was just a 36 hour stop before continuing on to Beijing. I called up Kelsey, the English speaking tour guide I had last time and she came and picked up Nick and Jim to show them the temples and the mansion. I met up with them and we all headed to the forest together.
That night we had a few beers, played some pool at the hostel and watched Training Day on Netflix before we went to sleep. This hostel, or maybe just Qufu, reminds me of the hostels I always stayed in in Peru and Bolivia. It’s freezing cold, theres a ton of stone structures all around, and it’s quiet. The morning we were leaving I took a walk alone after breakfast along the high city walls. A girl walking by whistled me over to a shop and I followed. There were a few other girls inside, maybe late 20s, who beckoned me in. They asked if I wanted to play, only 100 yuan to play. They wore heavy eye makeup, and caked on white makeup on the rest of their faces. Brothels so close to the tomb of Confucius? Oh the shame, the SHAME!! Unfortunately for them, my hatred of human trafficking and my unparalleled fear of diseases keeps me averse. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway; at that point the egg quesidilla I had for breakfast was moving through me just like that high speed train.