That was it.
The only word needed to convince us to set foot on a train for 34 hours.
Yes, I’m completely aware how crazy that sounds.
No, we’re not mental.
The original plan had been to take a fast train from Shanghai to Chengdu. There was, however, one thing we had not accounted for: the Chinese New Year. Because of this, Chinese all over the country were on the move. And guess what? This unfortunately led to most train tickets already having been sold. Because…
Newsflash! There seem to be loooooooots of Chinese people in China. Who would have guessed?
Having set our sights on visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, though, we settled with a 34-hours long train from Shanghai to Chengdu. Oh well, could you guys say no to visiting these cuties? We most definitely could not.
But I digress.
This not the story of encountering Chengdu’s pandas, that will be one for another day. Rather, it is a story of unbelievable occurrences, human encounters, and friendship. A story of rotten eggs and romantic dinners. A story of survival.
OK, I totally exaggerated that survival bit, but three Western girls thrown into a train with only Chinese people, most of whom were not able to speak any English, did yield some interesting results.
It already began when we ascended the train.
“So, where do we put our luggage?”
It was a great question.
We kinda struggled and had to be creative, because – oops – our luggage was too big.
And – oops again – so were we.
Our bunks were so small (or, alternatively, we were so big) that our feet reached over the end of the bed. For me, this was still sort of ok. Sort of. But my friends Karen and Charlotte, who are both a bit taller than me, definitely had the bigger challenge.
They couldn’t resist to share the bed at some point, though.
Luckily, our train ride allowed for some romance.
Not only did I absolutely love getting hit on in the dirtiest bathroom I have ever seen, our planned romantic Italian dinner turned out to be no real success as well. Wanting a change in our usual train food of instant noodles, we had bought instant spaghetti. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it tasted horribly.
Hey, at least we still had red wine and great company, right?
We were, however, not the only ones who had enjoyed dinner. A guy in a bunk beneath us had eaten eggs, too many eggs to be precise, and loud farts interrupted our futile attempts at sleep. I honestly wouldn’t have minded as much if it hadn’t been for the rotten egg smell, which lingered for a disturbing amount of time.
Perhaps even more unusual, though, were the eating habits of another guy in our compartment. Seeing that he kind of resembled a rather cute panda, we had already jokingly referred to him as – guess what – ‘panda’. But then, in a funny twist of fate, he started eating bamboo. Like, he really put a bamboo shoot in his mouth and started cracking pieces off with his teeth in the exact same way that pandas do it.
We were baffled.
And we continued being baffled.
When my friend Karen pulled out her distributing-plug, we all of a sudden became the center of attention even more. People started coming to us, asking us what it was and whether they were allowed to use it. Karen and I tried to make conversation, but we were limited to nodding, hand gestures and basic words like shi shi and ni hao. We left the real talking to our friend, Charlotte, who had to explain what the heck we were doing on a train like that to people who spoke a different Chinese dialect than the one she was used to.
Hey, at least she knew Chinese, right?
Let’s just conclude with the idea that crazy thoughts lead to crazy adventures.
I absolutely loved this (mostly) fun, unique and at times rather surreal adventure that is slow train travel in China.
And it seemed as if we couldn’t get enough of this so-called adventure thing.
Indeed, when we finally arrived in Chengdu, we were off to our next one immediately… the hassle of finding taxis at too-early-o’clock in the morning!
What are your ‘on the road’ adventures? Let me know in the comments 🙂
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