Monday, July 21, 2014

All aboard!
I have a friend in Jinan, which is the capital of Shandong Province. From Weihai, it’s over eight hours by train, and I went to see her this weekend.  For the outbound trip, I had a sleeper compartment, what the Chinese railway calls “the soft bed.”  It cost about forty bucks, and it was comfortable—even luxurious. I shared a compartment with three other people.  We didn’t talk much—mostly everyone slept.

The return trip was different.  A soft bed had not been available, so I a “hard bed” this time. It was much cheaper, but far less comfortable.  This area of the train was not air conditioned, and the compartments became sweltering every time the train came to a halt. 
I was with a different class of people, and they were much more friendly than the soft bed crew. Because they spoke no English, so I was forced to use my Chinese, which has been improving during this trip. Lily Wang, who had seen me off at the station, told the attendants I am a teacher, and word of my profession seemed to have spread throughout the train.   The Chinese respect their teachers, particularly when they are older, and people from all over the car kept seeking me out, attemptkng to ply me with dumplings, sausage, and cold corn on the cob.  I found this touching, and I shared my granola bars.

Now, I have been known to wax rhapsodic about the wonders of sharing food with other people, but the truth is, I didn’t feel much like eating. I was having a bout of what the Chinese call ladouza—in other words “travelers trots.” The malady is never comfortable, but it is particularly hard to cope with on a sweltering train eight hour train ride where one finds oneself squatting over a filthy Chinese toilet on a moving train several times a few times an hour.

The facilities were not remotely as clean as those in the picture. This toilet was a rusty hole in the restroom floor, and I’m not going to show you a picture. I’ve learned how to use these contraptions, but my aim is far less than perfect, and I added to the mess.  I cleaned up after myself as best I could using a filthy broom  intended for this purpose.

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