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Not tough enough for a hard seat

CHINA | Wednesday, 5 May 2010 | Views [531]

WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING when I bought a ticket in hard class on the train from Dali to Kunming? It was eight of the most uncomfortable hours of my life and I have had major surgery. The seats are bench style, which wouldn’t be a problem if I could stretch my legs out in front of me from time to time. But you can’t do that because there is a guy sitting opposite you who wants to do the same thing. There is a cluster of six sitting around a small table on one side of the train and a cluster of four on the other. I was one of four.

When we left the station, the window was slightly open. I was grateful for this because of the temperature of the filled-to-capacity railway car and the slight stench of toilet that I would periodically catch a whiff of. The breeze that came into the window was blowing in the face of the woman opposite me which was unacceptable because she was trying to work on her needle point. So she switched places with her sour-faced dad. He was a real joy to look at for hours at a time. He did smile on rare occasions, though. It happened when he was doing the playful, bickering thing with his wife who was on the bench next to him. Call me paranoid, but I think sometimes they were talking about me. My Chinese isn’t good enough to follow their conversation and my mini recorder was packed up in my suitcase. The young doll-faced woman sitting next to me was a bit precious in her misery. She sat quietly for the entire trip with a bag full of goodies on her lap.

There was a fellow who sat on the other side of the car who had an empty seat opposite him. He had the luxury of kicking back and putting his scabby feet up on the bench and taking a nap. I try not to be an envious person, but I was pea green with jealousy. He wore dark glasses for most of the trip and when he removed them I could see why. He had gotten a cut over his left eye and the suture job must have been piss-poor because his eye didn‘t heal properly. Whenever he closed his eyes, his left wouldn’t shut completely.

I cursed the people with the refreshments carts. I wanted a cold soda so badly that I would have trampled over my fellow passengers to get one. But they only sold warm sodas. To make things worse, they sold sunflower seeds in the shell on the snacks cart. First it was the girl next to me. Then it was the guy with the f***ed-up eye. After that, it was the lady two clusters away. They sat and nibbled at these sunflower seeds like big hamsters and I had to listen to it because my I-Pod was out of juice.

In the fourth hour my hip started to bother me so I took a short walk and ended up joining the smokers at the car connections where this is allowed. I did my best to work out the kinks and improve circulation before the cigarette smoke became intolerable. I spent the last three hours on the end of the bench moving my legs in and out of the aisle as passengers passed by on their way to get hot water for noodles or tea. When we pulled into the station in Kunming I waited for everyone to stand clear of the overhead luggage rack before I pulled my huge pack down. Old sour-puss issued a half-hearted offer to help me with it at the prompting of his wife, but I said, “mei you wenti.” (no problem) He repeated, “mei you wenti,” to his wife as he pointed over his shoulder at me and quickly exited the car. I soon followed, but not too closely.

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