On the Road Again

There are numerous things to do on a 45-hour train ride, one being writing silly poems that don’t rhyme properly. On the other hand, I did get a couple of chuckles out of Cara as I read her my work in progress from time to time. We also compiled a rather long list of other semi-entertaining activities to fill some of the duller moments. A few of my favorites include: counting the number of telephone poles passing by our window, organizing a relay race with other train patrons using a banana as a baton, paying for our 500 Yuan train ride by offering shoulder massages to our neighbors, and creating our own rock band using only chopsticks are musical instruments. I’ll let you be the one to guess which ones we actually put into action!

I embellished of course. The train ride wasn’t that bad, kind of like pulling teeth at the dentist!! Kidding aside, the two days actually passed quite quickly and pleasantly though we did have plenty of time to stare out the window and twiddle our thumbs. True, our bunk mates were not eager to stay in their upper bunks (the ones with no head room) and seemed to have no problem with joining us on our more expensive, more comfortable, and certainly more roomy bottom beds. They were friendly about their intrusions and only semi-perched on the outer edges of our beds, being careful about not sitting on any of our possessions and/or body parts. Seeing our distress with having strange bed companions, the sweet ladies began bribing us with candies and oranges (which worked of course!). We stopped glaring at them and curled up in the corner, allowing them free roam of our precious, well made and clean beds. Our four charming cronies weren’t the problem…..it was the dozen or so others that claimed our territory as their own. We seemed to pick the lucky lottery draw for most popular carriage hostesses. Whereas in other areas of the train, people actually slept, read, or did other quiet, non-noisy things to occupy their time and to not disturb their fellow passengers, we lucked out. Rather the opposite occurred as Cara and I had a large crowd coming and going within the squished, sixteen inch space of our bunk section. Most of our visitors gathered to watch the never ending card game taking place at the end our beds, a monotonous game that lasted the entirety of two days, give or take a few brief hours when the weary players finally crawled upstairs to rest before doing the whole shebang again the next day.

While I truly enjoyed having a mass of “gawking locals” huddled on top of my blankets and was thoroughly entertained by the constant procession of musical chair contestants who took their turn sitting on my feet, I was only slightly disturbed by the fact that none of them knew how to use their inside library voices. I think Cara and I both had a two day headache from their constant yelling and insane chatter. We certainly had a comprehensive mixture of card players who joined the game from time to time. In one afternoon, I had a fourteen year old boy, a ninety year old lady, a father and his two year old daughter, and a pair of young, giggling girls who each took their turn at a hand of cards. My favorite was the loud, young chap with the constant leg twitch. For three long hours, my bed shook by his ceaseless, nervous gyrations. I tried to read my book but the bunks were vibrating so much that I finally had to put my very interesting novel away. Instead, I passed the time staring at the back of his head, hoping he could feel the callous thoughts I was trying to send his way…….

I wasn’t exaggerating about the gold star potential of our carriage boss. Perhaps it was his first day on the job but I won’t be recommending him for any promotions in the near future. Unfortunately, he was not graced with good graces and charm either. Putting in kindly, he resembled an ex-convict with is long greasy hair, receding hairline, mismatched clothes, a jacket that bordered on threadbare and some questionable, glazed over eyes which came from sharing the ganja pipes in the corridor with the other equally glazed eyed passengers. He swept a grand total of twice, both during the nighttime leaving us the entire day to tiptoe around discarded orange rinds, forgotten noodles, and spit out sunflower seeds. As with all places in China, nobody heeded the no smoking signs posted everywhere and our escaped jail bird wasn’t putting too much effort forth into saving the lungs of his fellow China men. Since there was no ventilation in our carriages, any type of smoke was highly toxic and clogged what little air we had flowing through the cabin. Not wanting to further blacken our already polluted, second hand smoke filled lungs (spend one day in China and you’ll see what I mean), Cara and I took it upon ourselves to be the patrolmen on board. More than once we received a startled stare after tapping on a passenger’s shoulder, smiling sweetly and then vividly motioning for him to kindly put out his cigarette. Most people found it tremendously amusing to watch our antics as we searched for the offenders in our car and, more often than not, we received a smile and laugh from the person we harassed. All of them weren’t so kind. Cara almost grabbed a dangling cigarette from one disagreeable man’s mouth, but now knowing the social standards for attacking woman in China, she refrained. We let that one get passed our surveillance.

As usual, eating time as our favorite part of the day, if only because we were able to savor our food and waste more minutes on our slowly moving clock. Whenever meal time rolled around, Cara would get an excited little grin on her face as she rooted through her bag of treats. She resembled a young girl pouring through her Easter basket but I’m sure I had the same wide eyed, amused expression. I don’t know why we got so much pleasure in searching through our grocery store food bags. We knew exactly what was inside. Perhaps we thought something new and exciting would suddenly appear at the bottom…”oh look, a Snickers, I wonder where that came from?” As always, we had pot noodles, plenty of bananas, bread rolls, peanut butter, apples and oranges, peanuts (the ones in shells take longer to eat!) and other odds and ends. I voted not to try the train food for once although Cara gave in to temptation one night. She wound up throwing most of it away as it resembled something that our carriage boss had swept off the floor a mere ten minutes previous.

Into Shanghai We Rolled

Shanghai was cold. Not the “Gee, it’s a bit  chilly out here. I might grab my scarf,” type of weather. It was a “nope, absolutely not, I don’t care how hungry I am. I am NOT stepping one toe outside!” After the storybook weather of the Yunnan Province where we had clear blue skies and t-shirt spring breezes for many of the afternoons, this was an unwelcome change. We once again brought out the scarves, mittens, and thermals and became rosy cheeked travelers as we feared the bitter outdoors. One afternoon was all it took to see many of the sights and we were left with a remaining two days to find something to do in the streets of windy Shanghai…….and what do girls do when they are bored in a big city?? SHOP!!!!!

I was quick to comply when Cara mentioned an afternoon of shopping and we happily set off in search of the popular knockoff stores selling Prada, Gucci, Versace and whatever other designers they could copy. To my utter delight, there was an entire building dedicated to our fantasy shopping, three wonderful stories full of clothing (extremely overpriced), expensive watches (very poorly made fakes), jewelry (mostly tin and cheap), and, the best accessory ever invented for women (beside high heels of course)….. purses!! Store and stores of purses, bags, and wallets of all shapes and sizes. Yes, many (if not most) were poorly made imitations and were tagged with names such as “Cucci” instead of the proper labeling of Gucci. This was done so they wouldn’t get in trouble by the police when the five-oh’s made their frequent strolls through the building. However, little did the patrolmen know (or perhaps they knew but were being well paid not to know), each little shop had a secret room and this, my friends, is where the true treasures were held. It was just like being Alice in Wonderland……unless I’m getting my fairy tales mixed up here. If there is a will there is a way and Cara and I had it all figured out.

The trick was to go into a shop, browse through the poorly copied items with feign interest for about two minutes and then turn to your friend with a sorrowful expression and sigh, pretending that you just didn’t see anything that you liked and were so utterly upset that you could just break down in tears. Seeing your distress, the eager shopkeeper would rush up to you, lean in and whisper something about a secret room, doing some eyebrow raising gestures and a couple of winks and blinks, just to see if, maybe, you might be interested in seeing some real items. Trying not to laugh at his completely hilarious facial gestures and the FBI secret mission type of espionage that you were about to partake, you would turn to your friend and, pretending to not have visited twenty secret rooms already, whisper back in the same curious, eyebrow raising, wink, wink demeanor that “gee, yes”, we would certainly like to see this secret room. By golly, how much fun would that be?!?!

Then, after a bunch more whispers and winks and covert looks outside to check for police, and after a few knocks, scratches, and whistles through the back wall, a hidden door would magically open and we would be ushered back and locked in again. Many of the hidden rooms were so small that you didn’t have room to turn around, more or less breath and were crammed full of wallets, purses and handbags. They were fakes as well but were of a much higher quality.

Cara and I must have spent hours and hours combing through the stacks of Fendi, Prada, Gucci, and Coach, searching for the perfect bags. Unfortunately, I wound up only buying a wallet for myself as many of them were too poorly made to justify a purchase and I didn’t have too much extra room in my backpack. I’ll just have to save up and buy myself a real one down the road (when I have a job that is). Cara, on the other hand, plans to build herself a separate little closet in her bedroom solely for her new purse collection. At least we had fun on our shopping escapade and we certainly perfected our little act to a tea!