Monday, April 12, 2010

Night on the Train

I just got back from a quick trip to Beijing with my friend Sara, a fellow teacher who lives in Rizhao.  We are both on small teams in relatively small towns, so we wanted a weekend to see friends, do some shopping, and go to Sunday service.

We took a night train home, as I usually do when traveling from Beijing, and I invite you to share the experience with me now:

The Setting:  Four bed sleeper compartment; luggage and IKEA bags on the floor, people on the beds.

The Cast: 
Alison and Sara, two sleepy American English teachers
Man1 and Man2, two middle-aged Chinese men in suits.

Scene 1:  11:00 pm.  Sara and I sit cross-legged on our beds eating Oreos and studying Chinese.  Man1 and Man2 arrive in the compartment, take of their shoes, and climb to their upper berths.  They stretch out on their beds and commence falling asleep.  The train departs. 

Scene 2:  11:45 pm.  Sara and I finally realize the lights don't shut off automatically.  Finding the light switch, we switch off the light and cuddle in.

11:46 pm.  Snoring detected. 

11:47-12:30:  Sara appears to be sleeping.  Man2 is definitely sleeping, unless he is the sort of gentleman who breathes like a saw while awake. I futilely try to listen to the rumble of train on tracks below instead of the rumble of Man2 above.

12:30 am:  I remember the earplugs that I've carried around since coming to Asia.  A quick search in the purse reveals nothing.  Drat!  Took them out last week, for no good reason. 

1:30 am:  If I'm going to be awake, I might as well be doing something.  I flip on my reading light and start studying Chinese.  Man1 above is apparently awake.  I can hear him sipping water.  He can hear me eating cookies.  I selfishly crunch louder in hopes of awaking the snoring Man2.

2:00 am - 3:00 am:  Tossing and turning.  I learn that putting my fingers in my ears provides temporarily relief, but my arm falls over as soon as I nod off.

3:38 am:  Still awake.  I decide to search for earplugs once more.  I unzip my bag, fumble, around, reach in, and retrieve... Yes!  My hot pink ear plugs.  In they go; peace at last.

Scene 3:  3:38 am - 7:00 am.  Sweet slumber.

Epilogue:  In my night-time fumblings for snacks, books, and earplugs, I somehow knocked an important card off the table.  It is the card that the conductor gives you in exchange for your ticket, so he knows your destination and can awaken you before you arrive.  The conductor came at 7:15 to collect the card and tell me we were near Qufu, but alas!  It was nowhere to be found.  He stood wordlessly in the doorway while I rifled through bags, looked in my shoes, lifted up everything around me, and put it down again.  Eventually I was belly-flat on the floor looking under the bed, where that pesky little card was found at last.  Ah, embarassing.


  1. Good story, I will make sure to bring earplugs when I come out there. With our group of 5, should we get a 6 bed cabin, or maybe you and Grimes could snuggle in one? Haven't heard "Drat" in a while. Did you know it's a euphemism for "God rot" ??!

  2. Nice, Alison. Well played. I appreciate the time references, as well as the very Alison way of telling things :)

  3. I enjoyed this :) You'd think after all our years of vacations with Dad you would know that earplugs are an essential part of any trip. (Sorry if you're reading this, Dad)

    I'm game for snuggling if it's cheaper haha. So other than was your first soft sleeper experience?

  4. Bryan: Apparently I'll have to stop using "drat" and go with the even cleaner "Oh, crumb."

    I think when we go to Beijing we'll take the 6-bed hard sleeper berths. They are not too different from soft-sleeper, and they're cheaper. I also think the people are a bit friendlier.

    Rachael: Glad you enjoyed it. I admit it was mostly composed in my head while I was sleepless on the train.

    Emily: My first soft sleeper experience wasn't too bad, but I don't think it's really that much better than hard sleeper. Apparently there is a special waiting lounge for soft sleeper passengers, but Sara and I were running far too late to take advantage of that.