The train to Nanning was to take 30 hours and left from Shanghai South Train Station.
We arrived at the station after being booted out of the hotel at about 1pm with our train at 1701 (why not 1700 who knows) Anyway, the station itself is like some airport brought back in time from 2050, we went to drop our bags off so we could mooch about and the luggage lady tried it on, she said it was 15yen per bag. When I said “so its 15 yen for me, but 8 yen for him who has just dropped his bag off” suddenly her grasp of the English language was gone. I left in a strop and we went up to departures to chill out. We found some lockers and ditched out bags for 5yen and went to explore. I recon someone built the station on the sly since no one else seemed to have cottoned on to the fact that there were thousands of people in the station and nothing for them to do outside it. So we got back on the subway and went to stock up on noodles and water from a supermarket we had found a few stops away at Zhongshan Park.
When we boarded the train half hour early it was the usual organized chaos I had come to expect, luckily a Dr from Hong Kong had befriended us and when our gate changed he pointed us in the right direction.
The carriage itself is basically in open compartments 3 bunks high. Of course I had got the top bunk which meant not only did we have to trek the thousand step ladder which went against every health and safety law invented but I had about 12 inch between my slim figure and the ceiling. But that was not all, we were at first grateful to be laid right underneath the air con – Which was cold, but far better than being sweltering – Well, there is no smoking on the train which is great, the Chinese certainly do like a smoke or ten. So I’m laid there and suddenly I smell cigarette smoke?? Thinking someone had sparked up I’m looking round and saw nothing. Then I realized! The air con wasn’t actually air con at all, it was a fan with an inlet in the door way and everyone who was out there smoking was simply providing all those of us in the carriage who didn’t smoke with a constant supply of nicotine. Great.
Now, 30 hours is a long time however you look at it. The kids did really well, Abi had me in stitches when we played I Spy, she said it began with ‘I’ and Charlie and I were guessing for ages, she kept giving us clues and still we couldn’t get it. Eventually we gave in and she told us…. “Teeth” I said that’s not ‘I’ Its ‘T’ she said yeah I know I wanted to make it hard for you…. Charlie came out with arguably his most ridiculous question ever “Dad, how can someone with no arms get arrested” I am sure you understand, with questions like that time certainly did not fly.
But it was great to be amongst the Chinese people, basically those with money fly, those with a little less travel in soft sleeper (closed compartments) and those with nothing travel hard sleeper (what we were in) People were walking round selling things from homemade food, to fruit, to things they had made themselves. I really do feel sorry for anyone coming to China to go on organized tours etc, they really missing real China. Anyway, during the day I either people watched, sat and tried to convince people know how much they spoke to me in Chinese I didn’t understand a word they were saying or was sat looking out the window at some of the most amazing scenery I’ve seen. It amazed me that people actually did work in rice fields, or that men were still pulled on ploughs by an Ox. The landscape was breathtaking as we took in Central and Southern China. Probably the most touching thing I saw was a family working in the rice field up to their knees in mud, even the kids were working. One can’t have been older than Abi.
What seemed like a year later we pulled into Nanning Station. The most amazing journey was over, and as grateful as I was for the experience – I was glad my bed was beckoning. It was near on 10pm the day after we had set off.