Pretty much universally everyone has the same reaction...
"You're going from Hong Kong to Shanghai by train?" accompanied by a look of shock, disdain or pity.
Yes. By train.
The reason was simple- I had the time, and it was different.
(And we all know I strive for "different".)
I've flown quite enough this year, thanks. Not that I couldn't appreciate the 2 hour flight vs 20 hours in a rumblin' bumblin' stumblin' train filled with people who consider me a frightening freak of nature. But I have them time to spare, so why not try the train.
Overall it wasn't too bad. I got a soft sleeper- the compartment sleeps 4, and there is actually a sort of a mattress on the bunk. There were no availabilities for the deluxe soft- they are two-to-a-compartment and looked quite comfy.
We loaded on at the Hung Hom station in Hong Kong... A surprisingly easy process... it only took about 20 minutes from the time they opened the gates to the passengers until the time the train pulled out.
When I got to my compartment, I found I was in the upper bunk. There was also two older Chinese ladies quartered in Car 7, compartment 2. They got a look at me and there was a quick exchange in Mandarin.
I smiled and said "Ni Hao" and proceeded to sit on the bench seat outside the compartment since I didn't want to sit on someone else's bed, and I didn't feel like climbing to my bunk yet.
The way the compartments are designed, everyone sits on the lower bunks until bed time. It helps if you can communicate with your roomies, otherwise there is some very uncomfortable silence. I figured they would be a little more comfortable if I wasn't underfoot.
As the train got underway one of the ladies went out for a bit... At about 20 minutes into the trip the railroad equivalent of a purser comes around and gets your passport and visa number and takes your ticket, then they give you a card that identifies your compartment and bunk. The lady who left must have complained or voiced concern about rooming with a Mo Guai...
As she took my info, she asked if I would mind moving to a different compartment. I told her no problem.
She lead me to a different compartment, and I had two new roomies and (Koeschi be praised!) a lower bunk. Even better, one of my new roomies spoke English.
Even more better, she WAS English.
Anna B, of Norwich England. An angel, really.
My other roomie was ancient Chinese man- 85 or so years old... He was very quiet and unassuming. He had his ever-present tea cannister, a plastic bag for a suitcase, and a giant can of fish for dinner.
ACM - Ancient Chinese Man
As the train rumbled off to the north we sat and talked... Anna was on the short side of a long vacation around Australia and Indochina. Her flight back to London was out of Shanghai and her port of entry was Hong Kong. Her itinerary didn't cover how to get from Hong Kong to Shanghai, so she wound up on the train.
Ancient Chinese Man put his tea on to steep and got out a big can of fish- some kind of smoked-preserved-spiced fish in a pull top can... The problem was that he didn't have enough arm strength to get the top off... I popped the top for him and the stench from this can filled the compartment.
Anna and I beat a hasty retreat and headed down to the restaurant car where we wound up sitting with a leprous crack addict from Norway. It wasn't surprising that he was sitting alone. He was just recovering from dengue fever and had huge patches of dead skin on his arms... He would also lapse into bouts of profanity and gibberish, part a narrative of his travels in Indonesia and part random curse words.
"Well.. You can know how it are in the Thailand. The girls...and the car, I didn't eat the keys. Shit on all the piss!" and then would mumble to himself and expect us to respond to his inarticulate rambling.
We stayed long enough to have a bite of food then made a hasty retreat...
Strange... I didn't see the fishtail on the menu.
(Hey Jaden- You're right... Fish just doesn't photograph well.
But it helps if it doesn't look like a plate of ass to begin with.)
I had a disappointing pork and chive dish, and Anna had a more appetizing-looking Chicken and peanut dish that might have been the equivalent of Kung Pao Chicken if it had actually had any flavor.
When we returned to the car ACM was in bed, so we followed suit.
I read a few chapters of Michener and was asleep by 9:30.
The bed was quite comfortable, if just a bit short. The compartment was 6'8", because as I lay flat out on the bunk, I had about an inch and a half of head and foot room.
I was up about 5:30 and watched several hours of countryside roll past the windows of the train...
Lots of farmland...
Lots of semi-finished houses and buildings
Several (maybe 5 or 6) brick factories.
There a nice little park with a demon-proof bridge...
(Demons can only travel in straight lines, so they can't get to the little teahouse because of the zig-zags on the bridge.
I also saw these small structures up on hillsides. At first I thought they might be like storage sheds of something... (And in a macabre way, they are.)
Some were very basic...
and some were more ornate...
Sometimes there were quite a few of them clustered on the same hillside overlooking the train tracks...
I'm pretty sure they are mausoleums... And the closer we got to Shanghai, the more there were. Creepy.
We made it into Shanghai Station just before noon. ACM ambled off into the city.
Anna headed off to her hostel on the west side of Shanghai. I got stuck waiting for my bag to be off-loaded from the luggage van. It had cost me 70HKD to check the bag, and it cost me one additional RMB to get my bag out of hock...
The taxi brokers were out in force at Shanghai station.
To get to my hotel it would normally be a 25 RMB trip at the absolute most.
They were quoting me 100rmb. WTF?!
I got into a shouting match with one of them.
Taxi Broker:"100 RMB. Long trip.
Yours Truly: "Long trip my ass. Tell him to run the meter."
TB: "Oh no. Much traffic."
YT: "Much traffic! Bullshit. Hun dan!"
TB: "Hun dan? You are Shanghinese?"
YT: "Save it for tourists. Wo bu shi er bai wu..."
20 rmb and 10 minutes later I was my hotel on Nan Yang Lu, right across from Big Bamboo.
Home sweet home for the next 10 days.
TBG out (out drinking at Big Bamboo. Heh.)