I should have known that I was in for a crazy ride when I decided to go for the cheapest option possible to get to Shanghai for the weekend - a night train in 2nd. Class. In my defense, I am neither aware of the different commuting options in China, nor of the gap that separates First Class from "the people" (lower case). Although, it's not like I've never had this experience in the past. At several times I had the choice between the top quality comfortable (and yet affordable) commute for tourists, or the sketchy cheap transport for the working class of the country. I should have known better. But, then again, one of the main opportunities of being here for three months was to experience the "real" China, not the embellished upper class version the Tourism Industry is fooling foreigners with. That's the main difference between a 'traveller' and a 'tourist': The traveller doesn't know where he's going. The tourist doesn't know where he's been. I'd rather be outside the matrix! In the Real World!
The man on the train
Looking at my ticket, my understanding was that each passenger had a dedicated seat. I soon understood that the seat number didn't mean shit when I tried making my way through a thick cloud of cigarette smoke to access my wagon. It's the jungle in here - No rules apply! No surprises here, my seat was already occupied. So, I just went a little bit further to find a seat next to a man accompanied by two young ladies (possibly their wife and daughter). I figured I'd be alright if I sat with a family. Not one second passed since the train started moving that the man across the hallway stood up to grab his hand luggage. He opened it and started pulling out objects one after the other to place them on my table. Among these objects were a beer (first things first, right?), two tiny baloney-style processed meat sausages, a belt, pants and a pair of brand new socks. Unpacking a new pair of socks definitely calls for celebration. Good thing he had a beer at hand!
The man then stood up in the middle of the hallway like the Manchurian Candidate and - with no embarrassment whatsoever - started unbuttoning his shorts and dropped them to his ankles. He decided it was time for him to change into something more comfortable for the journey. He probably knew all along that he was going to talk with the young lady next to me. That's probably why he thought it was a good idea to start shaving while seated and - of course - emptying his electric razor right on the floor. When he finished grooming himself, he then asked one of the ladies (the oldest one) if they could trade places so he can enjoy his meal comfortably. He then engaged conversation with the young lady as he started chewing on his sausage and sipping on his beer.
Everyone else on the train
Although this was a night train (Departure: 18:15 - Arrival: 06:15), it seems like no one was in the mood for sleeping. We were very far from the airline experience - where the cabin crew dims the lights and interrupts the catering service to allow all passengers to relax a few hours. Honestly, I could have not told the difference between day and night during this commute. Everything just kept on going all night long - the people talking loud (I mean, LOUD!), the train staff announcing each station by yelling up and down the hallway like the wagon was on fire, merchants passing by every hour trying to push sales. Even the man described in the previous paragraph yawned loudly every hour (thanks for the time check!). Of course, lights were fully on and the air conditioning to the max. Good thing I brought my sleeping mask, ear plugs and a blanket (It's not my first rodeo!). We finally arrived to the Shanghai Railway Station. I put everything into my backpack and walked off the train as I was still trying to align my pupils with my eye holes. First thing I did was to try and upgrade my return ticket from a seat to a bed. Tough luck... the return train was already sold out. Damn it! Oh well... It's around 6h30am. I'm on my way to my hostel to check in and relax a bit before exploring what the "City Above the Sea" has to offer.