Getting on the train:
In a state of panic, I started to push through the queue with my luggage attached to me, apologising and pointing to my watch, ticket in hand. They all understood and let me pass. I started to shove my stuff onto the security conveyor belt, pushing people out of the way. At one point, I struggled to get my bag on my back and a lady started to help me. I quickly thanked her and ran to the hall. The signs were in mandarin and I had no idea where my platform was. I shouted “Shanghai” to a random man and he looked at me in disbelief and then he started to panic too. I started pointing at the board, shouted “Shanghai” again and “platform”. He looked flustered and said 1 and then 6. Stress levels were now at boiling point. “1 or 6?” I asked and he signalled 6 in Chinese on his hand, which is similar to how we would signal a telephone to a child (thumb and pinky outstretched with the 3 middle fingers folded). I then ran, and ran, cursed and ran some more. The man at the barrier didn’t even check my ticket. I just kept running carrying 13kg on my back and 7kg on my front. I passed the trains threshold, the trains horn blared, the doors closed and I was ready to pass out. Behind me two others had just made it; our faces red, sweating, a carriage full of people smiling and giggling quietly at us as we panted loudly, leaning against the train walls.
Getting to my carriage:
Once I had stabilised my breathing and regained some strength, I asked the train attendant which carriage I was supposed to be on, she said 2… I was on 15. I then had to make a gruelling journey from the back of the train to the front. The train was full and I had to apologise the entire way as my bag hit everyone in the carriage.
Eventually I knew that I was closer as the carriages were getting more and more crowded. There were people packed into the gangways, toilets, people sitting on the floor, leaning against seats and suitcases. The next two carriages were going to be a struggle. I had forgotten that although my seat was cheap as it was a ‘hard seat’ ticket, there were also cheaper ‘standing’ tickets where people would have to stand or sit on the floor for the next 15 hours.
After an exhausting amount of time, I got to my seat and there was a man sitting in it. He looked at me and moved straight away. I was hot, my face was pink and beads of sweat were now dripping from my face.
After resting for 10 minutes, I started to type up my Beijing blog post but nature called and I needed to use the bathroom. I turned to the guy next to me and said “toilet?” and in perfect English he told me the direction. I looked at him in shock, thanked him and went.
After I got back we chatted for a while and soon got onto the topic of getting a train from Shanghai to Xi’an and which ticket would be the cheapest. He checked online and found me two but they arrived at 4:30am and I wasn’t sure if that was ideal. We then discussed train stations and he told me that the train we were on wasn’t arriving at Shanghai Railway Station. Panic started to set in again. There was a discrepancy between the words train station and railway station. I was starting to feel stressed again, when suddenly three other people sitting next to us told us in perfect English that they were the same thing and that I needn’t worry.
The shock on my face must have been a picture as they smiled and laughed at my reaction. I couldn’t believe that they spoke English. I hadn’t met anybody (other than scammers in Beijing) who could speak English fluently. But they told me that most young people spoke some English in Shanghai and that’s where they were from. I couldn’t stop smiling at my good fortune. They then showed me cheap train prices and wrote down the Mandarin translations for the ticket in my notebook.
I honestly don’t know who is looking out for me on this crazy journey that I am on but I am thankful to them every day. I am truly grateful for every person who has suddenly/miraculously turned up to help me and endeavour to return these random acts of kindness.
The world truly is a wonderful place.