So long before we ever came to China, we requested to go to Yangzhou, a prefect on the Hunan/Guangxi boarder and only three hours from Guilin. During the school assignments, though, we found out that for some reason Yangzhou was not taking and new foreign teachers. We were hearing rumors from problems with the government to the schools ran out of money. So, instead, we were supposed to go to Huai Hua, a smaller city but in a beautiful location and with brand new apartments. We even met the assistant Foreign Affair Officer who came all the way to Yangshou to accompany his English teachers back to the school. We were all excited and were going to be the last to go on the following Wednesday. We had not gotten much of a chance to sight-see in Yangshou, so we were happy for the delay. We found out we would be going with Shaun and Ross, to very nice and fun boys from England.
On Sunday morning, though, we were called into Ping’s office and told things had changed again. Huai Hua had a new principle and they were unsure if they were even going to keep their English program. So, instead were were going to Li Xian, small city in the very north of Hunan that had a more stable English program and had an opening immediately, like now. So we agreed and found ourself in a van that afternoon on the way to Guilin to catch a train to Changsha, the capital of Hunan, with Colin and Haraun (Aaron). Colin and Haraun would not be at our school, but in the same town. They would be at the middle school, and we would be at the Tech school. I was excited to go, though, I had never been on a train before. The only thing I was sad about was we were traveling at night, so I wouldn’t get to see the country. Oh well, I would probably get motion sick anyway (which I did).
So anyway, Seth and I have a ton of luggage. We have found that taking all the luggage allowed by aviation standards falls under the can but shouldn’t category. Taking 4+ bags apiece has been a traveling nightmare. We got to the station and even with both of us, the boys, and our translator Beyond, we could not carry all the luggage. We finally found a very helpful “porter” (a guy who just hangs outside of the train station offering to carry luggage for money) who carried two of our bags for 10 Kuai a piece. He was totally worth it. When the train arrives, you have 5 minutes to board. He helped us take our luggage to the terminal and then came back later and carried them onto the train. I almost wanted to tip him he was so awesome, but tipping is an insult in China (one reason I love it).
There are several classes of Chinese trains, standing, hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. We ended up in a soft sleeper. But there is no place for luggage. There is a small rack above the walking aisle and some room under the lowest bed, and that is it. Between the four of us, we took up an entire bed and under it, so Seth and I were now down to 1 bed. At first we thought we would just snuggle real close in one bed, but no. They are just too small. The cabin shuts the lights down for sleeping at 10 pm. It is really dark in there too. Seth and I were on the top bunk, a Chinese man was in the middle, and our luggage was on the bottom. Haraun and Colin were on the middle and top bunks opposite us, and a German fellow was on the bottom. Seth and I tried sleeping on the top bunk, but it was too crowded, too hot, and I started getting really dizzy really quick. I decided to climb down and let him sleep. I tried sitting in one of the fold down chairs in the aisle, but train employees kept walking by and I would have to move. The German fellow wasn’t in his bunk, he was down visiting with a bunch of other foreigners at the end of the car, so I sat on his bunk. I got out my ipod and just listened to it for a long time, waiting for my tummy to calm down. At one point, the German came back and he found me in his bunk, but he just said “Oh, that is OK, I don’t want to sleep, I just need something from my bag.” So I was able to comandeer his bed for the night, score! But, there was not to be much sleeping, at least for us Americans. The German and his friends started playing drinking games and shouted “Gan Bei!” (empty glass) all night among other loud things. They were so noisy! Somehow, the Chinese man was able to sleep very soundly, and also loudly, all night. He snored so loud we could hear him above the drunker foreigners! I amanaged to doze off a couple of times, but hardly got any restful sleep.
The train arrived about 5:30 am at the station. We loaded up our luggage by the door so we would be able to escape the train quickly. Once off, we were unsure of what to do with so much luggage, but again, a helpful porter came to our rescue. NOTE! If you ever come to China, don’t automatically trust the train porters! If you do not even have basic Chinese skills to ask how much they cost, don’t use them. They will take advantage of you and possibly will steal from you. We waited for our FAO to meet us outside the train station. She arrive around 6:00 am. She took one look at our luggage and said “we may need to rent a truck.” Thankfully, Colin and Haraun’s FAO had rented a van for them. So since we were going to the same city just different schools, we were able to put our luggage in the van and ride with Cindy and her husband to Li Xian. The ride was about 5 hours,. We stopped and had a very nice lunch at Colin and Haraun’s school and then, finally, headed to our apartment. All I wanted to do was find our new home and take a nap! But, alas, the apartment was horrid! I was so exhausted and in such shock at the awfulness that when Cindy left, I just burst into tears.