Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"I'm sorry sir, but we don't have any tickets...."

Said the ticket lady in the Xi'an train station in her best chinglish (I hope I'm not offending anyone by using this term).

" do I have any options?" I asked.

"Hard seat?" was the reply.

I grimaced at the thought of that, but really didn't have much choice. "Alright, I'll do that."

My previous experience with Chinese trains had been excellent. They're clean, fast, the people are friendly, and most importantly the beer is usually cheap. One notable exception from this list is that there are always available beds. From what I understood, it was virtually impossible for a Chinese train to be full because they just kept adding cars. So imagine my surprise when I found out that I couldn't get the hard sleeper I had been accustomed to.

"16 hours and overnight...I can handle that," I thought, "How bad can it be?" Famous last words.

Ironically, I had heard a horror story from a guy who gone the hard seat route a couple of days prior. I convinced myself that this wasn't going to happen to me...I'm sure we've all done that once or twice.

Finally the time arrives for me to board the train. Upon entry I realize that this carriage holds 120 people...far more than the 66 in the hard sleepers or 24 in the soft sleepers. I took my seat only to find a woman breastfeeding her baby directly across from me, not to mention the inherent lack of room for a 6'0 (180 cm?) white guy and that the backrest was perpendicular to the seat (without any reclining action). My first thought was, "How am I gonna sleep on this thing?" I can tell you that that question was never answered.

The train took off, only to stop ever hour and pick up more people. By the end, I think we had about 150 people in the car. Most were in the aisles, some in the bathroom, some in the sink area, and some by the exit. A lot of these guys stood for the better part of 10 hours...yikes.

There is another thing that goes along with being the only white person in your carriage...anyone that speaks any sort of english is gonna talk to you. And did I ever draw a crowd. So much so that people were asking the poor lady with the baby to switch seats. One guy also woke up a older woman to ask if she would move. Both weren't havin' any of that. Such courtesy.

I did get in some questions about Mao and Zhou Enlai and Deng, but trying to comprehend poor english at 3 AM is not all that easy. We talked well into the wee hours of the morning and finally I had to bring out some Canadian money to draw their attention to something else.

Shortly thereafter, they went to "sleep." This whole sleeping bit just wasn't working for me, so I sat there just staring blankly out the window. Beijing eventually came into view and we finally got off the train. The parting words by my new found friends were "Don't ever forget us." How could I? I had just spent the most memorable train trip of my life asking them about contraversial political figures in Chinese history. What a night!

One plus out of the ordeal was that I developed a fancy for quail eggs. Can't get any decent ones in Canada (that I know of), let alone India.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Gotta love the Indian transportation system....

Just spent the weekend travelling to Mussorie (from Chandigarh) by way of local bus. My question is this: what can't happen on an local Indian bus? The only thing I didn't see was farm animals...although they could've been on the roof. Having to stand for an extended period, or having to sit on a railing or having someone sit on your lap for 7 hours, in a hot bus is a true Indian experience. I must give the drivers of these buses maximum credit...whatever they're getting paid, it's not enough. It's not easy manuevering a bus up or down a narrow road with endless switchbacks, especially at the high speeds these guys like to fly around corners at. This reckless abandon equals one thing...people tossin' their cookies. You can always tell if a bus has come from a hill station by looking at the side of the bus. Pleasant thought, isn't it?

And there really doesn't seem to be a standard method for purchasing tickets. Sometimes you buy them from the guy outside the bus, sometimes from the ticket window, and other times on the bus. The latter method often results in complete and utter pandemonium when the bus pulls up...especially the last bus of the day. People seem to be willing to risk being flattened by a bus just to get a seat. But who can really blame them? There aren't that many seats available to begin with. Even my limited mathematical skills tell me that 60 people can't fit in 36 seats. Any chance I could ride on the roof?

And then you have the guys that stand on the side of the road and try to flag the bus down. As the bus slows down you're thinking "I really don't think there's room for another person...let alone 5." Where there's a will, there's a way...I suppose. At each stop you hope that at least someone is getting off, so there might be a little bit of room for you to move your leg that has fallen asleep. At the longer stops, if you don't get back on the bus before everyone else, it'll start rolling away while you're running with it holding onto the railing. It's like doing your own movies stunts, except without safety measures in place.

When you finally reach your destination, you say to yourself, "Wow. What a story that's gonna make at cocktail parties."

I'd love to hear about other people's crazy bus stories. Post a comment if you have one.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

About Me

My name is Kent Babin and I enjoy long walks on the Great Wall of China. How's that for a personal ad?

I am currently taking a year off from my country, Canada, to see what the rest of the world is doing...seeing it on TV just doesn't do it for me. When I'm in Canada, I go to the University of Calgary and study Management. And more specifically, International Business. I only have 2 more semesters left, so when I go back to Canada in January, I will be able to graduate in August. After that I'm like most people..."I have no idea what I want to do!" I'll worry about that when the time comes. For now, I'm just enjoying living in different parts of the world and doing things a little bit out of the ordinary.

So what else do you need to know about me? Well...I was in Mongolia for 3 months (Jan-Mar) volunteering and China for 3 weeks travelling. Now I am in India doin' the AIESEC thing for just over 6 months. For any of you that are interested in seeing pictures of Mongolia or China, go to my
picture website. There you can see more of the above, and lots of yaks too.