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The Bus Trip of Despair – Xian, Shannxi Province, China

TIME : 2016/2/27 15:50:53

The Bus Trip of Despair
Xian, Shannxi Province, China

While traveling through China in 2005 with an English friend, we were presented with the challenge of trying to get ourselves from Xi’an, a large city in central China, to Shanghai in the south east of the country. An incredibly simple operation you might say, but whether through bad luck, stupidity, incompetence or some kind of gypsy curse, we ended up on an epic cross country bus trip that neither of us will ever fully recover from.

Our troubles began when we arrived at Xi’an train station to catch our express train to Shanghai. We timed everything perfectly and had left ourselves a good 20 minutes to check in and board the train. The only thing standing between us and our transportation was a queue of around 700 people. Yes, it seemed that half the population of China had turned up and decided to block our path, and it would have taken a good two or three hours to wade through the seething ocean of humanity before us.

Tears began to roll my cheeks as I slowly came to realize we were never going to get to the train. However in a brief flash of desperate heroism I grabbed my friend and ignoring the queue completely, we barged in front of 700 angry Chinese people. “We’re gonna make it,” I cried out like a damsel in distress hopeful of rescue, but in the end it was to no avail. We were too late, we missed our train by 48 seconds.

The next 2 and a half hours were spent in a dizzying maze of queues, lines, ticket booths and police stations, in an attempt to get a refund. I shall leave the nauseating details of this ordeal to your imagination but let me assure you that I no longer fear hell. While part of this throng of Chinese people, we were subjected to pushing in, shoving, grabbing, fondling, grinning, spitting and stroking, not all of it unwelcome. Eventually we left the train station close to death from exhaustion but with our money safely back in our hands.

We were forced to spend an extra night in Xi’an, and the next day we decided to take an over night sleeper bus to Shanghai. We bought the tickets no problem, we boarded the bus no problem, and we were assured at every turn that the bus trip would only take 15 hours, which was amazing. It was a good deal shorter in duration than the train we had tried to take the day before and I began to wonder why we hadn’t taken this bus in the first place. Everything was going our way, and the sky was blue and the birds were chirping. We set off for Shanghai at 3:00pm in the afternoon on Monday the 24th of January 2005. What follows is a brief journal of that fateful journey:

Monday, 3:01pm: The bus trip is just beginning and the men are all in high spirits. The bus is of an odd configuration, and obviously of Chinese design as there is no way any other culture would have constructed a mode of transportation so bone-reshapingly uncomfortable. There are three rows of bunks that run along the bus, with a top and a bottom bunk in each row. Each bunk is made of aluminum and is similar in size to a small coffin or crib. It is, however, possible to fit your whole body into your bed, provided you are either a midget or somehow able to detach your legs from your body. The head stewardess on the bus has taken a keen dislike to me, on account of me not being a native of China. She had indicated to me through her actions many times already that she would like to kick me in the testicles, and I think the only thing stopping her is the fact that I am a paying customer.

Monday, 7:30pm: The Chinese are quite a pleasant race to live among, until you happen to be crammed into a small space with 30 of them in close proximity. In the past few hours I have been witness to a veritable smorgasbord of farting, burping, scratching, spitting, sneezing, coughing, sniffing, and on one occasion having an occupant of the bus place his buttocks over my face and almost suffocating me. I can only assume that he was either trying to sit down and honestly didn’t notice I was there, or he attempted to kill me. Its a good thing there are only 10 hours to go.

Monday, 9:30pm: We have a quick toilet and food break at a small petrol station. My muscles have defiantly atrophied on account of being crammed into 1 square metre for the past few hours, and the fastest form of locomotion I can manage now that I’m out of the bus is a sort of stiff legged hobble. I’m not really hungry so I wander about the petrol station, admiring the huge tanks of petrol, and the 4 Chinese attendants who insist on smoking while standing next to them. My traveling companion looks a little worse for wear and I can imagine that I would present a similar visage, only I’m too scared to look in a mirror.

Tuesday, 12:01am: There is a small television on the bus for entertainment but after three consecutive Jackie Chan movies in Chinese I can feel my self beginning to lose my sanity. The 3 green pixies flying outside my window also agree. The bus is endowed with a small toilet, about the size of a washing machine, which requires an incredible amount of dexterity to use properly. To answer nature’s call while using this particular lavatory, you must crouch to stop your head from being bashed by the roof, while placing one hand on a metal pole for support and the other on the door to prevent it from swinging open, as there is no lock. All this is done while the bus is moving at over 100 kilometres per hour, shuddering and swaying from side to side. As we are few hours into the journey the toilet has taken on a rather unique odor, on account of the frequent “near misses” of those trying to use the toilet.

Tuesday, 12:42am: I am sooooo bored. There is nothing to do. All that I can think to do for entertainment is see how many times I can hit my head on the metal pole in front of me before passing out, then attempt to beat my previous record.

Tuesday, 12:43am: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, 12:44am: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, 12:45am: I think I’ll try sleeping instead.

Tuesday, 10:00am: It is now morning and I am still alive. I actually managed to get a few hours of sleep, which was warmly welcomed. The main hindrance to my attempts to snooze were the frequent trips to the toilet made by the occupants of the bus during the night. For some reason every person who wanted to use the W.C. had to walk past my bunk, stop, cough, light a cigarette, and then ‘accidentally’ walk all over my face. Why didn’t I take the top bunk? You may also notice the time is 10:00am, and we were supposed to arrive in Shanghai at 6am . I keep asking the angry steward where we are and when we can expect to arrive at our destination, but all I get are stares of contempt while she clenches her fist as if to punch me.

Tuesday, 3:00pm: 24 hours have passed. I keep trying to read the road signs in Chinese to find out where we are. I have not endeared myself to the steward, and she is even bitchier than before because I insist on pointing out that is three o’clock, and she promised that the latest we would arrive in Shanghai was midday. I’ve began to pull out my hair to make sure I’m still conscious, the pain is soothing.

Tuesday, 7:00pm: The guy behind me has been sitting up in his bunk and burping for the past half an hour. I don’t know why. He won’t tell me, and he won’t stop. Burp, burp, burp.

Tuesday, 9:00pm: We pull into Shanghai. It has been 30 hours. I stumble out of the bus and don’t know whether I am dreaming or not. The fresh air hurts my lungs, and the vast open space of the car park scares me. We made it, but I know in my heart that we will carry the horrible mental scar of this bus trip for the rest of our lives, and that I will be recounting this story in 20 years time to a therapist.