Dear little baby infant laptop,
Don't go to Shangrao.
Just don't do anything that would make you have to go through it or near it or involving it.
I will forever feel guilty that I insisted on adding Huangshan to our itinerary because well ffs it's one of the top five sights in all of China. But because the weather for our climb was so horrendous, it was kind of a waste. And because of that wasted visit, we had to get a train from Huangshan to Guilin - but the only route featured a 4 hour layover in Shangrao.
I SAID DON'T DO THAT!
We amused ourselves for the first hour by trying to get these crazy Chinese self-heating meals to cook, which was hilarious and actually very tasty for an instant pot meal. The instruction took us half an hour to decipher well enough with Google Translate's photo option. We were nervous because there are two liquid packs - one for water, which goes with the rice to cook it, and one that goes with the heat pack to make the boiling water - that Google translate identified as 'FEVER WATER'! So, it's chemicals! Don't eat that one!
Literally within SECONDS, the entire explosive device we just created puffed out and made teapot sounds because the toxic liquid-heating pad combo was NO JOKE and it was already boiling, and we forgot to open the top lid's vent. We hurriedly fumbled to use the spork provided to jab it and luckily jabbed it enough that the whole thing didn't explode all over the train station. Although, while that would have sucked for us, it would have been good to do to the annoying people around us. Anyway, you wait 15 minutes for it to cook, and literally the entire time there is ample steam coming out of that vent. Food science is AWESOME. I'm so impressed by these meal packs in this country. I prefer the non-threatening kind that just requires boiling water, which the trains (and stations, so far) have, but when you don't have access to it, these are awesome. And fun.
And then, we had three more hours to kill.
It was another Chinese train of the old sort, none of that fancy G train (the Beijing to Shanghai leg we took) stuff, but I was okay with that. We've had plenty of these sorts of trains, and as long as it wasn't worse than before it would be fine.
Guess whaaat, it was so much worse that it was the worst night yet.
First of all, the train was grosser than any previous one. Dingy, dirty, and jfc the bathrooms. I'll show you pictures because I just cannot do it justice with words. So gross and wet with things I don't want us to think about. The beds were dirty, the sheets were stained, the walls were yellowed with age and browned with lack of cleaning in the past decade or so and who knows what else. I keep expecting to find like "Ming was here 1778" scratched into a wall. Our pictures through the windows are just pictures of filth.
Next, the bottom bunks don't lift up for storage like they did on every single other train we took. And the beds are less than a foot off the ground, so we can't squeeze anything under except our boots. So our huge packs and the strangers' suitcases are just in the middle of the floor, so we have no floor. Whenever we want to leave the room we have to climb on the two bottom bunks and jump out to the doorway. It's a f-ing travesty.
But worst of all. Jesus Christ China. Worst of all, the two other beds in our cabin are occupied by two women, and each of them has a CHILD. So because no one gives a shit about laws here, we are six people in this tiny room, us two, two Chinese women, and two children, about 2 years old and maybe 5 years old. When we came in at midnight, exhausted, they were sleeping in the two bottom bunks - meaning, someone was sleeping in my bed. Even though they had paid for tickets for one bottom and one top. We couldn't get into the room to put our bags anywhere (we didn't realize that they didn't fit underneath/that the bottoms didn't lift up yet) because their giant suitcase and all the kids' shoes and crap were all over the floor. We had to wake them up. One of the attendants came by to see why we were still standing outside the room and we tried to explain that someone was in my bed. Someone's been sleeping in myyy bed. She woke up the woman and child and asked them to move up top. Instead of doing that, they all kind of just stood there for 15 minutes. Meanwhile the young woman was sleeping and kept motioning to turn the light off. Like f you lady you're tired? We are too! Maybe you should have taken the correct beds instead of just planning to make people with the correct tickets move. In retrospect, I feel kind of terrible for making the older lady and the younger child move in the middle of the night, but I think considering I peed during this awful night more than ever because I didn't sleep, it was better to bother them a lot once than bother them by stepping on them every 45 minutes. ALSO TAKE THE CORRECT SPOT.
Finally she got out and then got on the top bunk, and the attendant was like, all good? And I was like, dude, no, I'm not sleeping on these dirty sheets that these people were sleeping on! So she gathered them up and put them on top so I could get the "clean" ones down but they were still so disgusting. And there were no sheets, actually, just a pillow and a quilt with a duvet that was not actually on, just kind of a suggestion of a duvet that showed you how disgusting the inside comforter was, and you were supposed to taco yourself inside.
It took a while to get settled because there was no room to stand by the bed. My bag is just inside the door next to their suitcase, which knocked into me all night. It was so smoky all night that I had to sleep with my pollution mask, which made it even harder to get enough breath so all night I felt like I had someone sitting on my chest preventing me from breathing. The mask at least maybe made the air I was breathing better? I guess? but I couldn't sleep with it on. I chose maybe preventing some lung cancer over sleep. We really are in the sticks of China now. No more Beijing and Shanghai fanciness and semblance of propriety. Raw China is wild and kind of frightening.
The children of course got up at 6am or so and were SO F-ING LOUD. And the mother would just respond to them in an equally loud voice. Great job continuing the tradition of ignoring other people and any idea of politeness. They just continued to talk and sing and stuff all morning. And we can't really do anything because there's no room to sit. I'm typing this with my knees bent into my chest and the computer on my knees because there's no other option. I'm like in a small cage with barriers formed by suitcases and child's toys - three of which, by the way, they just threw directly at me. Kind of hurt. No one said anything. Well I said JESUS F-ING CHRIST but they don't speak English.
I was in the sink area brushing my teeth next to a man who spent 10 minutes just hacking into the sink and then blowing his nose into the water stream, like by covering one nostril at a time and just honking into the sink basin.
This morning we were stopped for like an hour when we weren't supposed to be so that's great, even more time in this shithole. I would 100% rather be in a Mongolian ger camp. At least there was fresh air. And space. So much space. Why can't China and Mongolia share people or land and then Mongolia would have more than 4 people in its big space and then China could let people spread out a little, maybe put their feet on the floor. Has anyone brought this idea to the UN?
These are the most annoying children I've ever met. I usually like children. They are screaming all morning and throwing toys around. The older one just had a giant Cup of Noodles, and then five minutes later the mother gave him a giant bento box looking thing of rice and meat and so much food that she bought off someone walking down the carriage, I think. (They don't offer to sell us anything). He's like 6 and eating enough food for 3 adult men. He's going to throw up on me, I just know it.
I hope Guilin is worth it. Huangshan wasn't, stupid weather. Just such bad luck! Why are we getting such bad luck? I'm okay rolling with a few things going wrong but this week has been pretty dire.
I just went to the toilet and was in there for literally 30 seconds and someone banged on the door, like hurry up. I went out and said WHAT THE F IS WRONG WITH YOU? It's kind of freeing not being understood by anyone. But I am losing it. I'm so tired and so angry with these people and the universe for this bad luck. And I'm REALLY sick of everyone on this train staring at us. Everyone keeps walking by our room and stopping to stare, multiple times each. And we can't shut the door because we all don't fit with all the luggage with the door closed. So they keep staring. They don't get a lot of white people out here. It keeps getting worse, the attention, the farther away from the big tourist areas we go. It's an awful feeling just knowing everyone is staring because you are strange to them. I just want to do whatever I'm going to do and not have to deal with everyone staring. It's so annoying.
Okay tiny computer, I'm gonna shut you down and close my eyes until we get to Guilin. Pray.
First of all, he drove so slowly. Not cautious-slowly, as I tend to do (haha I don't drive), but like, 10 miles an hour in a 50 mph zone slowly. Dangerous slowly. Despite traffic in the bustling city, there were no cars for like 200 feet in front of us at any point because he was going turtle paced. We got frustrated very quickly and tried saying 'go faster please for the love of god go faster' but he didn't understand. We tried in Chinese but he also didn't understand. No one understands any Chinese we say. I said the word for toilet 15 different ways to someone yesterday with every possible tone combo and she still didn't get it. It's TWO SYLLABLES, you can at least try to GUESS what I'm saying. Anyway, this guy didn't get it and wasn't moved by our hand motions to go go go, so it took forever. But then after like 10 minutes, he got into a turn lane that was going into an attraction's parking lot. We were like, wtf are you doing. We tried to tell him that that clearly wasn't right, and he didn't get it. Finally he realized his mistake and had to make a u-turn and go alllll the way back down where we came from and alllll the way back to where we'd been to continue straight and omg we were FLIPPING OUT. Finally, a half hour later, he got us in the neighborhood of our hotel, but that's it. He had no idea where it actually was, he had never been there before. The hotel sent a driver who had no idea where they were located. We asked him to call the hotel, we said call hotel call hotel and made the talking on a phone hand mime, but instead he called a friend whose call he missed. So we called the hotel, and they apologized and said they would send someone to meet us, they were just a few minutes' walk away. So we got out of the car and told the idiot driver to piss off, and luckily a woman fetched us outside a building five or so minutes later and walked us to the guest house. It was ridiculous. Also, it wasn't on that main street like its address says; it is down a little alley and behind the main street a ways so if you didn't know the place, you wouldn't find it. They should have told the idiot driver where to go.
Luckily, the hotel/guesthouse whatever was lovely. I was very concerned when we were walked down the dirty decrepit alleyway past buildings that were falling apart, but the hotel, the Zen Tea House Traveling With, was perfect. And yes, we booked it just because of that amazing name, so our gamble paid off. TRAVELING WITH. TRAVELING WITH WHAT, GUYS? WITH WHAAAAT? I love it. They were nice and apologetic for the hassle of getting there. We said we weren't paying for the ride, obviously, and they were like okay sure, so that's nice we didn't have to fight for that. They also gave us a box of local candy as an apology later, a black sesame brittle thing which is accidentally vegan and quite good. So I forgive them, I just hate that driver.
Well, of course we had to leave for food. We went to the vegetarian buffet (so many in this country! usually tied to Buddhist temples) at the Nengren Temple complex, about 45 minutes walk away, which was rough in this heat. We were deciding between that one, which opens at 5pm, and the supposedly all vegan one at Tian Fu Lou, which opens at 6pm, and since we were hungry and the Nengren was a tiny bit closer, we went to the earlier one. Guess what. The restaurant was open when we arrived at 5:15pm, but the buffet doesn't start till 6pm. Thanks, everything on the internet! Ugh. I went to the supermarket and found lots of crackers that all had milk powder (literally everything in this country, from crackers to soy milk, has milk powder added, what gives, I think it's a conspiracy) and then we just sat in the restaurant and waited. It was worth the wait though! Nothing outstanding among the dishes but solid good food. And lots of it. They had a custom noodle bowl station that I wish I tried but there was just so much.