To travel around the whole of China in under three weeks, an efficient method of transport was needed. Instead of wasting nights sleeping in hotels we were to take five sleeper trains between our destined cities. After viewing the Beijing pandas we were making our way to the train station and discussing what the trains would be like. I had this vision of wooden carriages with hundreds of people squeezed into one carriage making it impossible to sleep. Felipe casually smiled and said “like everything, there are good points and there are bad points”. I looked at him confused, “what are the good points?”
Open rooms containing six bunks, three on each side of the wall, ran down the carriages. For all bar one I had the top bunk which I loved and by the end of the trip I got into the routine of quickly scaling up the beds to put the guys’ bags into the top railings while swinging down like a monkey. In comparison to the hotels the beds were actually quite comfy and came with a duvet and pillow. I slept like a baby for each of the nights to the gentle rolling of the carriage along the tracks. The toilets were another matter, merely a hole in the floor…literally. Also, I got into the habit of a ‘healthy’ diet of sweet French bread rolls and Oreos that we shared among the group. The birthday cake flavour is perhaps the best Oreo.
Every train trip followed the same suit. We would all claim one room to ourselves but there was seven of us so Felipe volunteered to share with the locals. I would dash to the top-most bunk and help lug our rucksacks onto the overhead racks. All of us would squeeze into the bottom two bunks where we would talk and laugh for the remainder of the night. We would get strange looks from passengers on the way to the bathroom. One time this lady and her toddler came to us and asked if she could take a picture of us with her child. Gina happily obliged and held the kid for the photo. All of a sudden the mother left with the child in our care. “You are that kid’s new mother, Gina” we all joked with Gina getting a worried look on her face with the child still on her lap. Fortunately, a while later the mother came back to reclaim her offspring.
It was a great a chance for the group to bond and we stayed awake after the lights went out chatting and playing games. Most of them did not know how to play Texas Hold ‘em Poker so I took it upon myself to teach them and it became a regular thing, our poker nights on the sleeper train. I did my best to mentor Gina and despite a few flaws she is becoming quite a good player. Over the course of time everyone in the group managed to win at least one game…apart from Ed. Ed was a hilarious guy who did the most brilliant impersonations of accents and it was just him and me in the final of the final game where the prize money was a whooping 35 Yuan! I so badly cheered on Ed to win a game but he would always get so close without winning. Now all that stood in his way was…me. As it is known in the group, “when the cards are dealt, I’m not a nice guy”. So then in the early hours of one morning when everyone else had gone to sleep, I defeated Ed in the last match. Sorry Ed.
The quote of the trip came on one of these nights as I showed Phil my hand I folded in poker. As Felipe said: Phillip was “perhaps the most English person he had ever met”. I totally concur and he was a jolly nice chap. Anyway, he looked at my hand with disgust and said I was most ridiculous for playing it. “YOU’RE RIDICULOUS!” I snapped.