It’s 0.32 hrs, early Wednesday morning, on rattler K8427 and we’re rolling along towards Hangzhou East Station, having just pulled out of characterless SongJiang (I guess everywhere is inexpressive when its pitch black outside).
Two more stops to endure: Like time without end in this oppressively hot sardine can, stuffed to the gills with wilting, almost comatose, travellers. In any manner whatever dishevelled bodies covered with sweat, are crushed, wedged, packed, and squeezed into seats and each other. Faces, compressed into table tops and plastic bags crammed full with life possessions, compete for space with those two standard trappings for such idle moments: melon seeds and screw-top jars.
To rise above the tedium of the travel, passengers, those that are still of sound mind, delight in picking, cracking open and chewing melon seeds (now I know what the long pointed nails are for, working much more effectively than teeth), while another infallible remedy are the jars filled to the brim with tea, the fuel that drives China’s blue-collar classes.
The carriage is unventilated and airless, while the railway car attendant is swabbing the floor under my feet with a filthy black mop, the same one she has just used to clean the toilet.
The commuter across the way has his shirt rolled halfway up his chest, a nauseating waft of cigarette smoke permeates the space between us, and I find myself envisioning two very smelly French delicacies:
- Vieux Boulogne, the foul-smelling ‘chou dofu’ of cheeses, the smelliest cheese known to man, is said to smell like a product from a cow’s ass, rather than its udders, which adequately describes the stench originating from the toilet.
- Pont l’Eveque, the Durian of cheeses, is one of the world’s oldest cheeses and dating back a couple of hundred years actually smells that old, its pong bearing a very strong resemblance to the overpowering odour emanating from this gentleman’s sweat soaked, decaying socks.
And for all this entertainment only RMB 25 (Euro 2.60), the price of the ticket from Shanghai South Station.