The train to Yangshau
Liz is a 24-year-old who has decided to take a break from city life and visit one of the most mysterious and colourful countries in the world.
Liz only has a few more weeks left in the East, so she decides to visit some scenic spots with her sister Annie.
My time in China is nearly over, so I've decided to have a look around some of the scenic parts of China. My sister Annie has also just flown in to see me and celebrate her birthday. We decided to visit the stunning mountain region of Yangshuo.
Waking up on the train, the morning after catching it, I peered at my sister, across a gulf three bunks deep. She was already bright eyed, with head propped on pillows, studying the guide book chapter on the province we were presently chugging through.
For a while, I lay there observing the action below; men putting on their trousers, yawning and stretching, but not wasting too much time before getting out to the corridor for the day's first smoke.
The top bunk is the cheapest berth, presumably because the climb up is precarious, the climb down hairy, the space cramped and access to amenities inconvenient. On the other hand, the lower bunks allow no privacy and, at times, little space, as everyone uses the bottom bunk as a lounge.
One of these options appeals to the warm, relaxed, chatty, card-playing Chinese, happy to pay extra for it. The other appeals to uptight, insular, privacy-obsessed Westerners, who marvel at the discount price on these cosy penthouse cocoons complete with several hours relief from curious stares.
In the washroom, I freshened myself as much as one can in a train, with gob-splattered wash basins, piss-ammonia reeking toilets, in week-old clothes, using a musty face washer that'd been damp for days.
After a good hour's relax, I was ready to struggle into my jeans and down to the floor.
In the washroom, I freshened myself as much as one can in a train, with gob-splattered, cold-water wash basins, piss-ammonia reeking toilets and smoky corridors, in week-old clothes, using a musty face washer that'd been damp for days. I felt the usual disgust, but also, secretly, a little relief at the excuse to let myself off the hygiene hook for a while. That the Chinese women on the train managed to look impeccably groomed and polished in the same conditions was a fact I conveniently ignored.
Annie came down, and we settled ourselves at the tiny bench by the window with full thermoses of tea. The train wasn't going to arrive at the destination until late afternoon.
So for several serene hours we sat, writing in our travel diaries, or reading the guide book, and reading passages of each aloud to each other. The former induced giggles; the latter wonder and concern. How we might get to our destination town from the city where the train was going to stop, where we might sleep tonight... these things remained mysteries. How we might celebrate Annie's birthday was a comparatively minor problem.
We got to the point where being concerned was pointless. What could be achieved by worrying now? The journey passed; wondering, reading, writing, giggling, and frequently staring, mesmerised, at the marvellous Guangxi countryside going by the window.