An unpleasant start to China

We arrived in Nanning in southern China after a long night train from Vietnam. I spent the night sleeping on what was by far the best bed I’ve ever had on any form of public transport. The pressed cotton sheets were soft and – wonder of wonders – the bed was long enough to lie down in without having to bend my knees. The only problem was that we were woken twice during the night, once at the Vietnamese border crossing and again at the Chinese one. Each time we had to haul off all of our luggage and wait in line for an hour as they slowly went through the passports of everyone on the train. It’s not the most pleasant thing to be doing at 2am (and again at 4am) especially when you have to leave such a comfortable bed. You can imagine that we weren’t very well rested when the train pulled into Nanning station, but luckily the day picked up from there. We somehow managed to navigate our way through the process of buying train tickets at the station where everything was in Chinese characters – even the destination names – and nobody spoke a single word of English. The tickets were hardly ideal though. Our onward train to Guilin was a bit too early for my liking (8am) and the tickets were for hard seat class, which is basically the bottom rung in China’s train system.
... still I think we did pretty well to get any tickets at all considering that this is what we had to work with.

… still I think we did pretty well to get tickets at all considering that this is what we had to work with.

We met up with Nash & Maya, our Couchsurfing hosts for the night, and settled in to their lovely apartment. We had planned on staying a few days with them but they had a change of plans and were leaving for Shanghai the next day. Nash showed us around the nearby restaurants where had a tasty lunch of some Chinese dumplings, and he kindly got us sorted out with a local SIM card for mobile internet. Later we met their friends and all went for a authentic Chinese barbeque dinner at a place in the city centre.

The food was totally unlike what I expected based on Chinese food that I've had back home, and the service was good... even down to the shrink wrapped dishes and cutlery!

Shrink wrapped dishes in the restaurant. This is going to take some getting used to.

The food was a real treat as it was very different to the Chinese cuisine that I’ve had before, and it completely exceeded my expectations. These were admittedly based on ‘Chinese’ restaurants back in Ireland, but still it was a pleasant surprise. I tossed back a few beers while enjoying the meal against a beautiful sunset backdrop, and then settled into my chair as night fell on Nanning. Our early train the next morning was looking like a worse and worse idea by the hour, and that was before we got back at the apartment and drank more beer…
Nanning city center at night, like something out of Bladerunner after the last month in rural Vietnam.

Nanning city centre at night: like something out of Bladerunner after coming from rural Vietnam.

The alarm blasted me awake at 6.30am. I groggily staggered out of the bed, a little hungover from the beers the night before. While cramming the various bits and pieces I used the previous day into an already overstuffed backpack, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling that well. Into the bathroom and onto the toilet. Definitely not a good start to the day. I didn’t have any time to dwell on it though as we had to rush to travel an hour back into town to catch our 8am train. Just as we walked out the door and said our goodbyes to Nash, it started pouring rain. And not tame Irish rain either, this was the torrential tropical kind. Great. I struggled along with my heavy backpack and rucksack down the slippery steps, nearly adding a broken bone to my rapidly growing list of complaints. Then the phone rang. It was Nash, who thankfully had noticed that I left my camera bag (also containing my passport, money and credit card) in his house! I rushed back up the steep steps to pick it up and legged it back to meet Lida who was standing waiting in the rain with a heavy backpack of her own. All this time my guts were uncomfortably moving around in a way that I can only describe as a menacing. I focused on the fact that it was only about 500 metres down the slippery steps to the taxi rank. We arrived to find no taxis waiting and all of the passing taxis full. It was Sunday morning at 7am and absolutely pouring rain, so our odds of catching an empty one were looking slim. On top of this, as we were waiting I seriously considered a brief visit to the bushes… I was getting desperate.
That unpleasant decision was taken out of my hands as we finally managed to flag a taxi down. The driver took one look at the time on our train ticket and took off like a madman, throwing the taxi down the street and beeping the horn like a lunatic as he sped through every intersection. The bumping and swerving was definitely not helping my situation. The taxi got us into the city centre in what had to be a record time of 20 minutes and it was all looking up… until we got bogged down in traffic. There’s a certain kind of fear that you get when you realise what’s about to happen in this situation. I had this in spades as I sat in the back of the taxi with my bowels squirming around. At every jerky stop I desperately looked around for a toilet, but there were none to be found (or more likely the signs for them were all in Chinese). Either way I was out of luck.
I'm not sure what that is,but based on his driving I'm going to guess it's an internal roll cage.

I’m not sure what that is, but based on his driving style I’m going to guess it’s an internal roll cage.

Tight-cheeked, I held on for another few minutes. Finally, the taxi reached the entrance to the train station parking lot. We moved at an agonisingly slow pace through the traffic until I reached a breaking point and had to attempt to run to the nearest bathroom. Luckily I … just … barely … made it. Well, I say luckily, but it was a public toilet in a Chinese railway station, so it wasn’t that lucky. For your sake I’ll leave that grotty and grimy experience to the imagination. Feeling a bit better, but now with even less time than we had expected to catch the train, we ran for the baggage and security check lines. We squeezed our way along in the crowd and popped out just near our train. I settled in to my hard dirty seat for the 5 hour trip to Guilin soaking wet, exhausted and unwell. I spent a lot of quality (and quantity) time in the third class train bathroom. That’s another pleasant place to be feeling ill but at least I hadn’t totally humiliated myself in the back of a taxi! What a fun start to our travels in China.
A chinese train toilet is not a place you want to hang out in.

A Chinese train toilet is not a place you want to hang out in.

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