38hs Hard seat

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Kunming, Beijing
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A train travel where modernity meets tradition


Chinese train stations are like airports. After x-ray and twice ticket check, people wait in a press line for the doors to the platform to open. On every wagon door there’s a policeman checking the tickets again while everybody hurry to get inside and sit down.

The station speaker plays classical music. The train’s doors close, the engine roars and countdown starts. There are 38 hours left to reach Beijing in a cage of fix windows where the clock stops in a landscape that never change: it seems we travel in space but not in time.


Every two hours a dust police enters shouting. He sweeps violently feet of sleeping passengers to clean spitted sunflower shells that are swimming in plastic, bottles and baby pee. Chinese mothers don’t bother with dippers. The baby’s pants have a hole in between the legs so he can pee on the dust bin while the mother holds him on the air –but of course, half of it goes straight to the floor and to your own trousers.

Suddenly, more shouting when a woman -also dressed as police- enter the wagon pushing a trolley with sunflower seeds, instant noodles, dry meet in vacuum packs and soft drinks. Like in an airplane the trolley goes through the aisle pushing arms and legs that hang from the narrow seats. Despite the looks the blue cover doesn’t hide a soft couch but a hard chair with a 90° back seat where no posture possible is comfortable. By the way, the class is named Hard Seat -and I think they are right.

Instant noodles have an intense smell, the AC makes air hard to breath, it starts to get hot and the uncomfortable seats push you to walk around the train. Faces show boredom and tiredness, people seat in different positions to find some sort of rest.

In every train card games are the most popular but in modern China computers and smart phones are widely seen.

In front of the toilet there’s a big thermo with hot water to drink tea or soup. After the toilet and next to the closed exit door is the smoking area. It’s never empty, sometimes too full so you have to find room between people who doesn’t have a seat while lost in a cloud of smoke from bongs and cigarettes. There are thousands of cigarettes brands in China where tobacco is an enormous addiction. By looking at the cigarette pack, Chinese people get an idea of who you are -especially if you have money or not. I fell we’re fishes in a pot, swimming in smoke and hitting the glass with our noses, knocking the border of the fish bowl. There are many ethnic groups in China and the train’s technology doesn’t seem to fit with any of the passengers -neither does to me. I start thinking that maybe we never go down of this train, that life is 38 hours and hard seat the way we have to live it

Two hours before reaching Beijing everybody starts to get ready. Women put make up and comb their hair, some man shave as if they can shorten the time of arrival. The speakers play a victorious music: we made it. People that were standing with their bags push towards the door as they where running away from hell. To close the story, the last policeman on the platform shouts at you to hurry up –it seems time is precious and you don’t want to waste it.

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