Thursday, September 19, 2013

Musings on the Night Train: China Edition

The picture of train travel in China
** Note: This post may be more negative than you're expecting, as it describes a terrible experience we had! We hope that in the context of our other posts, you'll read this as an isolated incident about an individual family, not our perspective and experience with most of the people across China. We share it anyway because we think it's pretty funny in retrospect! And on to the story...

Cory and I are on a 19 hour train from Kunming to Chengdu, and boy are we having a cultural experience! We're only 5 hours into the trip, but if I don't think of this as a homestay in a very small house with a typical Chinese family, I will scream. So, think zen "this is a cultural experience" thoughts...

We're in a 4-bed cabin, and it's not our first time. Generally, there seems to be a mutual respect between your new neighbors, as you all have to be in this very small boat for the next 20 hours. But not this time!

Our cabin mates are a family of three: a mom and dad about our age and their 2 year old boy. He's quite cute, but the parents seem like everything that's wrong with the one child policy. When they got on the train, the little boy sat quietly while the mom took 20 minutes (seriously, a full 20 minutes!) to get arranged. Toys, washcloths, multiple bottles, blankets, sweaters, wet wipes, etc all came out of their suitcase (yeah, not a diaper bag, a rolling suitcase, like you would vacation with for a week), and onto the upper bunk. And since that moment, mom has not sat still or shut up. Every peep from the child (and he's not actually a bad 2 year old) is met with full volume (or higher) chatter from mom and dad. In between the chatter, she points at Cory and me and talks to baby about us. I read somewhere that it's rude to point in China. Apparently one needn't heed that warning!

Then out came dinner. Bowl of noodles comes out, travel chopsticks out, washcloths prepped, water in bowl, baby being fed. Baby is not particularly into eating the noodles, but don't worry, mom and dad will just chatter at him simultaneously until he finally gives in. Eventually, dinner has been eaten and I'm thinking maybe it's time to settle down just a smidge. But no, dad is winding up a toy to entertain baby (who I'm pretty sure is ok just sitting quietly at this point). Don't worry, that wind up toy definitely isn't a plastic monkey banging on a plastic drum. Oh wait, it is!!

Now baby has found a new fun game called "let's balance my bottle on the seat back and hit the wall (on the otherside of which a nice elderly lady is trying to sleep) so it falls down." I'm sure you're thinking mom and dad put a stop to this, because who needs a child hitting the wall repeatedly in an enclosed space? Nope! They demonstrated how to hit the wall so hard the bottle falls off and hits Cory instead. 

Time for us to settle into a nice, family friendly episode of Band of Brothers, and to suppress every bone in my body that really wants to join in the cultural experience and play the heartwarming WWII miniseries on the speakers. But instead, we'll go ahead and use our headphones.

Ooh, it's finally time to put Junior to bed. I know I'm not a parent, but I'm pretty sure if you include incessant full volume chatter, that kid's not going to sleep without a fight. And fight he did! He's the kind of kid that goes full limp to pair with his alligator tears, so he comes across as a fish out of Chinese wet market water. 

But finally, he's asleep. Thank god we have some quiet!! Oh, never mind. Now that baby's asleep, mom is back at it. Turns out everything she laid out before on the top bunk is in a separate plastic bag, each of which she now insists on squishing up noisily and shoving into another one. 

On another note, the Chinese have an interesting diapering method we had not seen prior to arriving here. Instead of diapers (on, say, a 2 year old), they just put them in pants with no crotch. I guess it makes it easier when the kid has to go, because you don't have to fuss with all the clothes in their way. But it sure seems a prime method for lots of public accidents. Which may be why I have seen more poop trails on the way to the public toilets than ever before. Maybe those moms just didn't get the message fast enough. But the toileting practices of China are for a whole other blog post... 

Now that we're all happily sleeping in the (finally!) quiet cabin, it's time to get interesting again! At midnight, baby wakes up screaming. Not screaming like "I'm disoriented and scared! Where's my mom?" It was more like "I'm a spoiled baby who gets paid attention to all the time and I want attention NOW!" Mom chatters at him for a while to no avail, until Cory rolls over and pleads with him to go to sleep. So he does. Excellent. Fast forward to 3am when the screaming starts again. Cory asks mom to take him into the hall if he insists on screaming, which she has no intention of doing. So in a move I'm equally proud of (and not so much), I sit up in bed and scream at the top of my lungs. And the scream is met with dead silence by baby. Luckily, the rest of the night passed quietly, until mom wakes baby up at 8am so she can spend the next 4 hours fussing over him. 

We lasted 4 more hours with gritted teeth while mom chattered away and baby banged metal pans together, until finally baby had a full on temper tantrum, mom insisted the cabin door be left open (presumably so everyone on the train could enjoy her child's screaming) and I lost it. Dad spoke some english, so I know he understood me when I slammed the door shut just after telling him his family was too loud and I was protecting the rest of the train from the horror that was his family. And then we disembarked, never to see them again. 

For our next long journey, we flew.

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