I will always remember the train from Guilin to Shenzhen as the train where I did not sleep.
It all began with the Man Who Snored. He came on board when the train stopped at a small station, way past midnight, and after we had left Guilin far behind.
I was on my bottom bunk, halfway into a dream when I heard someone enter our compartment. Something brushed against my nose and I guessed it was someone’s jacket or backpack. I opened my eyes and saw a man stuffing a backpack and plastic bags- the thin, noisy, crinkly kind- under the bunk opposite mine.
He then took off his shoes, lay down and immediately went to sleep. The only problem was that I couldn’t.
This man did not snore quietly. There was no gentle build-up. He launched straight into his snoring the second he lay down, blubbering and gurgling away, sounding like he was being murdered underwater.
I looked at my fellow compartment mates. They had fallen asleep hours earlier and didn’t appear to be affected by this annoying man, although I thought I heard the teenager in the top bunk swear. The other three seemed to be fast asleep.
The snoring did not stop, but instead got louder. The train was dimly lit but I could see by the light from the corridor. The man was lying on his back and his mouth was wide open, his lips quivering as the unholy sounds sprung forth.
I gave up. I took my daypack and blanket and went out in search of an empty bunk. It was about 2am. None of the train attendants were in sight, which was a good thing. I would hate for them to see me creeping around, searching for another bunk in the dead of night, looking like I was up to no good.
A little up ahead, I found a compartment which was completely unoccupied. What luck! I thought as I climbed into the top bunk, where nobody would notice me because it was so close to the ceiling.
Soon after I dozed off, I realised my bed was swaying. At first I thought it was an earthquake, then I realised that quakes didn’t make strange noises in the dark.
A couple had climbed into the bed directly beneath mine. I heard whispers and giggling, then the sounds of kissing and more giggling.
I listened to their whispers, fascinated, wishing I could understand their Cantonese. I was curious about them. Where did they come from? Had they met on the train or had they planned this trip together?
I don’t remember if I actually slept at all that night. I must have, but it was probably only for a few minutes. All I remember is climbing down the bunk as quietly as I could at 5.25am –I wanted to get back to my own bunk before we were due to arrive in Shenzhen at 6.30. Before I left, I stole a look at the couple. They were young, maybe in their late teens, and fast asleep and smiling contentedly amid crumpled sheets and blankets.
The arrival at Shenzhen was chaotic, as Chinese train arrivals usually are. I was in no hurry. Unlike everyone else, who would be welcomed by their husbands and wives and parents at the station, no-one would be greeting me or taking me home.
There was only one thing I wanted to do – to find a hotel room and sleep.
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