Enter the Dragon: A night at Shanghai railway station

* July 30:

My journey from Beijing to Shanghai (1,300 km) was relatiely comfortable. I have booked a ‘Baba/Dabba Gadi’ the slowest passenger train on that route. The Bullet train, also known as CRH 380A series train takes 4.48 hours to cross the same distance. Other fast trains take odd 10 to 12 hours, but the train I chose took 21 hours!Of course, I chose this train because of the price difference. Bullet train ticket ranges from 555 Yuan to 1,750 Yuan (Rs 5550 to Rs 17,500). The passenger train charged me only 176 Yuan (Rs 1,760) for a ‘hard seat’. (Even spending one Yuan/Rs 10 is a big deal for me because it’s hard earned savings of my friends).

Second reason, this train travels at night so I can save the money of one night stay at hostel. And next day, it reaches in evening, so again I can stay that night at railway station. It saves my money of two nights stay. During the last three, my back did not touch the floor. I was sleeping on chairs and I am comfortable with it. I got this habit of sleeping in chair during college days.

My previous train journey from Nanning to Beijing was very rough. It was 24 hour travel but extended till 31 hours because of flood in China. Worst part was that I did not have a seat. Whole journey, I was seated in an open space in between the two cars of train.

Since that time, I had not bought food before boarding the train assuming that I can buy from vendors (like in India). However, there were no vendors in the train. These trains have door locking system. There was a pantry but it was too costly. One bowl of rice was Rs.20 and vegetable was Rs 250. My mind was used to Vietnam prices (one full meal for Rs.65). So I could not dare to spend Rs 250 for a small bowl of vegetables. I bought only a bowl of rice twice.

For the Beijing-Shanghai journey, I bought some food before boarding on Friday (July 22). I reached Shanghai on Saturday evening. Indian students studying in China told me that one can sleep in Mc Donald’s or KFC at night in China. I was very happy for that. First thing I did was to search for KFC and then went to a cheap hotel for dinner. Again, I came back to KFC and bought an ice cream of 2 Yuan. I camped in KFC. At 11pm, they said closing time and I’d have to shift to the railway station. But it was also closed. I thought, it might be like Beijing South or our CST Mumbai station. Everything was closed except one entry point. So I camped outside the station.

As soon as I rested my back on the floor, police came in electric operated small car and started honking. I was very sleepy so I did not pay heed to him. A cop shouted at me in Chinese. I was thinking, if I did not co-operate with him, then he will take me to police station. I actually wished he could take me to the police station so I could sleep there. But he left.

After half an hour, he came back and started honking. This time, he was accompanied by a policeman who could speak English. Both policemen were very courteous with me. I felt sorry. They guided me to a cheap hostel (which frankly wasn’t that cheap for me). I requested them that I have another hostel booking and I will go there in morning.

The English speaking policeman warned me, “We are suggesting this for your best interest. By sleeping here, you may save 250 Yuan (Rs.2500). Mind you there are lots of thieves around the station. If they steal your money, it would prove more costly for you.”
I thanked them and pulled a blanket on my face. I could only laugh quietly as I had nothing worth stealing except a passport and a mobile. But after sometime, his last sentence started to echo in my mind, ”If they steal your passport, it may prove even more costly.”

I put one bag under my head and covered the other with my legs. My Alfa Alfa pouch, which has my mobile and passport, was tucked under my arms. At 6am sharp, there was honking again. It was the same policeman. I got up and said “Ni Hav” (hello) and he went back. I waved my hand and said ‘Cha Cha Chi Ya’ (Good bye, see you). He shouted something in Chinese but at last gave a smile and left. I checked my bags. Everything was intact because I had chosen a strategic place to sleep in the middle of the floor and under CCTV cameras.

A friend then helped me to search for the cheapest hostel and I checked in. “Aaj hi hamne badle hai kapde, aaj hi ham nahaye hue hai”!!! I had bath after three days in warm water. It was a great feeling and very comfortable. But I had no fresh clothes.

THIS IS IMPORTANT:
Do any of you have contacts in Shanghai who could give me shelter for a few nights? I’m also searching for a cargo ship to travel from Shanghai, China, to any port in Australia. Do you know anyone who can help me or guide me for this travel? It would be of great help.

Wish me luck and pray for me.

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