I just got of the longest and most uncomfortable train ride of my life. I’d been warned. When I messaged John from the train station on Thursday, saying I’d bought a 普快 ticket, he told me it would suck. He told me that the train would stop and every insignificant little town on the way from Shanghai to Beijing, and it did. I listened carefully to his description and plowed on and took the train anyway, since all the other tickets for trains to Beijing that day were sold out.

I was in a cabin for six. Beds were to the left and to the right, a low bed, a middle bed, and one close up to the ceiling. I had the middle bed. There wasn’t enough space between it and the top bed for me to sit up or move much, but it was enough space for sleeping. Unfortunately, there was no air-conditioning, so it was pretty sweaty and gross.

The other passengers on the train smoked nearly incessantly, and quite a few also spit on the floor inside. It was disgusting, but strangely facinating seeing people with no qualms about spitting indoors. It wasn’t anything like the stories my old roommate Andrew told me about his train rides in China several years ago, but it was definitely a sight that I’ve never seen in Taiwan. Did the Taiwanese used to do that, too?

As difficult as sleeping was in the sweaty, smoky environment, it was still easier than conversation. Two of my neighbors were from Shandong, and had weird accents. I could only understand about half of what they were saying, and we mutually gave up our attempts at conversation after an hour or so. The third was a young man from out of town, who had been working in Shanghai for three years. He asked me a little about where I was from and where I was going, made a little chit-chat, and then he got into full gear, telling me about his hardships.

I’m on my way home to visit my family for the first time since New Year’s. I came to Shanghai because I could get a better job than what I had back at home. It’s still not that good though. I work hard every day, and by the time I’m finished my skin is black with dirt. You don’t understand what it’s like. I wish I could go visit Beijing like you are, but I only make 1000RMB a month. You don’t understand. I don’t have a car, I don’t have a house. All I’ve got is my own two hands, and that’s what I’ve got. I envy you. You can just come here and go to all the famous Chinese places, but I grew up here and I can’t.

What can a person say to that? I made some lame reply about how China’s improving really quickly, crawled back up onto my bunk and tried to sleep.