A Train to Japan Chapters 4-22 (synopsis part 1)

Sunday, July 22 2012 at 16:10 (Trips)

It’s been a while. Perhaps you thought me dead, murdered by strange Russian men, or trampled by Mongolian goats? Perhaps you hoped this would be so, such that you would not find yourself so consistently outshone by my own brilliance?
Fear not (or fear more greatly), for I am alive and well and in Japan.

So why have I not written for such a long time? Well, first I was on a train in the middle of nowhere for six days, which kind of put a damper on any blogging activities, then I was in China where Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WordPress are all blocked. Yet I have spent the last six days in (mostly) restriction-free Japan and have not written, why? Well because I’m lazy and I’ve been reading Harry Potter and playing VVVVVV instead, that’s why.

So given that so much has happened, I will endeavour to summarise rather than relay everything I’ve noted in my written log.

The Trans-Mongolian train: I found it eventually with the help of evidently all the foreigners in Moscow, who all seemed to be about to board the train. The train was actually possibly the least comfortable of all the sleepers and had no showers and very basic facilities, so washing was difficult. Food in the restaurant car was expensive and took a long time, so I mostly lived on a diet of crisps and whatever else I could by at the small Russian station stalls.
I met a number of people on the train, the most significant of which were Lize the South African who was my sole cabin mate in a four-berth compartment and Jasper the Cool American, who was a guy from Los Angeles who spoke Mandarin. The days were rather uninteresting: endless taiga punctuated by occasional stops transitioning eventually into desert in Mongolia and then finally into gorgeous mountainsides as we entered China. The most interesting place we stopped was Ulaanbataar, and even that was pretty dull. Still a fascinating experience, though.

China: China was really hot and really full of people. I realise that ‘lots of people’ is kind of China’s thing, but it has to be said because it’s such a big part of what being in China is like. Beijing is a great city full of nice buildings and people, with a fast subway that is easy to navigate and cheap (2 yuan per journey = 20p). At my hostel (which was essentially luxury after six days on a train) I met Daria the Polish English teacher working in China on pretend sick leave and Roger the Very American American. We visited the Great Wall together which was exhausting yet rewarding and also talked a lot. Apart from the GWoC I visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, both of which personified China perfectly by being gigantic, really hot and full of people.
The train to Shanghai is the fastest in the world at 300km/h and would have been wonderful were it not for the Chinese passengers. The Chinese like to spit and also make their bodily functions as loud as possible, so naturally I ended up sat next to a man who sniffed with a sound like a jump jet exploding every thirty seconds whose ladyfriend had incidentally stolen my window seat. I had three and a half hours of this to Nanjing, then one and a half of blissful peace.
Shanghai was a shithole, no nice way of saying it. The hostel was somewhat crummy and I managed to spend a total of nearly six hours wandering around trying to find an international ferry port that was nowhere near any metro stations and had minimal signage – none of which were aimed at pedestrians even though none of the ferries carry cars. Bah.

The Ferry: I had doubts about the ferry, and even more after my misadventures in Shanghai, but after having finally bought my ticket and boarded, I found that it was actually very pleasant. It was comfortable and clean, there was food that was cheap and delicious and best of all most of the passengers were Japanese people rather than Chinese, so far less spitting and snorting. The highlight of the voyage to Osaka was going between the mainland and the southernmost island of Japan with spectacular views on both sides and the sea breeze on my face.

Japanese trains: Osaka has the most complicated subway ticket machines I’ve ever seen. They do, however, happily accept ¥10,000 (~£80) notes with no qualms at all and full change from my ¥350 purchase. I went to Shin-Osaka and bought a ticket that was actually cheaper than what I’d seen online and then went to find my train. Annoyingly, Japanese trains only seem to show their final destination and not intermediate stops. I have no idea how one is meant to find these out normally, but fortunately I got help from an assistant.
I wasn’t waiting for just any train, though. Oh no. This was a Super Hakuto 7. Not only did it look cooler than the normal trains, it was also twice as fast and twice as comfortable. I giggled to myself when we easily overtook a regular train going at full speed. I then took a local train from Sayo to Hayashino that was much slower but much prettier in terms of views of Japanese countryside.
When I did finally reach Hayashino station in Mimasaka, I sadly ran out of enthusiasm and time for writing and decided to finish this with a second part tomorrow.

Here are some Japanese emoticons to ease the wait:
☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆


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