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Archive for March 2009

Best in Show

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Dean Michael Higgins & Michael McKean, doing it Shi-Tzu style

Dean Michael Higgins & Michael McKean, doing it Shi-Tzu style

Once a year, the American doggie elite congregates in Philadelphia for the Mayflower Dog Show – travelling by air, caravan, BMW and station wagon – projecting their dreams and hopes onto the family pet.  Christopher Guest’s mockumentary, Best in Show digs down deep into the psyches of the owners and the nitty-gritty politics of show dogs.  Or does it?

Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock

Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock

Writer/director Christopher Guest hits the pay dirt he missed with Waiting for Guffman, which drew too heavily on This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner’s 1984 classic, in which he co-starred with Michael McKean.  Best in Show is satire at it’s best, sharply funny right from the opening scene where we meet married dog owners, yuppies Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) in pet therapy, explaining to the psychologist how they have traumatised their Weimaraner – who walked in on them having sex – in a position, the ‘congress of the cow’, they learned from the Kama Sutra. This is just the beginning of the psychological torment these two wreak on their poor pooch.

Levy, O'Hara & Winkie, the wonder Norwich Terrier

Levy, O'Hara & Winkie, the wonder Norwich Terrier

Then there’s musical Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) and their little terrier. They’re madly in love – but Cookie is still trying to live down her past and the hundreds of men she knew before finding Gerry. If only they would stop turning up wherever they go.

Gay New Yorkers Scott and Stefan (John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean) are certain their Shih Tzu, Agnes, will win top honours.  Guest plays Harlan Pepper, a dull North Carolina fly-fisherman cum ventriloquist showing his lovable bloodhound, Hubert.

The divine Jennifer Coolidge as Sherri Ann Cabot and her adored hubby

The divine Jennifer Coolidge as Sherri Ann Cabot and her adored hubby

Lastly, there’s gold-digger Sherri Ann Cabot (Jennifer Coolidge) who can “not talk” with her eighty year-old husband all day long. Her professional dog handler (Jane Lynch) is going for a third win with Sherri’s prize poodle, Rhapsody in White.

Guest’s script, co-written with Eugene Levy leaves room for this remarkable cast to flex their improvisational muscles – every performance is believable and life-like – in no time you’ll be rooting for your favourite canine-human team.

Will Guest be the best?

Will Guest be the best?

Credit also goes to technical advisor and dog consultant  Earlene Luke, who staged what seems to be a genuine dog-show. She co-presents with the clueless Fred Willard who makes the sort of dirty jokes one might expect from an eight year old throughout the competition.  “Shih Tzu?  What kind of a name is a Shih Tzu?”

A laugh out loud flick – 96 minutes of pure belly laughs. And watching it on DVD is twice as nice because Guest has included so many alternate takes, it’s like an alternate version.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

31/03/2009 at 11:50 pm

The Night of the Following Day

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Director: Hubert Cornfield

night-of-the-folowing-day-posterWhen one thinks of Marlon Brando, either his early works, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), The Wild One (1953) and On the Waterfront (1954); or his later films, The Godfather (1972), Last Tango in Paris (also 1972) or Apocalypse Now (1979) come to mind. The actor made a total of forty films in his tumultuous career, and from the mid-60’s up to The Godfather, they included ten box-office failures, including The Night of the Following Day from 1968.

Brando considered the director Hubert Cornfield incompetent and throughout filming rewrote the script, refused to do certain scenes and often turned up drunk – insisting by the end of shooting that co-star Richard Boone take over directorial responsibilities. The end result is deeply flawed, but the incredibly performances make it worth a view for serious film lovers. Indeed the 44 year old Brando is so fit and beautiful, that alone makes it worth a view!

night-of-the-folowing-day-2The film opens as a teenage heiress (Pamela Franklin) disembarks her flight to Paris. She is greeted by a chauffeur (Brando) who escorts her to a waiting limousine. Once they have left the airport, he stops the limo and the thuggish Leer (Boone) jumps in and she realises she has been kidnapped. They switch cars – the driver is now Vi, one of the stewardesses from her flight, played by Rita Moreno. They arrive at a remote seaside cottage, where Boone informs the girl they are professional criminals and as long as she cooperates nothing bad will happen to her. From there, everything goes pear-shaped. Brando and Moreno are long-time lovers, but she is back on heroin and no longer reliable. Boone is night-of-the-folowing-day-4lusting after their prey, while Moreno’s luckless brother (Jess Hahn) tries to keep the plot together. Doom wafts through every frame as the foursome get caught up in cross and double-cross and the girl is rightfully terrified of Boone. Watch it once to let the story unfold – watch it a second time with commentary from the director who remained bitter until his death over Brando’s appalling behaviour.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/03/2009 at 10:10 pm

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Irish Films – from both sides of the Atlantic

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In honour of St Paddy’s Day, here’s a look at some of my favourite Irish flicks.

The top grossing Irish film of all-time is the sleeper hit The Crying Game (1992), starring Forest Whittaker and Miranda Richardson, about a British soldier captured by the IRA who finds himself drawn into their world. The film was carried by Jaye Davidson, as a very convincing cross dresser who seduces Whittaker. The hype was a bit excessive, but it remains a good watch and provides excellent insight into the Irish ‘troubles.’

The more optimistic The Commitments (1991) tells the sthe_commitments_disc_1-39tory of a group of working-class, Wilson Pickett worshipping, Dublin youth who declare the Irish are ‘the niggers of Europe’ and set out to form their own soul band. There’s the usual melodrama as the band works out its issues, getting gigs and building a fan base – but it’s full of great tunes and you can’t help cheering them on.

John Sales’ The Secret of Roan Inish (1995) explores Irish folklore. A young girl is sent to a remote island to live with her grandparents and discovers she is descended from the seal/human selkie. While slow paced, it cleverly intertwines the mysteries in the present with the supernatural past. A feel-good movie that won’t leave you feeling sick.

The Magdalene Sisters (2002) is one of the most heart-breaking films ever made, based on the true stories of four young women sent to the Magdalene Asylum, a home for wayward girls. Two gave birth out of wedlock, one was raped and the other was simply too flirtatious. They are essentially slaves in the asylum’s laundry, where, under the watchful eye of the nuns they are subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse – and if they are to survive, they must escape. Harrowing, especially considering the last of these homes was closed in 1996.

David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970) is an overlooked great film. Set in a remote village on the Dingle peninsula, far away from the travails of World War One, impetuous Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles) has just married the middle-aged local schoolmaster (Robert Mitchum) who cannot ryanssatisfy her sexually. Tending bar in her father’s pub, she falls for a handsome English officer (Christopher Jones). Self absorbed, she is unaware that her father is involved with the rebels who meet at the pub. Is it Rosy who gives them away to the British? Or is she to be punished for her other sins? A must for serious movie lovers.

Dublin has a population of just over a million. There are 1.2 million New Yorkers claiming Irish heritage, making it the largest Irish city in the world. In America (2003) is one family’s story of trying to make it as new immigrants in the Big Apple in the 80s. Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton star as Johnny and Sarah, a couple running away from their son’s death, trying to start a new life with in Hell’s Kitchen, living amongst junkies, alcoholics and thieves in a condemned tenement. Based on writer/director Jim Sheridan’s own immigrant experience, In America crackles and smoulders with brilliant performances, especially from Djimon Hounsou as an AIDS infected African prince and Sarah and Emma Bolger, real-life sisters who play the couple’s much-loved, but emotionally neglected daughters.

Since The Godfather (1972), Hollywood gangsters have been almost exclusively Italian, easy to forget that the Irish mob dominated the first fiftyangels3 years of cinema. Like In America, Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) is set in Hell’s Kitchen, with Father Jerry Connelly (Pat O’Brien) trying to save the neighbourhood youth from the mob, headed by his old pal Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney). When a dirty lawyer played by Humphrey Bogart steals a hundred grand from Sullivan a gang war erupts and no one is safe. A classic gangster film – full of sneering, cynical dialog and larger than life characters.

But Irish-American gangsters go way back: Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) is set in 1863 in the Five Points section of Manhattan with Irish gangsimmigrant mobsters muscling the natives for position. One of the most violent movies ever made (at one point the blood runs ankle deep), I found it so far over the top, it was more annoying than shocking. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz do a fine job in their roles, but what makes this a must-see is Daniel Day Lewis’ unbelievable performance as Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting – a bone-chillingly cruel monster without a soul. (Day Lewis also stars in two other worthy Irish flicks – In the Name of the Father (1993) and My Left Foot from 1989). Gangs of New York was nominated for best picture Oscar, but Scorsese wouldn’t take home that prize until his next Irish mob movie – The Departed (2006).

Set in that other Irish-American enclave, Boston, The Departed is a remake of the brilliant Chinese spy versus spy thriller, Infernal Affairs (2002). Scorsese recasts it inside the Irish mob with Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio as detectives both working for boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) but on opposite sides of the law. One of the most complex storylines of all-time, Scorsese manages to keep the story on track and the audience on the edge of their seat for two and half hours. Though it pales beside Taxi Driver (1976) or Goodfellas (1990), the Oscar was well deserved.

Also not to be missed, the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossmillering (1990) pays tribute to the 30s gangster flicks, with Gabriel Byrne as chief advisor to Albert Finney’s Irish mobster. Sleazy women, illegal booze and copious violence combined with classic Coen Brothers’ twisted humour make this near-perfect.

If you’re in the mood for smaller, indy flicks, check out Intermission (2003) with Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy featuring in a madcap caper of Dublin slackers trying for the big score. Disco Pigs (2001) is an impossibly sad, but poignant tragedy with Cillian Murphy and Elaine Cassidy as Pig and Runt, childhood soul-mates, now teens torn apart by separate desires. It actually made me cry. For some light-hearted fun, I recommend The Most Fertile Man in Ireland (1999) with Kris Marshall as a 24-year-old virgin red-head who finds he, or rather his high sperm count, is the answer to Ireland’s infertility problems. I Went Down (1997) might be a bit of a mission to track down, but this dis-organised crime comedy is twisted enough to make it worth it.

Lastly, Once (2007) proves that musicals don’t need to be overblown affairs. Shot on home video and a shoestring budget, it ran onceoff with the Audience Award at Sundance. Starring non-actors Glen Hansard (of The Frames) and Marketa Irglova, it’s the straightforward story of a Dublin busker’s budding relationship with a piano-playing solo mum. The scenes where the two musicians begin collaborating are some of the most emotionally honest depictions of music-making ever seen on film. And the original songs, written and sung by Hansard and Irglova, are superb.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

15/03/2009 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Film

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Planning for New York on the Cheap

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xmas-07-usa-0144I’ll be leaving for New York in just a few days now. Hard to believe it’s already here! When I booked the tickets back in January, it seemed like March was an aeon away. But I’m leaving Thursday night New Zealand time. It’s a 12-hour flight to Los Angeles, but I will be arriving in the morning before I left. In fact, I’ll make it to New York in time for a late dinner – right around the time I left Auckland. I love that – it’s like I get a whole extra day. Except that coming back, it takes two full days to get home, which I really hate.

Since this was an impromptu trip and I am going with my friend, Bindi, instead of my darling spouse – we’ve decided to do it as cheaply as possible.

loftHooray for Roomorama! I found a gorgeous loft down by the Brooklyn Bridge for $200 a night ($100 for each of us). My sisters are organising a welcoming party for us in our own home on Saturday night! Take that Hotel Club, etc and your deep-discount Manhattan hotel rooms starting at $250/night each! Actually, booking it was a tiny bit nerve-racking. We booked for eight nights and had to pay up front. $1600 US is nearly a month’s wages with the shrinking kiwi dollar – what if the place was a scam? A couple of apartments I inquired about did feel a little ‘scammish’ but this one didn’t. Fortunately my sister was able to check it out for me and confirm I’d made a good choice.

brooklyn_bridgeBut what will we do there? While the choices are endless, we want to do as many cheap and free things as possible. I got very organised – tracked down a couple hundred websites, cross referencing the ones that wanted me to pay for addresses with Google. Everything has gone into a spreadsheet – so much we couldn’t possibly do it all, but I like the idea of waking up in the morning with a menu of things to pick and choose from.

If I’m in the mood for a boat ride – there’s the free Staten Island Ferry – and we get to see the Statue of Liberty along the way. Feeling like a healthy walk to burn off some of the NY cheesecake? The Brooklyn Bristaten-island-ferrydge is a couple blocks away. Check out local culture – how about a doggy fashion show or a watching a basketball game at the West 4th St basketball courts. For a little classical music, there’s free Opera at the New Yorker hotel, Bach at noon at Grace Church and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a to-die for ensemble in the atrium for the price of a glass of wine.

met-of-artI hear some of the finest gospel in the US can be heard in any of a half dozen churches in Harlem and Brooklyn – they’re happy to have you and it’s free – but when the plate is passed I also hear they expect you to be generous.

upright-citizens-brigade-theater_v1_460x285Every museum has a free day and they’re not all on the same day, so we can go to as many as we want. And of course there are dozens of gallery openings – where the art is fabulous and if the wine isn’t properly cellared – there’s no charge. The Upright Citizens Brigade has two nights of free comedy, hundreds of clubs have live jazz or blues with no cover charge. There’s so much to do in the Big Apple that doesn’t cost a cent, I’m wondering why I haven’t done this before?

circle_line_12june04This will leave us money for a Broadway show (1/2 price at TKTS), a trip around Manhattan on the Circle Line (and maybe a discount limo ride home after.) Bindi wants to shop at Henri Bendel and I am looking forward to Macy’s on Herald Square. Fortunately we agree on Saks and street vendors – we love them both.

Algonquin Hotel

Algonquin Hotel

I’m looking forward to a slightly posh lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, where Bindi and I will bask in the lingering glow of Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle. We’ll gossip and say terrible things about the passersby. And we’ll also make a stop at The Chelsea Hotel, just because I’ve always wanted to go there, and considered staying there this trip – but it’s gotten a bit pricier than the days when Leonard Cohen and Sid Vicious stayed there (not at the same time…) I wonder if it’s it’s still cool.

We considered making a booking at a Michelin restaurant to have one ultra fabulous dinner – but nah – it would be out of place. This is about having fun and doing it in style, without breaking the bank. I figure our biggest expense will taxis and pizza. Mmmm New York pizza…  Just a few more days and I’m there!

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

10/03/2009 at 11:38 pm

All My Trains (Chinese train part 3)

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Previously on Trains of Our Lives, our fair heroine (me) survived a death-defying descent from the upper berth of her miniscule train compartment. She has just made it through a trip to the filthiest loo on five continents.

x-ointmentx-hemx-pads1

Today’s episode is once again brought to you by haemorrhoid cream, incontinence pads and of course, ointment – because what is life without a good, all-purpose ointment?

Back in the compartment, my cohabitants had awakened. The other couple, after hearing my tale of woe regarding the western toilet in this car, with the wailing French woman providing back-up, went in search of something possibly cleaner in another. My spouse merely went to the Chinese toilet in our car, being male and therefore able to point rather than sit.

A porter arrived with a flask of boiling hot water and we made ourselves a breakfast of ramen noodles, tea and a small Mars Bar. Sated, we dressed and set out to explored the train.

We passed through a dozen cars like ours, a very narrow corridor with a dozen or so compartments opening off it. I peered inside some of the open doors and saw as many as eight people crowded into a compartment that contained six berths – with no mattresses, just wooden berths that folded up to the wall when not in use. The Chinese have a reputation for inscrutability, but these families – parents, grandparents and one or two children were busy and excited – I felt a little ashamed for grumbling about my quarters.

We finally reached the dining car. It was crowded to capacity, standing room only with men smoking. The air reminded me of a 70’s New York nightclub. At the doorway, a vendor sold rice porridge and noodles, neither of which looked inviting. We bought a couple of Cokes.

nameless town

nameless town

The train rattled through interminable towns, wheat fields, coal mines and the occasional nuclear power plant, stopping every hour or so to exchange passengers.  Though we saw so much of China during our stay, this long train ride was an uncensored glimpse into ordinary life. But it was the Golden Week, there were virtually no workers in the fields . (Click thumbnails for larger views)

nuclear power

nuclear power

A passive-aggressive conflict arose between east and west – the Chinese do not care for open windows – drafts are not good Feng Shui. Westerners prefer open windows and those drafts dispersed the cigarette smoke produced by those (mostly Chinese men) who did not care for the dining car. A westerner would walk along the corridor opening all the windows. When they returned to their compartment, a Chinese would come out and close them all. I amused myself for 20 minutes observing this from the end of a corridor.

coal, everywhere coal!

coal, everywhere coal!

Every three hours or so, a porter came and cleaned the loos. This was the only time to go. I imagine there was one porter assigned to all the loos on the train and that is how long it took him to complete the task before starting all over.

China is so very beautiful. It possesses a strange quality of being veiled.

solar powered hot water

solar powered hot water

Up close, colours are almost unbearably vivid, but long before your eyeshave reached the horizon, the world has disappeared into the mist. So this vast country has the curious quality of seeming very small.

Having cultivated the land for 6000 years, every hill is a sculpture, no spot of land goes to waste. They are the most efficient people I have encountered.

mines, crops, cemetery

mines, crops, cemetery

And going back to that inscrutability – also the happiest. Nowhere else on earth are people so inclined to break into song or laugh so freely. They can find the humour in almost anything. And despite some of the hardships, are truly appreciative of what they have. I spoke with a few people old enough to remember the days of the Cultural Revolution, though not many of my generation speak English, but those I talked to wanted to tell me about it, and that things are so much better now.

sculptured mountain

sculptured mountain

At 4.30, Eric our guide told us we would be arriving in Xian in half and hour, so we should pack up and be ready to disembark. We would go directly to our hotel, where we would have an hour to shower and change before our dumpling dinner and Tang Dynasty show. We packed up and once again Mother Nature called. I debated whether I could hold it for another hour – no, I couldn’t.

Xian train station - at last!

Xian train station - at last!

The loo was nearly as bad as my morning nightmare. I pulled down my pants and positioned myself again so no part of my body came into contact with the toilet. When I stood up, I realised something was terribly wrong – my pants were soaking wet. In my attempt to avoid the seat, I had leaned too far forward and missed it completely. I did not have a change of clothes with me. Using all my entire roll of toilet paper, I sopped up as much as I could and returned to the compartment just as we pulled into Xian. One long, hot, stinky, soggy-bottomed trip to our hotel – and this nightmare was over.

For me – the romance of overnight train travel is ended for life. Strictly day trips from here on out!

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

08/03/2009 at 2:15 pm

Trains of our Lives (Chinese train part 2)

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It occurs to me the saga of the train ride to Xian was so full of melodrama, angst, chance encounters, intrigues and things that weren’t what they seemed to be – it qualifies as a full-blown soap opera. Today’s episode, is therefore brought to you by your favourite haemorrhoid cream, the latest improvement in incontinence maintenance and ointment you can use on blisters, boils and baby’s bottoms.x-ointment

x-hemx-pads1

As you recall, your raconteur found herself stranded on the top bunk of a miniscule train compartment. Below her the spouse lay in the dark attempting sleep. Across the narrowest of aisles, lay two travel acquaintances, a man and woman of unusual height, who struggled to rest, folded into yoga-like contortions entirely inappropriate for sleep. I assume their breathing patterns were appropriate to get them through the night as both survived. (Unfortunately, later in the trip, the man took seriously ill and found himself in a Chinese ICU. He recovered.)

I lay there, willing myself to sleep, terrified of needing a wee (Damn! Where ARE the sponsor’s incontinence products when you need them most?) Through the flimsy compartment door, a French woman wailed and cried as she tossed and turned and was unwittingly stumbled over by night whizzers en route to the loo. The man across snored soberly. I frowned, but smiled a silent grin, knowing that when I finally wended my way to slumber, he would pay. I can outsnore a chainsaw on a good night.

Though I could swear I hadn’t slept a wink, suddenly I found myself awake. I cracked the window shade and yes, dawn was eking its way across a shimmering green landscape. My bladder notified my brain it was time to be emptied. I sat up, bumping my head on the ceiling and realised there was no way to get down. That woman who required assistance from two men to hoist herself onto that upper berth was not prepared to jump six feet to the floor, especially not on a moving train. But I probably could manage to get my feet on the table…

I flipped over and eased myself down. My feet reached the table, and as my weight came to rest, it tilted just enough to send me zooming, feet first into the lower bunk, bouncing back as I landed to catch the table’s edge square in the back, my head flopping. I  suppressed a scream and settled for a gasp. No, I was pretty sure I didn’t have whiplash. I slipped into the disposable slippers that Eric our guide had included with our food packets and entered the corridor.The French woman had passed out sometime during the night. She lay sprawled out, uncovered in her jammies. I resisted the urge to fix her blanket and made my way to the loo.

After a major clean-up!!!

After a major clean-up!!!

Jesus, Mary and all the saints preserve us! Nothing prepares you for the sight and smell of a toilet that has been used by fifty men in the middle of the night, men whose aim is undoubtedly poor in the comfort of their facilities at home. Add the rocking of the train and the disorientation of travel and it looked as if there had been some kind of contest going on all night. Who could reach highest, farthest, coat the seat, piss in the sink, on the sink? Even the mirror??? The male of the species has a lot to answer for. But there I was, with a full bladder and nowhere else to go. I’ll spare you the details for now, but squatting in such a way as to prevent any part of my body to come into contact with any surface was a yogic miracle.

Using a wad of toilet paper to open the door, I found a queue had formed, fronted by the French woman. I scurried down the corridor to my compartment as her piercing shriek bolted through the air…

Join us tomorrow, friends, for the next episode of All My Trains

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

06/03/2009 at 12:19 am

Romantic train journey in China??? (pt 1)

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orientexpress1There’s a certain romance attached to train travel, an elegance associated with sleeper and dining cars. Think Some Like it Hot, or Murder on the Orient Express, or any of a dozen screwball comedies starring Cary Grant or Kathryn Hepburn. Though I’ve travelled extensively in Europe, the US and Asia, I’d never had the chance to experience it myself.

Until my trip to China. As part of the pre-arranged tour, we were to travel from Beijing to Xian on an overnight train – going ‘soft’ class all the way. I envisioned rich oriental furnishings, sumptuous delicacies served in the dining car and impeccable service from well-trained porters. I couldn’t wait!

We had a hectic final day in Beijing – the Great Wall, a rickshaw ride through a hutong (traditional high-density housing), followed by a visit to a local home and finally dinner. Our train was scheduled to leave at eight in the evening. During dinner our guide, Eric, told us there was going to be a change. As it was the start of the Golden Week (May 1st), one of two weeks a year, when most of the Chinese go on holiday. Over half a billion people on the move – and some official had forgotten to book something. Our train had been requisitioned by the government. The whole train. Eric had known this might happen the day before, but forgot to tell us since he had let the other passengers know during dinner, but we had gone out with a friend of a friend. We had packed the minimum we had previously been instructed – pyjamas and toiletries for overnight. Oh well, things happen. Our bags were already gone, so it was too late to grab a change of clothes.

After whiling the evening away in a hotel bar, the group headed for the Beijing train station. On the bus, we were each given a plastic grocery bag. Inside we found several packets of Chinese noodles, candy bars, tea bags, crackers and assorted other junk food. Eric advised that the food available on the train wasn’t very nice and probably not safe for us to eat. Uh oh.

beijingtrain-beijngstationThe bus dropped us off about a kilometre from the station. I did not take this photo, as we arrived about 11 at night. But it looked like half the city was in flight, refugees in a makeshift camp. The entire grounds were densely packed with people camping out, hoping to get a train out of town. We picked our way through thousands of families in sleeping bags, a week’s worth of travel gear stacked up around them, huddled together to keep safe and warm. We struggled to keep up, trying not to get separated from the group. Once inside, our guides navigated us through the teeming hordes (yes, hordes, and you have never seen such teeming!) With our tickets finally guaranteed, we made our way to the soft class lounge – standing room only – where we waited another hour. Our guide then informed us that the train we would be taking was not an express like the original train, so instead of a 12 hour trip, it would take 17 hours to reach Xian. Uh oh.

beijing-train-station-0As we approached the platform, my visions of rich upholstery and polished porters vanished. ‘Soft’ class meant we had inch-thick mattresses and would be joined in our compartment by only 2 other people. Fortunately, it was an Australian couple from our group. A French woman travelling solo with another group refused to bunk with three Chinese women and shrieked and wailed for what seemed like hours and finally slept on the floor in the narrow filthy corridor.

Our compartment was too small to call a cabin. The berths were barely two feet wide. The lowers were at a fine level, suitable for sitting. But the uppers were about six feet up and there was no ladder. You had to use rock-climbing techniques and scale the wall, fitting your feet into little ledges about 2 inches deep to get leverage. Since my husband has a bit of arthritis, he couldn’t climb up there, leaving it to me. I am not a small, spry woman – you would never take me for the rock climbing type. I couldn’t manage it on my own, not even with my husband pushing froxian-train-soft-classm behind. Alas, it required two men, profound humiliation and vows to never eat again to get me up there. No chance of a quick whizz in the middle of the night.

Once up I realised I had to lie flat. If I curled onto my side and the train came to a sudden stop, the tiny railing would surely break loose and I would roll off. Thank goodness I’m not taller.  At 5’6″ my head and feet touched the walls. Surely I could get to sleep. I was deeply exhausted… And tomorrow would bring more adventures – I was sure…

Stay tuned for part deux…

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

04/03/2009 at 11:14 pm

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