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February 10, 2011
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On last summer’s vacation trip through Mongolia and China, my parents had the brilliant idea of traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway (Mongolia, China, and Russia). My parents are the type of people who like to immediately immerse themselves in the culture they are currently in, and this Mongolia/China trip was no different.

While in Mongolia, before my family and I got to the train station, we asked the local people about the train ride. Many people explained to us that they did sell food on the train, but because the train holds hundreds of people and only one dining car, we had little chance of seeing any of it. We were instructed to buy food from the local supermarket and bring it aboard with us. Ramen would be especially good, because they have unlimited hot water for tea. I must relay to you that when shopping for food in a foreign supermarket, with letters and squiggles that do not even come close to English words, you might get food that does not look or taste like what you expected it to look or taste like. I learned the hard way that labels and cartons lie. The only things that we found to eat that looked semi-edible and would not perish were cups of ramen that had cows on it (so we assumed it was beef flavored), bread, peanut butter, jelly, bottles of water, and two-liter bottles of orange soda. After we bought all of our delicious findings, we went back to our hotel and left the next day to the train station.

When in the train station, we tried to unload all of our luggage by ourselves. Alas, we could not because each one of us had packed a duffel bag, a carry-on, and a backpack due to our duration of the trip, a month. We ended up dragging it all the way to the platform which, let me tell you, was not fun….at all.

As soon as the train came to the platform, we got on our car and found our cabin. This room was a cozy six foot by seven foot claustrophobic inferno. I think that this violates a few human cruelty laws because with four people that each had a duffel bag, a carry-on, and a backpack, we barely had room to breathe. I am pretty sure that even jail cells are more accommodating then the room we were holed up in for twenty-six hours. After we had re-arranged everything so that the four of us could actually lie down without banging our heads on something, we were all sweating. I looked outside and saw that it was sunny. I then looked at the thermometer and saw it was about 95 degrees. That room was going to baking me like a cookie.

When the train started up, we were all relieved because we thought that once the train began to move, the air-conditioning would start. It did not. When wandering the train’s many compartments, I came to find that only the tourists’ cabins were air-conditioned, and that since my parents wanted to immerse ourselves into this culture, we were in a compartment surrounded by locals. After a few walks around train cars, I realized I had to go pee. I started to check every restroom I could but they were all locked. After waiting for about twenty minutes for a restroom to open up, a kind Mongolian businessman informed me that the sign on the door read that it does not open thirty minutes before a stop and thirty minutes after a stop. This frightened me further because the train stopped every forty-five minutes until six at night. It was noon. I told myself that I really did not have to go pee, and that I could hold it.

After convincing myself that I really did not have to go pee every minute, I started to get hungry. I opened up my cup of ramen and filled it with hot water. After waiting an excruciating five minutes, I opened the lid and started cramming it in my mouth. Yowza! My mouth instantly became Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption of the century. I must bring to your attention that I cannot handle spice; I cannot even handle regular table pepper. This was a bazillion times hotter than table pepper! I did not want to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich so I ended up gulping it down and drinking half a gallon of water. Of course, this did not help with the whole need-to-go-pee situation. About ten minutes later, I ended up desperately running to find a bathroom. Five train cars later I found it—my potty palace heaven. Frantically, I slammed shut the sliding door and upon looking inside I realized, in this potty palace, there was no potty, only a lone hole in the ground with a pole you grab to help stabilize the user of the restroom. After carefully doing what nature intended us to do, I looked around again only to discover that they did not have any toilet paper. My mind racing, I frantically began to look for something to use and was fortunate enough to find some tissues in my back pocket.

When I returned to my cabin, I established that there was nothing of great importance or fun to do for the next eighteen hours so I started to watch Comedy Central Stand Up on my iPod and coach my summer homework, Three Cups of Tea. When it started to get dark, we tried to turn our room light on. The key word here was tried, because no matter which switch we flipped or what light we banged on, our attempts were futile. My whole family sat in the dark until 1 a.m. in the morning watching our iPods because it was too hot to sleep. All of a sudden our train jerked to a stop. We looked outside and found that our train car was being separated and lifted away from the rest of the train. After being asked for our passports we realized that we were at the Mongolia/China border. My family and I expected to give up our passports, but what we did not expect was the three hour long wait in the unbearable heat for the train mechanics to replace the wheels of the train that fit the standard Mongolian tracks to Chinese wheels that fit the standard Chinese tracks. I do not know about you, but if I had a train that traveled the same route three times a week, I would make sure they all have the SAME TYPE OF TRACKS!!!

When I learned of these peoples stupid antics and how, if they were only smart, I would not be in this stinky, hot, wretched place, I started to get irate. After brooding and sweating about three pounds of water, I tried to replenish it by drinking another half gallon of orange soda. My body came to the conclusion that I did in fact, have to go pee again. Frantically searching each compartment for a restroom that was open, I remembered we were stopped. In an effort to not pee myself, I dragged my mom outside of the train to the station, and went to the bathroom in their restrooms. I can honestly say that I now value American toilets a lot more than I used to.

After I got back on the train, my brain was so frazzled and tired that I just passed out on the teeny little bed allowed to me. I ended up sleeping until an hour before we got off the train. My parents assured me this was a good thing because they said that I most certainly would have whined and complained about everything a second time, and they could not have handled it.

Once we got to the platform, they let us off the train and by then, we thought our pain and anguish was done. It was not. To get to the main station, we had to climb up two sets of stairs and then down two sets of stairs with all of our luggage. Because my mom has bad knees and my brother is a ninety-eight pound weakling, it meant that my dad and I had to carry most of our luggage. I ended up strapping a duffel bag on my back and then trying to carry one in my arms. I must express that they weighed fifty pounds each and that in itself was hard. What was harder still was that five billion people were trying to go up and down the stairs at the same time and they ended up squishing me against the wall every thirty seconds. After many attempts, we finally made it to the main station.

This journey to the main station was so much more than just a train ride. I learned how to semi-control my bladder; live off of really spicy food, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and orange soda; and endure squatty potties, unbearable heat, and climbing up really crowded stairs—two duffle bags and a backpack at a time. With the worst behind us, we headed off to a country of 1.4 billion people, smog infested air, weird food, and suspicious meats being grilled on sidewalks—China.

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