Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From Bangkok to the South

We find our places on the train, and after a dinner of sushi and a blueberry muffin (I'm all for multiculturalism) we're on our way! I watch the trackside slums slip past: women hang out laundry, children pile stones on top of each other, and men sit about drinking, all just inches from the rails (or casually wandering across them, in some cases!). Couldn't happen in England.

Sara and I both had upper berths, which means our seats were on opposite sides of the aisle. I switched to the seat facing hers, hoping that whoever was meant to be sitting there would be accommodating. At Bang Sue station, the intended occupants or our corresponding lowers duly arrived. Thais: a man, a particularly vast woman, and two children, a boy and a girl, aged seven or eight. I managed to indicate that I was just taking the seat to sit with my friend, but would not try to usurp the bottom bunk. We pondered how these four would fit into two berths. Luckily the kids were small.

The eager attendant deemed it bedtime at about 7:30, and came through the carriage efficiently setting up the beds (the upper bunks fold up for the day and pull down at night, while the seats ingeniously convert into the lower beds with a satisfying ker-chunk, ker-chunk). For some reason we couldn't quite determine, he started with ours, in the middle of the carriage. Thai logic.

The attendant ker-chunked his way through the rest of the carriage, and we obediently took our places. Read for a while, studied the Philippines Lonely Planet in preparation for that leg of our trip. I looked down to see, through the half-closed curtain, the belly of the fat woman (whose shirt had ridden up) spilling over the edge of the bunk, while the small girl curled up in one corner.

My sushi-and-muffin supper didn't fill me up for long. At 11 o'clock, with sleep not presenting itself, I headed in search of sustenance. I tottered down (or is it up?) the carriage, skirting the anklet-ed leg of a backpacker dangling through the curtain of an upper berth (all backpackers choose top bunks, because they're cheaper), past the tin toilets (squat-style, of course, with a short funnel that deposits waste directly onto the track beneath. I try to avoid using them), past the train doors, open to the night. The next carriage was seating class, where dozing passengers contort into bizarre sleeping positions in the stiff chairs, their heads bandaged with sweaters against the brightly blazing fluorescent lights (which aren't switched off for the entire trip).

In the buffet car a group of Thais crowded around one table with the remains of a feast of mango and sticky rice, and a gang of western lads drank cans of Singha beer and reminisced noisily about their adventures thus far.

I asked for a menu, and the lady pulled a fried rice ready meal from a coolbox. “Don't you have anything else?” I asked, and she nodded enthusiastically, and started unwrapping it. I asked again, in Thai, and she indicated a trayful of polystyrene dishes. “Chick-ken.” It was pork kapow with fried egg. I took one, even though I don't really like kapow, or fried eggs, but since ready-meal fried rice invariably tastes like cardboard, I judged it the lesser of two evils.


At 11:14 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the attendant ker-chunking through the carriage, you can see/hear him. Dddy


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