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Monday, 12 September 2016

7 hours



The seven hour train journey from Surabaya to Yogyakarta was, quite frankly, a test of endurance that I was ill-prepared for. I had turned up for a marathon without even owning a pair of running shoes : actually not unlike how I would turn up to run a marathon, but at least then I'd have a sense of the horror I was in for.

I got on the train and it was rammed. My seat was as the back, I squeezed along, vaguely aware that I was whacking fellow passengers with my backpack's many straps. Squeeze, squeeze, squeezing along. At one point I dropped my bottle of water loudly and had to bend most inelegantly to pick it up. Generally I was just making a bit of a scene.

I finally found my seat but there was nowhere to put my bag. Shit. More squeezing as I pushed together other people's luggage and harrumphed my bag onto the rack above us. Phew.

Now I can relax I thought. Little did I know the ordeal was only just beginning.

The 'seats' were arranged in groups of 6, I say 'seats' because they were actually small padded benches, very small for six people. Very very small. I was sitting with a family of a four and a young woman on her phone: me between the young woman and the smallest child.

I settled in as best possible, which was not easy as these trains are clearly designed with osteopathic torture in mind. The seats lean forward ever so slightly, so that your upper back is thrust in front of your hips, and there is literally nowhere to put your arms.

Even worse than this (yes, it gets worse) the chairs are so thin that whenever the person behind you moves to adjust themselves they inadvertently push against you and so you must move to adjust yourself, starting a silent war. I soon found myself genuinely hating the man behind me.

Finally, it was just oh so very cold: the aircon cranked up so ridiculously high that I was shivering in my small summer dress.

I got my book out, but before I could finish the first sentence the mother opposite me was forcibly coaxing a palpably embarrassed child to pose for photographs pretending to be asleep on my arm. 

Then, immediately as this ended, the one other white person on the train: an old Australian man, came over to formally introduce himself to me – because I too am white. Amazingly this racial identification was not indicative of common interests, and eventually I was allowed to settle somewhat awkwardly into my book : elbows tucked firmly into my sides.

This relative peace did not last long: soon the child started being very audibly sick into a thin (perilously thin) plastic bag. We were travelling backwards, and was suddenly struck with the horrific thought that I might too be sick: I stared at the page no longer able to concentrate on the words, a carton of chocolate milk swirling around within me ....

This was the first half an hour of a seven hour journey.

Thankfully somehow I was not sick and the children soon fell asleep: something that proved impossible for me.

All in all, when I emerged from the train, some seven hours later, icicles forming in my hair, back stooped and stiff, like some sort of deformed snow man, it is safe to say I've never been happier to leave anywhere in my entire life.