Hard Seat from Shenzhen to Shenyang Chapter 4

Different Lines

By Miller Wey

On the way back to his seat, the young businessman spotted the boy. He was sleeping deeply with head was pressed flat on the glass of the train window and much of his body with it, forced over by the man next to him, a large man with a hard, dark face in a rough navy blue sports coat. When the young businessman had passed the seat before he hadn’t been there. He must have just gotten on the train from some nameless, small Chinese town. Why on earth would this foreign boy, maybe a few years younger than him, be getting on to a train to Shenyang in the middle of nowhere? Maybe he was an English teacher? Could he be one of those backpackers with an overstuffed North Face bag living like a snail with his house on his back?

As the young businessman walked past the boy, he held his breath. Recognition by another foreigner meant excited, staring eyes. Questions. Questions. The same questions. WhatsyournamehaveyoubeeninChinalongcanyouspeakChineseyoucan’t-speakanybetterthanthatshouldn’tyouknowwhatyou’redoingImakemoremoneythan-you? He pushed and gave gingerly through the people standing in the aisle and glanced the way of the foreign boy, still deep in sleep.

He propped himself against the wall with the edge of one hand and each foot against another wall while he pissed carefully into the metal squat toilet so as not to splash anything on his shoes or pants. Outside it was getting darker but he wasn’t sure how he was going to sleep. Hypnotizing passing flashes of fields, of farms, of sloped and ancient roofs.

His train was much later than Diane’s, not that he really knew when she left exactly. He had asked around for nearly three hours before the man selling buns by the snack store told him he had seen a blonde foreign woman. What’s the longest train ride from here? she had asked. Her Chinese was good for a foreign blonde woman. But where did she go? The Chinese bun salesman didn’t know. Where did you tell her? The bun salesman didn’t understand. What’s the longest train ride? Oh, Shenyang.

The only tickets left were the hard seats, which he only regretting buying upon seeing the seats. This was his first trip on a Chinese train; how bad could a “hard seat” be? On his left was a pink-faced man in a polo shirt and glasses who slept much of the time. His snoring was a long, drawn-out guttural rumble that stopped sharply in sudden choke-like fits and it was a wonder he didn’t wake up. On his right was an older woman who spoke in a dialect he couldn’t place, making futile any attempts at conversation. Sleeping was difficult crammed between his seatmates on the uncomfortable blue chair. He played a paddle game on his cell phone for several hours until his first bathroom break.

“Hey, white guy.” Had the scruffy, vomit-marked boy followed him? Maybe he was a vicious drunk. Could he want a fight? A quick, stolen look revealed a young woman crouching against the wall in the jointed section between cars. The comment a joke, no doubt. No other white guys, must be him.

“Um, hi.”

“Did you see the food cart?” It had passed him a few hours ago maybe. He told her so.

“Is your seat near here?” she asked and he pointed and told her vaguely where it was.


After going through the usual questions, they stood together in the jointed space between cars. Their dialogue petered out after he had in turn asked all the questions she had asked him. Elena from Colombia chewed on sunflower seeds bought from the food cart. She carefully put the broken shells into an empty plastic tissue package. Diane usually spat them out on the floor.

“Jay, have you ever thought that the world is such a small place?” she asked. He had a hard time looking at her eyes for too long. Nerves. “How strange it is to meet someone on a train like this?”

He thought about her breasts under her shirt. “There are a lot of people on the train,” he said. She was quiet after that. How long had it been since he’d talked with a woman besides Diane?

A few nights before his girlfriend left, he told her she was like a sexless aesthetic after he came home drunk from a work meeting. She didn’t show for a night and didn’t answer her phone and he thought she was dead or hit by a car or something horrible until he got a text message:

took bus to shenzhen getting train

And another:


This is part of an ongoing collaboration. To contribute a chapter, see the Guidelines for Hard Seat from Shenzhen to Shenyang.