Nury Vittachi on Travel Woes


A time-travel train that Einstein would have loved ….The Funny Side by Nury Vittachi  

Dear Internet Answers, I just got invited to a beach party. What’s the maximum possible weight loss in a 25-minute train journey? Yeah, I’m starting late, but what can you do? While waiting for a response, I found that a reader had sent me a news item about a rail journey. Angry court officials in India confiscated a railway train — and the 100 passengers on it.

I looked up news reports on the incident to see that passengers did not seem unduly annoyed. No one expects trains in India to run perfectly on schedule and I guess some travellers enjoyed having ringside seats at a battle between two major groups of bossy officials. (India is not Japan, where people claim 99 per cent of trains seem to run on schedule.)

Train timetables in India are wonders of science, anyway. I recall one hill station in the north where there was only one train, scheduled to leave at 2.30 p.m. every day. In fact, it left at a variety of times, but townsfolk solved the problem by declaring that whatever time the train left was 2.30 p.m., and all other clocks and watches were adjusted accordingly, each day. In one fell sweep, the train became the only one in THE WORLD that left exactly on time every single day. (Yes, a 100 per cent on-time score, take that, Japan.)

Einstein, who was a) always going on about the malleability of the spacetime continuum, b) using trains as examples, and c) pointing out that everything was relative, would have thoroughly approved.

Confiscating vehicles along with passengers is not uncommon. I was the reporter in a case in Hong Kong in which a woman hired a removal firm to shift her furniture. Halfway to her new home, police arrested the staff and impounded the truck, furniture AND householder.

In Asia, unpredictable journeys are the norm. Those of us who fly a lot in the region are used to occasionally landing in the wrong country, and sometimes we stay for the rest of our lives, not wanting to be considered fussy.

In China, train crowds are packed so tightly that they become single multi-legged organisms, and you find yourself lifted off your feet and taken to places not of your choosing. This can be useful. “I tried to come straight home, dear, but the press of the crowd took me to a series of bars, at each of which I managed to grab a drink to stave off dehydration.”

Since journeys in Asia are long and unpredictable, all vehicles are considered legitimate places in which to sleep. A rather beautiful young woman fell asleep on my shoulder on the bus the other day. I tried to look like a cool boyfriend, but she eventually woke up and sprang out of the bus in a single movement. It may even have been her stop.

The internet has still not answered my question. Which may be good news, since it would be a crime to waste this crushed but not ancient donut I found in my bag, right? After all, the journey may be longer than predicted. Happy travels.