The Gap Year
de Nicholas Lees
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31st January 2008, 2.00am. Shanghai West Train Station. After a 37 hour train journey and being awoken by a Chinese rail worker at 1.30 am we half fell half staggered out of the huge hard sleeper caridge capable of sleeping up to 6 people per cabin. The company for the journey were Chinese families, dead animals and fruit carts. It was the week preceding Chinese New Year and accompanying the already strained national public transport system in a country of 1.4 billion people was the worse weather to hit the country in 60 years. Tired, hungry and utterley lost we proceeded through the terminal, one of 4 at the station. Men, woman and children were everywhere, sleeping on boxes, slumped against walls and selling train tickets. The last week had seen us travelling 1,497.5 miles across central China by train, bus, ferry and foot. We didn't speak a word of Chinese, knew nobody in Shanghai and only had a rough route planned, a Lonely Planet and the clothes and bags on our shoulders. The Gap Year had only just begun.
10th July 2008, 1.00pm. The Cheesecake Factory, San Francisco. Our 10 hour flight home departed in less than five hours, landing at 3pm the following day. The last meal from six months travelling over looking Union Square. Tomorrow we would be home, with families, friends and back to reality. The BART metro ride took around 40 minutes, from Powell Street to SFO and cost $5.20. No-one attempted to start a conversation to fill the silence for there were no uncomfortable silences anymore. Everyone had their own thoughts and memories to dwell on. The last six months had been an adventure, a challenge and an experience that each of us would never forget. This is our story.