During the early 90’s in the UK I remember a period of unrest about the conditions in which livestock was being transported by trucks. At this time, all the newspapers carried photos of cattle packed into trailers more tightly than Bronco’s fans in Wal-Mart on a Sunday in Colorado.
The epicenter for the animal right’s protests appeared to be the harbor close to where I grew up. For many weeks protestors blocked the entrance to the harbor and chained themselves to the trucks in a desperate attempt to stop the cattle transportation.
Due to the growing tensions, the harbor was being patrolled heavily by the police in an attempt to try and control the protests.
One after afternoon at this time I was nonchalantly riding my bike along the sidewalk near to the protests when I was suddenly set upon by two bored police officers. Apparently it is illegal to ride your bike on the pavement and they proceeded to reprimand me for the next 15 minutes about my terrible indiscretion.
Now I did not in anyway disagree with the protestations of the animal right’s folk, however, after my run in with the police, and if you’ll excuse the pun, my only beef with the situation was with the protestors as it was their actions which had caused the police to be in the vicinity when I was committing that heinous crime.
The protests eventually ran their course and I was left feeling pretty indifferent about the condition of cattle traveling economy class in the back of trucks. However, my indifference was heavily challenged recently having suffered the condition of China’s overnight sleeper trains.
We were traveling 17 hours from Shanghai to Xi’an and the close quarter conditions we were going to endure became apparent immediately upon arrival at the station- it was more like a holding area for herds of cows than a waiting area for passengers. Everyone was herded in through security gates with no sense of order into an area fit to hold perhaps one third of the people there.
The conditions on the train did not fair much better. Six people were squeezed into a space where only two people would normally be comfortable. The beds were stacked bunk style, three high, either side of the minuscule compartment, leaving just enough room between beds for you to raise your head slightly in the prostate position.
The bed’s design seemed to fail entirely in acknowledging a human would be sleeping on them, being far too short and narrow for even the slightest person.
I’d like to say that in these conditions the on board restroom was a breath of fresh air. However, that could not be further from the truth. The smell of the urine stained toilet cubicle didn’t so much offend the nostrils but your entire being down to the darkest corners of your soul. Add to this the continuous hawking of people clearing their thoughts (a favored Chinese pass time apparently) and that just about spells it out to you.
Looking back now at the conditions in which we were transported I am a little surprised not to have seen some animal right’s activists chained to the tracks in front of the train in an act of repulsion.
Having suffered these conditions personally I feel my indifference to cattle transportation is changing to become more in line with those protestors at the harbor. Perhaps next time people decide they want to protest this issue, I will ride my bike (legally of course) down to join the protestors, chain myself to the nearest dreadlocked activist and demand that the cattle are provided with at least sanitary restroom facilities.