I Think I Can: taking the train in China

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THIS IS A REBOOT, OR I THINK IT IS. FOUND IT IN MY DRAFTS. TIMELY CONSIDERING I AM ONCE AGAIN IN THE THROES OF BOOKING TRAINS – IN CANADA AND CHINA.

I first had to get to the station. Everyday before I headed to my room I asked about arranging for a taxi to catch my 6:38AM train. I was assured, more than once, that a taxi could be flagged down. I requested one be ordered. The evening before departure  I made the same request.

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Morning, I heard people departing. I did wonder if they too were heading to the railway station. Nope, they were going to the airport, on the way to the station. Too bad the person at reception decided to write down that I was going to the airport in the opposite direction – for which a car had been ordered! This is why I ask, also why I leave early for anywhere. Fortunately everything worked out but I was not happy. I had to pay 100CNY (20CAD) for what could have been a shared ride at no more than 50, most likely less. There went my hostel deposit. I will unlikely return to Phoenix Hostel in the future.

The station was, as expected, nuts. I would estimate tens of thousands of people were leaving just that morning. I kid you not! Chaos was prevented by providing enough staff and efficient security. The lines looked horrific yet the swarms of people moved through quickly then dispersed to which ever gates to their destinations. Sort of like masses of ants that scatter as they leave the anthill, all with one thing in mind. Get there. I am grateful I have been cycling and walking more, as well as walking up and down my 68 stairs at home – my backpack, daypack and small purse/pack were not easy to carry in the line and then down about 50 stairs!

First class only means your seat. The hoi poloi with standing tickets stand in the aisles, or nab an empty seat until someone with a seat ticket boards, including first class. It makes for crowded conditions, lots of noise and, rather to my embarrassment – I really did not want to appear like the fearful foreigner, but I do know about thievery on trains in China – more carefully watching my bags. My backpack was overhead but the other bags stayed with me. A little squished, my seat mate did not seem to mind.

I kept falling asleep, some yappy dog had kept waking me up all night and I had to be up at 4:00 to make it to the station. So I did not really think about eating, had no coffee and discovered that two bananas, a dragon fruit and some cookies would not be sufficient for a 15 hour train trip. I did what everyone says not to, I bought food on the train. Overpriced, rehydrated something. I did manage to have enough left to cover lunch and dinner, at a hefty price of 45CNY. That hit the budget very hard. (I never did eat the rest nor did I have the dragonfruit while onboard)

image-3The first 3 hours were shrouded in fog, smog and rain. These past three hours only had some glimpses of lushness, everywhere else has unfinished buildings, dirty tenement style shacks – it is the tracks after all – worn out looking apartment buildings with barred windows, glimpses of vast roadways, green swathes and razed grounds in readiness for who knows what. So far there seems to be no old China left. The mix of drizzle, coal dust and construction leaves everything looking dismal.

The grey shroud melted away and behold forest, valleys and hills galore! The Yiwan Line is constructed through the Karst area, brief glimpses of absolute beauty, blink and be swallowed by yet another tunnel. Its total length is 377 km (about 234 mi). of which 278 km (about 173 mi) is tunnels and bridges. This continued for several hours. I was pining for daylight after maybe the tenth tunnel – dark, claustrophobic, no end in sight – China has some of the longest tunnels in the world and I am sure we went through some of them. The whole trip from Shanghai to Chengdu is a mind numbing 2078 km, about 15 hours of sitting, jostling, spoiled children, and the general noise of one hundred or so people boarding, de-boarding, eating, wrapped in the joviality of a holiday. Nothing like flying.image-1

I was quite proud of myself to be one of the several pushing my way through the crowds, head to the taxi stand and be one of the first hundred in line. Until my driver could not understand where I was going. Out of the car, train police officer joined the conversation, a lot of ‘wait a moment’, in Chinese of course, then eventually seven police (I can only hope they were only attached to the train station) helping, well, one mainly, with the others offering various bits of advice. The problem was that the phone number to the hostel appeared to be incorrect. It was not, just not a very bright taxi driver – I am of the opinion they do this on purpose – who could have easily seen that one of the digits was the provincial code. Photo of my passport taken, they needed to make their help appear official I guess, my signature on a blank page – God forbid! I was off with written instructions and a new driver. I have to stop arriving at hostels at midnight.

  • Tips: keep your cool when lost in translation – I did, thank goodness. Until I arrived at the hostel
  • Taxi – 28
  • Tea – 15 (revived by just the scent – I also know how to order it in Chinese)
  • Dumplings – 15 (midnight dinner)
  • Room – 780 (three nights – I think the young officer with the best English helping me was horrified until he saw it was for three nights. Still probably out of his range – it was on my confirmation with the difficult phone number)

Still within budget. I had to check before bed. Which was very comfortable, a rarity even ar five star hotels in China.

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