Friday, May 30, 2008

Trains in China

After a relaxing weekend in Xitang, we had to purchase tickets back to Shanghai. We arrived at the station, thinking that if the original train we wanted was completely full, we can take the next one. You cannot order a train ticket by phone, it appears that one must go to the station ahead of time, wait in line to purchase the tickets. Ah, the things we take for granted.

Mark and I arrive around 9:00am and the lines were almost to the entrance way. We patiently waited for our turn, and as most things in China, the Chinese are not big on the queue forming ritual. We were the second in line, and at least 5 people cut ahead of us and no thanks to the security guard who also assisted the impatient travelers to wiggle in ahead. We were the next ones up and 2 more people cut through. Now granted by now we should be use to this, but there are times it's rather unnerving, so just remember this when you are visiting Beijing for the Olympics. We finally get our tickets for an early train and hopped on that one. The cost 8RMB equivalent to $1.10 USD. We had the hard seats, which should tell you what the train ride would be like. What's a hard seat?

Well, let's see, they're hard for one. They are basically benches where three people sit beside each other on one side, and two people sit next to each other on the other side facing each other. Air conditioning is non existent and only a few windows can open. They are crammed, dirty and generally it appears the overbooking is the norm. It's the Darwinian theory, only the strongest survive. Oh, and because we were Laowai's everyone stared or tried to strike up a conversation.

As we were waiting we checked our tickets and unlike the train coming where we had designated seats, this one was a free for all. Great, just what we needed, everyone trying to get a seat with all their luggage. This wasn't going to be pretty.

The train out, with designated seats. I did not take a picture for the return train as the cameras were packed away.
The train pulls up, and everyone ran to the door to get their seat. We headed to the back of the train where a few of us made it in one piece. The only problem, no seats. I looked at Mark, and said, "can they do this?". "Ah, honey", he replies, "we're in China remember". Apparently I didn't have enough coffee.

Everyone hovered around the bathrooms, with all their luggage not moving anywhere, though clearly you can see there was some empty spaces in the middle, so Mark and I muscled our way through and found a seat. Better than nothing we thought.

The train itself was disgusting, and dirty. People throwing their garbage on the floors, though the cleaners came through twice during the hour we were on the train. This was the complete opposite of the train we had taken from Shanghai to Hangzhou, where it was immaculate, new and quick. This one reminded us of what you would expect back in the 60's.

That being said, the trains in China are quite social. Everyone talks to each other whether they know each other or not, kids play and run around, while others enjoy a good card game.

After receiving an email from Barb, saying she needs another $165 (CAD) for a train from Frankfurt to Salzburg, I would have to say, I would rather take a train within China. Well at least for nothing else, the cost was much better.

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