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traveling-by-train-in-China

Traveling by Train in China

My first train ride in China was very pleasant indeed; maybe a little too pleasant in fact. I had spent my first few days in China visiting the major attractions in Beijing and getting a feel for the land and the people. A lady from Singapore had befriended me on the Great Wall tour and in addition to helping me understand what my tour guide was saying and teaching me how to use chopsticks, she also assisted me in buying a train ticket from Beijing’s Central Railway Station to Shanghai. She must have thought I was wealthy because she booked me a deluxe Soft Sleeper berth. I was utterly unfamiliar with the Chinese train system so when I shelled out 400 RMB for the ticket, I had no idea that I was buying the “best seat in the house.” I assumed that saying in the enclosed air conditioned room with free tea and a soft white bed was how most Chinese people traveled, twelve hours later, when I stepped off the train in Shanghai. I was well rested and had a very good first impression of the train system in China.

Four days later, as I made my way into Central China, I found myself sitting on a hard upright seat sandwiched in between tow other people in a crowded, noisy, train. I had attempted to secure a soft sleeper but either because of language problems or because there were no soft sleepers available, I was sold a very cheap ticket. I was supposed to have been on the train for 15 hours but because of weather delays, it was 20 hours before I reached my destination. After my initial ride from Beijing to Shanghai, this trip was quite a rude awakening. Throughout the night, I desperately tried to find a good “sleeping” position but it was impossible. I envied the man on my left who at least had a window to lean against. I could just not fall asleep in an upright position. Even if I had managed to find a halfway comfortable position, the noise in my train car would have probably kept me awake. All around me, people were having loud discussions, playing cards, singing, and eating I was able to “doze off” but I was always awakened by a loud voice.

Although this trip was exhausting, I did manage to make friends with a girl and her sister who were sitting across from me. Using a few words of English and a few words of Chinese, we were able to communicate for about 2 minutes before we had exhausted our vocabularies. However, we did exchange addresses before we parted ways, and later we became penpals. I also learned how to fill my bowl of noodles with scalding hot water and carefully carry it back to my seat. I would look back later in this first train ride with fondness but when I arrived at my destination I felt like I had been awake for days. I was ready to drop down on the pavement outside of the train station and sleep for months.

Of course, this would not be my last train ride. Since then, I have literally spent days on trains in China and have experienced the four classes of seats: Hard Seat, Soft Seat, Hard sleeper, and Soft Sleeper. On short trips, I have found that a hard seat is adequate. However, on a long trip, paying a few extra RMB for a Soft Seat can make a large difference in terms of your comfort level. Unfortunately, not every train offers Soft Seats and they can be hard to get on short notice. I think that for long trips, it is always worth the extra money to pay for a sleeper.

The Hard Sleepers usually consist of six small bunks in an open compartment. There is a few

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