Our first train ride started as all first train rides do, with fear and panic! Before we had even left the hostel Steph had deemed it more important to finish off tumble drying our clothes than perhaps leaving on time to collect our tickets before we even can get on the train. So we left our hostel 40 minutes later than planned, in a major city, on a Friday during rush hour, lets just say not much was said during the taxi ride, which we eventually found after 15 minutes of trying! Thankfully the taxi got us there in good time and we still had time to sort out our tickets and be at the gate. Just to explain boarding Chinese trains is a little like flying, you need to be there in advance of leaving and it is advised if you have luggage to get near the front of the queue so you can get your bags in the storage spaces available, and seeing what some folks travel with you would understand.
I relaxed as we walked towards the station and Steph was smiling as we were there on time and we had dry clothes! About 30 seconds later though the smile was gone as we walked into the ticket office and was confronted by a wall of Chinese commuters and boards of Mandarin symbols, the journey was just beginning.
No one spoke English and the security guard would not let us in the station as we only had a print out of our confirmation. We went to another ticket office and found a lady with no queue, also no English. A trait of the Chinese is to speak to you as if you know what they are saying it’s a strange phenomenon, I am not sure how many folks they see that are white and brown that understand what they are saying but these two travelers definitely do not!
Anyway after failure there we went back to the security and basically stood our ground and did lots of pointing to tickets and pointing to inside, he let us in. Thankfully numbers transcend the language barrier and we can see our train number and a waiting area so we head for it. We approach the guard there and despite no English seems to understand our problem, he walks us to a help desk, the lady speaks good English, she directs me down to another ticket office and counter 16 it’s an English speaking counter, there’s hope yet, with 30 Mins until our trains departs!
I scoot off out another entry of the station and down in a basement ticket office. I walk into a room the size of a football field with 50 counters and about 50 people in each queue including 16, @#&$! I am wondering why there are locals in the English speaking counter, but of course they speak Chinese!!! Derrr!! Anyway pressure on I turn and ask folks around me, a man behind me looks at my confirmation, another man pipes up, after a brief conversation the man says “internet booking?” I say yes, he says go to queue 20 and 21, I rush over, only 5 people deep I get to the counter shove my confirmation under and wait, I can’t see the attendant as half the glass is frosted, she shouts something back, I stand up and peer over the frosting, she looks up realizes I have no idea, “PASSPORTS” she states, I shove them under as well, 30 seconds later I am the proud recipient of our tickets. Off I dash not before I run to as close as I can get to the man who helped me, I fist pump to him and shout “Xiexie” he smiles and waves back! Legend!
I scoot back grab Steph and off we pop to the gate and onto the train with 10mins to spare….and dry laundry!
The train itself is as expected, we get settled into our little cabin with six beds, Steph on the bottom and I am in the middle. Before we set off the young lady on the bottom bunk spoke to us in English, only a little but far better than my Mandarin! But it was good to be able to have a local to chat to. She was chattier with Steph when I was not around maybe more a cultural thing but it was nice all the same! We continued to build cultural relations with our bunk buddy and her husband when later on they asked if we had a US Dollar Bill, I had one tucked away, so I got it for them to have a look at it, they have never seen one before! They offered to pay for it but we gave it to them as a gift.
The rest of the night passed with nothing major to report apart from a very squeaky door and a very smoky corridor but that’s another story!