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Published: August 30th 2017
Geo: 34.27, 108.9
I don't think you have truly experienced a country until you have undertaken a few long distance train trips when traveling in it. I wrote about this while travelling in India and while nothing I have experienced since then comes close to the horror that is Indian train travel the Chinese have put their own unique spin on the encounter. In China there are about 7 classes of train. There is the D,Z,G & C class trains which are super express the C , D &G class trains fly along at a staggering 380 km/h, these are highly modern comfortable trains that move between major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai in a mere 4 hours. The Z class trains are express but run at a dawdle of around 250km \h. The T and K class are your basic long distance trains that go relatively slow and stop at many stations and finally you have the least auspicious of trains, they are so old and basic they don't even get a letter assigned to them just a number and they, well lets just say they leave and eventually they get to their destination.
On the trains if tickets are available and you have the required funds then there is a choice in what degree of comfort you travel in. The super fast trains only have one choice of seat because they complete their trip so quickly, but as you go down the scale of train then the options are greater. Most of the trains that are covering vast distances are overnight trains. On these you can have your choice of comfort and this is also dependent on what your financial situation is. The cheapest ticket is a standing ticket this means you can only go in general class and can only get a seat if there is one vacant but you can be sure most of your journey you will be standing. Next is the "hard seat" it sounds worse than it actually is , it's a normal seat reserved for the ticket holder in general class and speaking from experience 6 hours in a seat like that is more than enough especially when you are traveling with a small child and you have the eyes of the whole carriage on you for the entire length of the trip. After that comes "hard sleeper" which is sectioned off compartments that have 3 bunk beds on each side of the cabin, the lower the bed the higher the price. The cabins have no door or curtains for privacy. These beds sell out fast on long trips and are where most people prefer to travel because they are reasonably comfortable and cheap. Finally you have a "soft sleeper" pure luxury. The soft sleeper is a cabin with a door, 2 bunks on either side again the price varies depending on how close you are to the ground.
The one thing that every person traveling on the train has in common is what they eat. Hot water is provided so everybody and I do mean everybody eats pot noodles. There is a staggering variety of pot noodles available in shops and unfortunately if you don't speak the language it can be a bit hit and miss so far I've been lucky enough to avoid the " special tendon" flavour soup but the law of averages dictates that sooner rather than later if I keep picking random packets I'm going to end up with something highly suspicious.
The first trip we took we booked a soft sleeper but because the train was so heavily booked we could only get 2 top bunks, when the conductor came to check our tickets she was horrified to see we had the 2 top beds and a baby, within minutes she was back with what I can only guess was her superior and explained the situation to him, he too look horrified, spoke something to us in Mandarin which we didn't understand and took off. Again within minutes he returned he then made a gesture to signal that if we paid him 30 yuan ( the equivalent of $5) he could change the situation, so we paid the money , he made another gesture to grab our bags and then he lead us to the next carriage where he showed us to a cabin where we had both bottom bunks. Needless to say we were quite relieved and very grateful.
We share that cabin with a very pleasant young man who was spending the next couple of months travelling around China saying goodbye to friends and relatives because he was about to go to England to study, he wasn't sure what he was going to study but he had been accepted into a university in Nottingham and would decide his direction after his first year . I got the impression he didn't care what he studied but he was going to make the most of the opportunity offered to him. Because he was going to study in the UK. He thought it was fitting that he chose an Anglo name to go by while he was there and understandably too as his Chinese name was remarkably difficult to pronounce and remember. He explained that he had looked at lists of names and there meanings and he had chosen one that he felt reflected his spirit and the way he wanted to be perceived a name that was strong and amongst other things meant "the wind" the name he had chosen for himself was "Keith" . I must say he was the most unlikely looking Keith I'd ever seen.
One thing I've struggled with in every non English speaking country I have ever visited is trying to grasp numbers and prices. You tell the person how many of an item you want in your native language and they tell you the price in theirs and after some obscure gesturing you work it out. In China there are hundreds of different dialects across the country but just one written language, they also have a nationally recognised system to convey numbers regardless of what dialect or in my case language you speak and it's all done with hand signals so I can tell the shop owner how many of an item I want and he can tell me the price without any confusion, it's a brilliant system and I think it should be adopted universally, although I'm yet to get beyond anything above 15. We went into a shop yesterday for lunch, we had a great meal of fresh rice noodles with bean sprouts some other greens and hot oil with chilli poured over the top. The people in the shop like everybody we encounter wanted to know how old Aadi is so we made the hand signal for 9 which is a closed fist with the index finger bent downwards meaning nine months, they got it instantly. I then asked the man how do you say 15 he made the signal go 5 and then 10, and then pretended to write it on the table top while saying it in Mandarin, then said and made the gesture for 1400 and something which completely lost me, i guess he did this to test how far my understanding had gotten, he must have picked up on my bewilderment by the look on my face and returned it with a slightly amused look that I read as meaning you have a long way to go.
Tot: 2.836s; Tpl: 0.029s; cc: 12; qc: 28; dbt: 0.0271s; 2; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb