Trains and Planes – Transportation in China

Hello Friends!

I hope the beginning of May is treating everyone kindly – it definitely has for me! Tomorrow is my 21st birthday (uh-oh) and as a present to myself and from my parents (Thanks Mom and Dad…) I took a trip to Xi’an and Chengdu! These are two extremely cool cities in middle-western China that are each packed with culture, good food, and things to see and do. This was particularly exciting as the novelty of living in Shanghai is wearing off, and even beginning to make me feel a little insane. What is a Kentucky girl like me doing in a city this big? Who am I kidding? Talk about stress.

Speaking of stress, it occurs to me that I haven’t talked about something that affects people every day: transportation! Planes, trains, cars, buses, subways…this type of thing. Well, its not all that exciting or different here in China, other than the horrifically scary traffic patterns (lets just say speed limits and road markings tend to be taken more as a…suggestion here) or the public buses resembling caterpillar.

Okay, so, bad picture. But do you see it? It totally looks like a big yellow caterpillar!

That picture really has nothing to do with my story, but I thought you should know what the Chinese caterpillar buses looked like.

Passenger trains are a very common form of long-distance transportation. Planes are definitely more faster, but mainly for families with enough money to drop on tickets. The trains are usually cheaper, as they are much slower and perhaps not as comfortable. (I have taken a few high-speed trains, which were very comfortable and nice). Aside from three cities, everywhere in China I have traveled to I have traveled to by train. And I have now been to sixteen! It is a very authentic, Chinese experience and I would not have it any other way.

These trains have a few different types of tickets. There are the soft-sleeper tickets, the most expensive, which include a private room on the train and a comparatively comfortable bed. There are the hard-sleeper tickets, less expensive, which are not private but rather are beds lined up along the hallway of the train. These tickets divide into three types: top, middle, and bottom, which basically denotes where the bed is on the wall. There are seat tickets, much less expensive, which are…well, seats. And then there are just tickets. Dirt cheap. But…it means many hours standing, or crouching in the small spaces near the bathrooms. If you ask me, its worth it  to shell out a bit more money.

I want to tell you the story of my most recent train ride to Xi’an. Its a shame we don’t have more passenger trains in America – it is such an easy and convenient way to travel. However, this most recent trip was convenient, but was in no way easy.

The train from Shanghai to Xi’an is about 22 hours long, as there is no fast train to that part of the country like there is to, for example, Beijing. Because the trains are so long, they are usually night trains – this way, passengers can spend the majority of the trip asleep. However, our train – because of the duration – left at about 2:50 on a Sunday afternoon. We had seat tickets, as we didn’t buy the tickets early enough in advance to grab the hard sleepers we usually go for. 22 hours in a chair – sounds like an adventure!

Not really.

2 hours in, my butt already hurts from the plastic chair. BUT! I am keeping a good attitude, aware of what I signed up for, and willing to make the best of it. Lets do this!

6 hours in, the sun is going down. I have officially not moved for 8 hours. At all. I am still keeping a good attitude, despite the crying baby and teenager chain smoking, blowing the second hand smoke in my face. I make my delicious dinner of champions, instant noodles, and prepared myself mentally for the coming hours.

Around 11 pm, I took a melatonin and listened to some music, hoping to get a few hours of sleep despite the conditions. My stomach is turning from the instant noodles, the air I am breathing is smoke but at least the baby seems to be okay now. Did I mention that there is a man dressed entirely in yellow sitting across from us? Yellow shirt, pants, shoes….not kidding….

I wake up only about an hour later, head spinning from the sleep medicine not working, sweating – someone has closed the windows – something is leaking from the bathroom, and I do not want to think about what it could be…

Somewhere along the way, I lost my good mood. I felt like I was going to throw up at any minute, and the smoking wasn’t helping. It is safe to say that I was pretty excited to get off the train – in fact, it was all I could think about. My feet were swelling, I couldn’t stop sweating, I was holding my upset stomach…

But I was lucky to have the seat at all. No, it wasn’t a comfortable experience, but there were many more people who either stood, or squatted for the entire 22 hours on the train. These people are my heroes!

The next time we rode the train, from Xi’an to Chengdu, we bought the hard-sleeper tickets. Compared to the long day on the seats, the little train beds felt like a five star hotel! I slept like a log.

Yeah…this is a weird picture. This is Sean, and I tied that funky bandana on his head. Anyway, this is the only picture I had of the sleeper train at all, you can kind of see a bed above his do-ragged head….

In any case, the adventure was amazing, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. I figured this experience might make an interesting story but if it didn’t…hey! You can’t say I didn’t try.

I’ll be back soon with posts about Chendgu, and the Chinese National Pandas Preserve we went to see. It was such a special experience. For now, I am off to celebrate my long-awaited 21st birthday! Cheers!