Domestic flights are so inexpensive in China, traveling by train usually isn’t that much less. But flying from one city to another doesn’t give you a sense of the distances involved, and besides, traveling through Europe, some of the most beautiful scenery I witnessed was from the train.
So yesterday, when I took the train from Hongqiao Station to Hangzhou, I also purchased my ticket to Xiamen.
I’m glad I made the practice route yesterday. Lessons learned:
- To purchase a ticket from a machine, you need to insert your identity card, which foreigners don’t have. [I learned this slowly with a crowd of hostile commuters behind me.] So foreigners need to purchase directly from the ticket counter.
- Buying tickets is one place where Google Translate really comes in handy. It’s a free app, you type in what you want to say, it translates into (Mandarin) Chinese, and if you turn it sideways the Chinese characters enlarge so the person you’re talking with can read it from the other side of the ticket counter. It even has a speech function—which will say the Chinese word, or better yet, listen to a Chinese speaker and translate it. This speech option worked perfectly in the States, and invariably will say “not available” anytime I need it in China.
- It took two hours from the time I left my hostel till the time I bought my ticket and boarded my train. Both lines 10 and 2 go from East Nanjing Road to the train station. Line 2 is faster.
The one-hour train ride to Hangzhou yesterday was a breeze.
The nine-hour train ride to Xiamen was not.
I sat across from a venerable old man in great, great pain, attended to by two bodyguards/sons/caretakers (all three?), possibly going home to Xiamen after gut surgery in Shanghai. Either way, he didn’t speak much, but when he did, they jumped like it was the word of god/father/godfather.
Now I understand why people rushed to get on the train even though seating’s reserved. By the time I sat down, there was no place to put my luggage, so I sat with my large backpack between my legs and my small backpack on my lap. If I moved either one, I’d hit the legs of the man across from me, causing him to expire, so I remained motionless and read Polaris, a scifi book Brigid lent me.
The high speed rail to Xiamen is no small engineering feat. The rail towers over the towns and villages it passes, usually six stories off the ground, for hundreds and hundreds of miles. It was worth taking for that alone. As an added bonus, it cured me of my desire to see the countryside by train.
Imagine the following video for 9 hours.