Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)… In China … Wow… (2/10/07 – 2/22/07)
As I write this on Saturday 2/24/07 6:49pm, I’m hearing fireworks outside… Portions of this story were written on the train from Shanghai to TaiYuan
Left Shanghai 2/10/07
With one big bag each, Liu Yang and I left Shanghai for Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. Our bags holding ten days of clothing, we get into a taxi. We arrive at the area of Shanghai Railway Station. Walking from the cab to the main entrance, I thought I was used to the large amount of people here in shanghai, and crowds, but this day was special.
Imagine a big square about one square city block filled with people. The only people still (sitting/sleeping) were those who did not have tickets and direly hoping to be lucky enough to somehow find one to return to their hometown.
Procuring our train ticket was not easy either. Through a friend, Liu Yang got two tickets for us to his hometown, about 280 yuan I believe. To our dismay we find out that this train would take about 30 hours and did not have air conditioning, which meant we would have been on a cold train for 30 hours.
He searched hard and used his guanxi (relationships/networking) to get two slightly more expensive tickets (with heat) from some members of the military. Military members have no problem getting train tickets and apparently make extra money around peak travel times selling tickets under the table.
With our tickets out and pushing through the crowds we walk into the train station (can’t get in without a ticket), up the escalator and through more crowds to the waiting room. (see video) This was the biggest, most packed waiting room I had ever seen in my life With four trains leaving from this waiting room. (There were at least ten other waiting rooms with equal capacities) . Passengers board the trains one level below the waiting room, but only are allowed start entering the boarding area about 15 minutes prior to the train departing. When the first guard takes a step towards the gate to start boarding, instantly about 300 people all stopped whatever they were doing and formed the most unruly “line” possible.
On the train for 23 hours…
Yes there were beds, but no cabins. Instead, there were small areas with 6 beds, 3 beds high on each side with a table and window between them. Directly across the aisle there was a small table with two small chairs that fold from the wall. There were about 12 of these areas per train car. Our train had over 20 cars but I’m sure some cars had regular seating. I slept on the bottom bunk which was also an open seat for anyone sitting in our area. Although I think this is the most comfortable position, you have to share it so it is hard to sleep in the middle of the day.
I was the only visible foreigner on the train and with the help of Liu Yang, I had a conversation for about an hour or 2 with the people sitting in our area. There interest to talk to me could not be held in any more when they saw me take out my Chinese dictionary and start studying words. So I asked them for help in learning more about the tones in their language. They asked me about New York and San Francisco . We also spoke about internet games, which are very popular in China and have been one of the major headlines in recent news. Talking about addiction and whether its safe or not for children.
Most people brought their own snacks and food (prior, proper, preparation and cheaper) but there were vendors on the train selling food, books, magazines,etc. Coming up and down the aisles every hour or so. And at the large stations where the train stopped for a few minutes, there would be vendors on the platforms. Close enough for you to buy something and be back on the train in 5-10 minutes.
We left Shanghai at about 8:30pm so after waking, I saw “real china” a lot of mountains and farmland. In passing some of the mountain areas you could see where people used to live in the mountains, carving caves in the side of them. In my travels these past two months I have noticed that China is full of mountains, from South in Hainan all the way north to the Great Wall.
Once we entered Shanxi province, there was more of the same… mountains and farmland. (see video) This province is known for coal and the train did pass some coal mining areas. I even saw one worker walking along a road with his face, and all bare skin, completely black and covered with coal.
Overall my first 23 hour train ride was not that bad.