Saturday, 13 November 2010

Beijing-Zhangjiajie train (3rd/4th of September)

The K267 was due to leave Beijing West station at 11.38, but we’d been warned to be there early because of traffic, security checks and luggage weighing. Getting there wasn’t too much hassle, just two buses at ~10p each. There were yet more police standing upright on street corners, and because it was raining people on the streets were trying hard to sell ponchos. Cyclists had rather ingenious ponchos that covered their handlebars too. The station was like an airport. First we had to go through a security barrier and our possessions through a scanner. Like before they didn’t seem to be taking much notice of the screen and the government just seems to be making more jobs for people. Jenny had read somewhere that we weren’t allowed more than 100ml of flammable liquid, so we’d been thinking we should have separated our methylated spirit into two sets of 100ml. This was all unnecessary worry since they didn’t seem to care.

Trains had waiting rooms allocated to them and we went to room nine where hundreds of people piled in and sat on the floor, benches, stood up or pushed their way towards the front. I began to feel slightly claustrophobic with all these people everywhere and was glad that our large backpacks meant that at least there was a little empty space around us.

About 25 minutes before the train was due to depart people began to stand up and start pushing despite nothing happening at the front. They were quite desperate to get to the train- there was no fire but we think they wanted to stake their claim on the best spots for their luggage and bottoms.

For me one of the joys of train travel is to see the world go past the window, watching how the people live and the changing of the landscapes. When you are on the top bunk of three and all you can see are the railway tracks and the luggage space you might as well be flying, apart from the carbon emissions. Thankfully we did get to sit by the window for very short intervals of time and just watching the Chinese sharing our carriage was fascinating.

There were 11 compartments without doors in our carriage, with each compartment with three beds on either side. Across the corridor from the beds are drop-down chairs beside little tables. From the top bunks you get a really good view of what everyone is up to. A couple in the corridor tucked into a takeaway spread of rice, meat and beans. The man sat there happily munching on chicken foot. Once remains of the lunch had been put in the bin they started to play cards. No card game we knew, and watching did not get us any closer to understanding how it was played. Below us men gathered to play cards with others watching on from the seats and standing in the corridor. At one point there were at least eleven people in our compartment. The Chinese appear to enjoy playing cards and get quite into it, whacking the cards down with great conviction.

There was also a never ending stream of pedestrian traffic in the corridor- people back and forth with pot noodles, the lady taking tickets and issuing us with our bed number on a plastic card, a lady checking our bags were correctly positioned on the overhead rack, a lady with a basket of children's toys (including a plastic yak and a talking parrot), people with trollies of fruit and veg, a bed sheet covering a soupy gloop and eggs, a lady folding the curtains (jobs for the masses), a trolley full of plastic trays of rice, meat, egg and vegetables and a mismatched selection trolley of items such as pot noodles and toothbrushes. In the evening some ladies came to write our names down on a piece of paper and look at our passports, but we're not entirely sure if that's what they wanted. There was a lot of confusion that we didn't have Chinese names along with our European ones.

As we neared Zhangjiajie City (and had the opportunity to look out the window) we went along a river valley with peaks and rice paddies. Having the top bunks may have been the cheapest, but it wasn't the comfiest of arrangements either, although we did just about manage to sit upright with our legs on the other bunk. At times it felt like I was a battery hen and it was good to get off the train even if we were faced with the hot humidity of Hunan province.

No comments:

Post a Comment