Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Trains in China 

Yesterday afternoon after crossing the border into Shenzhen from Hong Kong, I went to the Shenzhen train station, which is located conveniently right north of the border. I told them I wanted a hard sleeper ticket to Beijing.

That's pretty much what I have come to. When I first started to ride trains in China, which is about 50 train rides ago, I had a strong preference for the soft sleeper. Hard sleepers are a bit more crowded and not always very clean. But a few things have happened since then to change my mind. One is that the soft sleepers are getting smaller. On the newer trains, they seem to be compromising storage space to make the ceiling lower. The train I took from Beijing to Shanghai this time was brand new. But there was no overhead storage rack. Fortunately I was able to squeeze my backpack under one of the beds with the help of another passenger. But that's really not a good thing to do. The floors on these trains can be quite dirty. Less so in the soft sleeper, but certainly not as clean as an overhead rack.

Another change is that the soft sleeper tickets are getting more expensive. The price for soft sleeper tickets seems to be going up faster than hard sleeper tickets, which naturally means that the price differential between the two is greater than before. I have found that if you get a hard sleeper bottom bunk, the difference between hard and soft sleeper is not that great. But the price is. But what really helps put the matter in perspective is taking a trip with no bed at all. I will never forget the 13 hour train ride I took to Shanxi Province with Jean and Claire in the fall of 2004.

We bought 2 tickets for four people, and I spent most of the time sitting on the floor hunched over trying to catch a few winks of sleep. Toward the morning hours, some seats opened up, and Jean and Claire, who had been sleeping, took seats and let Lucy and I use the bunks. After a night like that, you really begin to believe that any kind of bed is better than no bed. As if that experience wasn't enough, two years later, in the fall of 2006, I was pick-pocketed in Suzhou, and had to buy a no-seat ticket to get back to Beijing. Twenty hours.

So the bottom line is, if you are riding the trains in China, any kind of sleeper is better than nothing. Even if you get stuck with a top bunk where you can't sit up, you always know that when you get really tired, there is a rack reserved for you to stretch out on. If you ever have to ride rough in the countryside of China, you will come to really appreciate that. It's a luxury, believe me.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?