29 November, 2016

The Train Ride from Hell - but the scenery was priceless!

My view.
I knew we'd be sharing a room. Room - "hard sleeper" means 6 bunks in a small cabin without a door. About 12 cabins per train car, with a tiny table-ette in the hall outside each open doorway. That's a lot of people sharing space.

...If you're reading this, you might want to use the toilet, pour yourself a beverage and settle in.

I knew prior to moving to China that Chinese people in general are less protective of their personal space than Americans. It's fine! Not like we expected to travel in luxury, and this is how you meet people.

Sort of.
Through grunts and pointing, since I don't know the language.
For 24 hours.

Beijing West railway station.
We were headed to Hong Kong to re-validate our tourist visas. One stamp showing we left the country. One stamp showing the date of our "second" trip to China.

China is almost the same size as the U.S. Imagine boarding a train in Minnesota and exiting in Houston. Not getting off the train even once until Houston. One night in Houston (Hong Kong) and returning the same way. For two days after our return, it felt like I was swaying when I walked. I was afraid I'd fall off my chair during Thanksgiving dinner on Friday night!

The trip.

We started out from frigid Beijing at about 9pm. Easy enough, just in time to settle in for the night. Brett and I each had the two top bunks, about 8 feet above the floor and about 18 inches below the ceiling. Have I ever mentioned my claustrophobia? It's usually dormant except in low-ceiling situations. I took ginger (against motion-sickness) and melatonin (sleep-aid), and woke a few hours later, then every time the train stopped. 

We were in the party car. A pair of guys were settled in at the table right outside our cabin, and two cabins down from us were enjoying each others company. During the wee hours, I started hearing all their voices again. 

In the morning, we needed to stretch our legs, so decided to search out a dining car. When we found it, it was empty (an hour before lunch service), and they didn't want us there, but with the language barrier I think they found it easier to just let us sit and charge our phones. Eventually we ordered some lunch, and two Chinese men were seated with us near the end of our meal, extending our time in the comfort of the dining booth.

We were due to arrive around 6:30 p.m., and in the afternoon I got engrossed in watching a group in the next cabin gambling over some poker-ish type card game. I didn't understand it at all because of the language, but a wife of one of the players made great company watching with me from the aisle. We watched the scenery and the game, and I looked up how to say "beautiful": Mei-li-de. 

Honestly, much of the mountainous scenery we went through made me think of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but maybe that was because it was so cloudy and grey - you know, like the scenes near the end of the movie?

Sorry. I digress.

We were running about an hour late. My first inclination of that was when we started getting all our stuff together and packed back up, and the group next door brought out the snack food and cracked open some beers! They shared, graciously, I think amused at the pair of "Meigworens" in their midst. I'd walked the length of the train. We were the only non-Chinese.

We arrived in Shenzhen, where we passed through customs and had to hop a subway to Hong Kong! About an hour later we popped out in the heart of the city, with no hotel reservation and no idea where we were. 
Hong Kong! And palm trees!

We quickly realized we'd picked the wrong subway stop as all the stores and businesses were EXTREMELY high end. In the end, we paid more than double our "highest" price we had hoped to pay for a hotel, dropped off our bag and immediately went out for food. At nearly 10 pm.

We found the best pizza we'd had since moving to China, a couple good beers, and some delightfully ENGLISH conversation - with a native from Nepal. Seriously, everyone speaks English in Hong Kong. It was so relaxing. We headed back to bed - to our expensive room with two twins because the hotel was so full they had no queen rooms left! My Chinese insomnia that has plagued me since moving here was cured in that tiny, expensive bed.

Return Trip.

There was some early talk about things we might be able to purchase in Hong Kong that are difficult to find in China, but after blowing our wad on a bed and some pizza, and with the extremely long subway trip between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, we just took a slow, window-shopping walk toward the subway station.

The subway back to Shenzhen, at 10 in the morning, was not bad at all. Apparently rush-hour is a thing everywhere! (and we missed it) Our passports stamped for our return, we had... three hours to wait before boarding the next 24-hour train.

It was sunny, and gorgeous. And not crowded like the Beijing station. And we had time to relax! In the sun. 
So we did. 
It was glorious. 
I love the sun.

This time, the train left around 2pm. No settling into our bunks for the night. Actually, it was horrible. There was a young couple in our cabin - I'll call them Princess and The Stooge. They were all up in our business, being sure we were in the correct bunks - we had planned to switch bunks because Brett perferred the privacy of the top bunk and we had one high and one low bunk this time. But no. The Stooge assured that I was in the top and Brett was in the bottom.

It was horrible. Princess and The Stooge commandeered the entire cabin, even bringing in the trash-tray that belonged with the aisle table, so Princess didn't have to leave to throw her... I dunno, pumpkin seed hulls? Ramen wrappers? I did not like that couple. AND since Brett is more social than I and often was away from his bunk, The Stooge kept settling into Brett's bunk like he owned the place. He is my permanent arch-nemesis.

Brett made friends with an English-speaking grad student from the next cabin. They talked the whole time until a late goodnight.
He makes everything better.

I think what saved me the first trip was Brett's presence in the high bunk across from me. There was a quiet young lady up there this time, and as I was taking ginger and melatonin again - because it sort of worked on the way down - she got a phone call. She tried to talk quietly, which was considerate. Then a few minutes later I kept hearing sniffling and gradually realized she was crying. I reached over and offered her a tissue, and she thanked me, and that was it. I decided that, in the morning I'd try to break through the language barrier and see if she was okay, or maybe needed a friend? She was on my mind, poor girl.

I awoke when the train was still. Breathing was hard. The stillness was the worst. It was midnight. I looked down toward my husband, listened to the dark stillness, and focused on my breathing. We started moving, but I couldn't sleep. Each time we stopped, the ceiling felt too close. At one stop, there was someone walking above my head. After 3 or 4 stops and panicked breathing, I was dressed, my shoes were on, and I was ready to climb down, but didn't want to wake people, so I held back. Finally it was too much, so I climbed down, with my phone and charger. There weren't many outlets for charging, but in the middle of the night, they were available!

I spent 5 hours in the aisle at a tiny table-ette, phone plugged in, knocking out sudokus and word puzzles - no wi-fi. Staff occasionally passed through as we neared a stop, ensuring that passengers didn't miss their stops. It kept getting colder the further north we passed, so at some point I climbed just high enough to get my coat and be warmer in the aisle. I cuddled up against the outer wall of the train, but was still cold. I stood leaning against the wall of the cabin, feet propped against the outer wall so I wouldn't fall, but finally around 5am I decided I was exhausted enough to climb back up to my claustrophobic tomb and pass out.

I did. Two hours later I was up. It was light out but still cold.
The girl with the tears the night before was gone.
I hope she's okay.
Thanksgiving feast!

When Brett got up, we ate some snack food items I'd picked up in Shenzhen and watched The Stooge dote on Princess. When the grad student got up, he offered new snack foods we'd never tried, and we had some lively conversation to pass the last few hours up to Beijing.

Four subways after arriving in Beijing, we were FINALLY home. But not done.

Brett took our newly stamped passports to update our residence permit while I hopped in the shower to start getting ready for A FORMAL THANKSGIVING DINNER we had that night.

I was so tired I could cry. I desperately wanted someone to tell me to just stay home and sleep. No one did. The bags and circles under my eyes took some work to make photo-ready. But we got ready and headed out to a fancy hotel to explain the significance of turkey to this American holiday! And ultimately, I'm glad I didn't stay home and sleep, because it was a good evening and a fun event.

But when we finally got home, I crashed. Hard.

End of story.


  1. I am always so amazed at how differently we both view the same event, but do hate that you did not enjoy the trip as much as I did. Next time, I will pay extra so we can drive the train.

  2. What a trip!! How often do you have to re-validate? It sounds like it would have been a fun trip if you hadn't had to suffer the claustrophobia of sleeping on that bunk! Yikes!!

    1. Hopefully the work visa will come through before the next 60 days is up. With a work visa, we only need to validate - maybe once a year? Or less. I'm not sure.


I enjoy a good debate. Feel free to shake things up. Tell me I'm wrong. Ask me why I have such a weird opinion. ...or, just laugh and tell how this relates to you and your life.