My longest railroad journey. 16 hours. On hard sleeper.
11.08.2012 - 02.09.2012 24 °C
Jiayuguan, August 13th 2012
All through my Silk Road journey, this train ride was the longest. 16 hours. I got a hard sleeper in the middle. To give the picture, the berths or bunks pile up three by three in one cabin. In the soft sleeper class, the bunks pile up two by two. Once I read somewhere in a blog post, middle hard sleeper is the best place. During the day, passengers from the top bunks used to sit on the bottom bunk. So if you take the bottom bunk, you will have to share your privacy with other passengers. On the other hand, the top bunk in hard sleeper class has limited space which might be just enough to lie down. I'm a person who likes lot of privacy. Therefore I rejoiced with my middle bunk.
On the middle bunk opposite me was a young guy. He was very kind as he helped me with my stuffs. Something the blog writer I mentioned above didn't tell was that having the middle bunk means you'd have to put your things either down beneath the bottom bunk or on the rack above. Either way isn't convenient. Lucky for me to meet this helpful gentleman. He could speak a little English. So while lying on our bunks, we talked about our trips. Sometimes he would loose the words in English and thus switch to Mandarin. I did my best to get what he was saying. In the morning he woke up, looked out through the window, and suddenly chattered in Mandarin. Apparently he had forgotten it was a foreigner next to him.
But for most of the time this gentleman was busy with his packages of snack and kua chi. Of my other 4 cabin-mates I heard nothing. No one sat on other's bunk. Privacy was totally guaranteed. I said to myself, "Next time I'll take the bottom bunk so I can keep my stuffs right beneath me."
The side facing out of my cabin had no wall. Hard-sleeper class cabins don't have doors, I know. But mine had no wall either. Having one side bare, I could clearly see anyone walking up and down the corridor. Among them was one girl who caught my attention. She walked with a big backpack on her back and sunglasses over her head.
"How funny!" I thought to myself.
A few minutes later she was walking back. She had a small towel in her hand. The bangs of her hair was rather wet. In her other hand was a toothbrush. Suddenly I realized how stupid I had been. This girl might traveling solo like me. Therefore she brought her belongings with her to the washroom, and anywhere. Why can't I do the same? Last year when I took a train from Chengdu to Wuhan, I scarcely dared to leave my cabin for too long. So has it been now.
I packed my pouch, laptop, and cosmetic bag into my smaller backpack. In the washroom I just realized that there were two big hooks on the wall. There I hung my backpack and did my facial routine with ease as I would have done in a hotel's room. The washroom was pretty clean and spacious. And then I went off exploring the other carriages. At lunch time I added one more item: a book, into my backpack, and headed to the dining car. Without knowing that one cannot order a meal in the dining car at any time, I came there just three minutes before ordering hour. The dining car was still quiet.
Here I sat while enjoying the changing scene from grassland to desert.
This was the scene at 8:22 AM from my cabin. The thing I don't like about Chinese trains is that I cannot open the window to take pictures. I could have made more amazing pictures if not hindered by a shabby window glass like this.
This was the scene at 11:51 AM, about three and a half hours later, from my dining cart. Grasses have turned into sand.
My lunch menu, 23 yuan. Compared to general meal cost in China, it's expensive. But for a descent meal on a train, hái kěyǐ la. Okaylah. It was a big meal and the taste wasn't bad either.
The rest of the time I spent reading, emailing, browsing, enjoying the scenery, dozing... and start all over again -- on my middle bunker. I often feel blessed for having the capability of being happy with myself and never get bored. As long as I have something to do, I won't get bored. Sitting on my bunker while leaning my back on a pillow with my leg stretched, a book in one hand, scenery flowing next to me through the window, and then being gently rocked by the train movement... is all what I call life is good. I love trains. Very much.
If you ask how I connected to the internet, I bought a Chinese SIM Card, and connected it through my beloved Nokia N86 with my Acer. Done. But, no Facebook. I couldn't accessed Blogspot either. Let alone Christian sites. Still, life is good.
Jiayuguan, here I am! I've finished Xi'An, first destination, and now I'm in my second destination. I don't have words to describe this feeling. It's something I would never experienced if I had joint a tour and leave everything to the travel agent.
First thing to do: Book train ticket for tomorrow night. Wow! There were two long queues. Beside the other two counters, there was another ticket counter with only a few people queuing. A sign was written in front of the counter window, but I couldn't get what it meant. What's the difference with the other 2 counters? Why don't these people go to that counter? Ah, I'd just follow the crowd. I stood behind the counter with a long queue. Meanwhile I examined a huge screen on the wall beside. It was showing ticket availability for all train direction, all types of seat, for the whole week. It looks that it works automatically. Whenever a ticket is purchased, the number will reduce subsequently. Nervously I waited for my desired train number to show up. Soft sleeper, 0. Oh. Well, hard sleeper again, be it, I said to myself.
Suddenly the man in front of me told me to go the next counter where there were only a few people. "Is it okay?" I asked in Mandarin. "Of course it's okay!" he answered. Although uncertain, I moved to that counter. When my turn came, I was ready to be scolded for queuing at the wrong counter.
No, I wasn't. Instead, I was told that bottom soft sleeper for my train tomorrow night is available. I couldn't believe my ears. I thought I was misunderstanding the staff's Mandarin. Wow!! Luckily I didn't book my train tickets through a travel agent. As I had done in Chengdu last year, booking directly like this only cost 5 yuan for the fee whereas booking through a travel agent cost approximately 10 USD of fee just for the ticket, each! If you book 10 tickets for the same date and same train, you'd have to pay 100 USD extra. Yes, they bring the tickets to your doorsteps, but... as for me, I'd better queue, put my Mandarin into practice, and use that 10 USD to explore the city.
My suggestion for anyone who wish to do the same, print out the train number, departure city, arrival city, date, time, preferred seat of your desired train ticket. Show it to the ticket booking staff. That would help the staff to understand you much better in case your Mandarin intonation flow incorrectly. You know, in Mandarin, a wrong intonation can become a different meaning.
I left the counter while another man from my previous queue looked at me with envy. "You got your ticket?" he asked.
"Sure, I did!" and I walked head up.
I wondered why the man who suggested me to go to the next counter didn't go there himself? Ah... I think he told me that if I need only 1 ticket, I could go to the next counter. Now you are asking, how could he know you were buying only one ticket? That's easy. In this part of China, when you purchase a ticket, you have to show your identity card. If you book tickets for 8 people, you have to show a copy of 8 identity cards. The identity number would be printed on your ticket. Whenever I see someone in front of me carrying a stack of copied cards, I would prepare myself to wait for a length of time. Now, in my case, I have to show my passport. So while standing in line, I held my passport in my hand. This kind man must have seen that I was carrying only one passport which probably meant that I was going to book only one ticket. Therefore he suggested me to go to the next counter.
I spent almost an hour standing in line. But I didn't realize that because I had been busy studying that huge screen, guessing the meaning of the sentence in front of the counter window, examining the people, and... occasionally answering questions! Someone came up to me and asked about something. That's it when you are actually a foreigner but look just like everyone.
This was my hotel, Great Wall Hotel. The most thing I was happy with this hotel was an English speaking staff who arranged a car plus driver for me. Well, she looked like the manager or sort of. I showed her my printed Google maps and told her about the places of my interest. She listened and gave her advise. She interpreted my expectations to my driver. I were in good hands.
That car rent was for the next day. This evening I enjoyed exploring the city. From 34 °C in Xi'An, I'm now 24 °C in Jiayuguan. What a difference. I like Jiayuguan. It's not too... hmm, how to say...? Not like a village? There is a shopping center, street shops that provide modern daily tools and fashion, convenient transportation like buses and taxis, and the roads are smoothly paved. And yet, it's not hectic (and not hot) like Xi'An.
In this small but pleasant town, there are 6 bus lines, if I'm not mistaken. Actually from my hotel to the train station takes only about 10 minutes. But the bus routes seem to take winding routes like the Mikrolets in Jakarta. A short distance becomes a long one. The railway station serves as the main bus terminal also. You can get on any bus line from the railway station. So back to the railway station I went. From there I took the bus that seemed to have the longest route according to the route map that stood big and tall at the terminal. To any destination the fare is all the same: 1 yuan. That's why I took the longest route to enjoy my city tour. Nggak mau rugi.
This the view of a market taken from my bus.
Here's another one, taken from inside the bus.
Then I realized some bus stops didn't have a shelter. It was merely a signpost. As time passed 8 o'clock which is the time for last bus, passengers waiting at bus stops were very few. When there weren't any passenger either getting off or standing at the bus stop, my bus driver didn't stop. This jeopardized my theory of counting bus stops. How can I know how many more bus stops to go? Oh, o!
But... luckily I had been smart enough to take a picture of the bus stop sign where I first got on. It's the one written on top. I brought my camera to the driver and showed him a preview of this photo. I said, "I want to go to this place. Would you please let me know when we arrive there." -- in Mandarin, of course. Done. He did tell me. Hence, I was back safe and sound.
I had dinner at a restaurant near my hotel. 10 yuan. For a portion this big, it's cheap. I couldn't finish all. So I asked the waiter to wrap the rest and I continued it for breakfast the next day. 10 yuan for dinner plus breakfast. Good job.