Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Chinese Train Tips

Despite what your guidebook may tell you, train journeys in China are quite easy to organise. All it takes is persistance and patience, oh, and money. Most journeys are epic (China is deceptively huge) and surprisingly comfortable if you're willing to pay a little more for a sleeper cabin, especially for overnighters. Being sure of getting some sort of sleep is worth the extra money. The last thing you want is to arrive at your new destination too tired to enjoy anything after an night of cramped seating, crying babies and inquistive locals.

One thing to keep in mind is that train tickets in China only go on sale three days before the train leaves, so you have to be quick!! You'll have to book early to be sure of getting a seat. If your Mandarin Chinese is not too great (like mine was) you can simply write down what you want by using the language section in the back of your guide book. The tellers always appreciate that you went to the effort and are then eager to help you. If you start blabbering on in English and they have no clue what you are saying then they will simply gesture you aside and attend to the next person in the que. They simpy don't have the time, and when you see the ques you'll understand why.

Sometimes there may be someone working at the train stations who has some sort of English. Thier desk will have a sign above it saying "English". Use them if you can, obviously. If you can't make it to the train station in to book them for yourself you might be able to get your hotel or guesthouse to book them for you for a small fee.

All in all train journeys in China are a good experience, although you may encounter the odd bad tempered attendant who just won't open the toilet no matter how nice you are to them. One way around this is wait until they fall asleep (they always do) then use your trusty penknife to open it for yourself. Make sure you close it afterwards though. Or you could leave it open and freak the attendant out!!

You'll undoubtedly end up with some Chinese people sitting with you, even if you get a cabin as there are four berths to a cabin, and they will always be very interested in you and your belongings. Those who have some English are always eager to talk you and they'll giggle with pride when you understand them. Of course it can be fun trying to communicate when no one has any idea what you are saying - I once had an hour long conversation with a guy in our berth using the language section in the back of the guidebook - but usually they want to look at your books, find out what you do for a living and what's your opinion of China. Another guy got highly offended when I was discussing the exchange rate between the Euro and the Yuan. he couldn't believe that Yuan was worth so little. Rather than insult the poor guy I backtracked and pretended I had gotten the rate wrong. He was satisfied with that and didn't thump me one.

They love their country, and rightly so. It is truly a wonderful and unique place.

5 Comments:

At Sunday, January 29, 2006 4:27:00 a.m., Blogger Puru said...

Nice post and great insight Vincent...Thanks for the info. I am not sure if you have been to India or not, but believe me, the experience would be more or less the same :-).
You would see similar curiosity and similar gestures, you would see the same old crowded stations and possibly, a similar arrogant attendant...
But maybe, Indians wont mind discussing the exchange rate with you ;-).

 
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