Sunday, August 12, 2012

The night train to Xi'an

Anyone who claims that trains are lovely for sleeping has not taken the night train from Beijing to Xi'an. Beds are available on the train, but those have long been sold out. Our last minute travel decision left us with one option; to make the thirteen hour journey in a hard seat.

The seat design and arrangement seem to have been conceived with the goal of maximizing passenger discomfort in mind. This may be a seated passenger train but, today, it is also a dining hall, a bedroom and a bathroom. And, judging by the men in the row ahead of me, it's also a great place to cut your nails and shave your face.

There is a man standing in the corridor between carriages smoking a cigarette. Above his head is a no smoking sign. Perhaps he can't read pictures.

The sign next to the no smoking sign indicates that the capacity for the carriage is 118 people. Between the children sitting on their moms laps and the men squatting and standing through the aisle, there are more like 150 people in this carriage. I'm trying to use this as an opportunity to be grateful; I am fortunate to have a seat.

In this seat, I will wait and sleep and eat as we make our way to Xi'an. The dining options are limited, so we have brought our own fare for the ride. Leftover squid and garlic eggplant isn't the sort of food that I would normally feel comfortable consuming in a closed public space, but I feel entirely comfortable doing it on this train.

In fairness, it could be worse. There is air-conditioning and I have my own seat that I don't need to guard (flashbacks of the ferry ride from Egypt to Sudan). I'm watching the landscape move past at an excruciatingly slow pace, anticipating the moment that we will step out of this moving box to discover another part of China. Only 10 more hours to go.


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