Beijing rail station is busier and larger than most airports I have visited. It’d also a dramatic introduction to the difference between English and Chinese social norms.
Arriving at 10:30 pm for an overnight rail trip to X’ian, we found ourselves trying to enter the two tiny open glass doors of the train station, seemingly alongside the entire population of Beijing. Jostling, bustling and pressured does not go half way to describing the atmosphere and experience of trying to penetrate the masses to gain entrance to the building. I lost my husband, he went through one door, me through another (eventually), My luggage was grabbed from me and bustled through a security machine in the opposite direction to which I was being pushed. I don’t think anyone was even operating the machine! My feeble rucksack was daunted by the masses of luggage the locals had shrink-rapped and were forcing through security. I thought about panicking – but realised this would only get me trampled and serve little good. I simply moved with the crowds and eventually found my discarded luggage (and my husband) in the entrance hall to the stations. Then the madness ended!
Once inside, the atmosphere was almost serene by comparison. People calmed progressed to their platforms, and ‘traffic’ was controlled in an airport manner. Each destination was announced and information boards highlighted which platform served which destination, and when that platform opened. Travellers were asked to wait in areas outside their platforms until the ticket collectors opened the gates and you could start to board. Most of this was translated from the activity of the masses, and knowing the (written) Mandarin for the destination you required. One valuable thing to know – numbers are westernised, so providing you know the mandarin for your destination (see your ticket!) you will always know which platform to head too.
Once you’re allowed to access the platform the train is waiting – and it’s worth deploying a bit of sign language to ask one of the train porters to show you to your carriage (after showing them your ticket).
Upon boarding the train I was speechless. It was not what I’d expected. We had upgraded to a two person berth with en suite, but I had not expected this! It was pristine, modern and extremely clean. I instantly decided not to sleep and instead enjoy this first class luxury for the whole trip.
We had bunkbeds in the berth – both of a decent size and very comfy. We had pillows, spotless duvets and flat screen TVs at the end of the bed. We had a one seater comfy chair, a small table, a wardrobe, and a (western) toilet complete with toiletries. I was in seventh heaven, Throwing open the curtains I was eager for the journey to commence. I jumped into my pyjamas and calls ‘dibs’ on the comfy seat whilst my husband headed back onto the platform to buy some beers and snacks from the vendors.
The hostess then arrived to check our tickets, give us a beverage and provide our continental breakfast for the morning. It was extremely civilised and a fantastic introduction to long journey rail travel.
The commentary over the cabin speakers announced our departure in Mandarin and English (a great surprise) and we set off. We sped past industrial estates, hutongs, witnessing new and old Beijing and headed into the darkness of midnight. I found myself wishing the train would slow down as morning approached and I realised I did not want to leave.
Photos from our China trip are available in our gallery.