Buy your train tickets early.
It’s a new mantra and it’s a good one. I bought my ticket back to Qingdao the day I got to Xi’an which was obviously not enough time because all that was available is what is called a hard seat. It’s the lowest thing you can get other than a standing only ticket to wherever.
Now the seat isn’t necessarily hard, but it isn’t soft either.
The best way I know how to explain it is that it is like the seats on an old Yellow School Bus in the U.S. the type of seats that I would take to football games and complain if the ride was over 2 hours. This train ride is a short 23 hour train ride back.
Now I’m not complaining because this train ride was one of the most interesting things that has happened on the trip. I entered the train and everyone knew that I was a foreigner. I was the only one on the train that was, and I was by myself, which for most people was seen as odd.
Technically I wasn’t alone, for I had met a Chinese girl in the Hostel who was also going to Qingdao and so we decided to travel together. She acted as my translator of sorts for most of the ride. It was quite an experience. At first everyone just awkwardly stared at me, like who is this guy, and why is he in the cheap seats?
Then we happened on either a comedian, teacher or just somebody’s crazy uncle that took pleasure in talking to me for almost 4 hours. He would ask me questions about what was I doing here, and where I was going. Then he proceeded to tell me stories about how 94 year old men getting beat by their dad and other crazy things. I knew they were jokes because everyone around us was laughing.
The entire train car had seemed to turn on this simple point in the train car and watch the back and forth between me and this gentleman. We had become the entertainment for this group of people. He then proceeded to tell me about the 24 types of people. I didn’t really understand much, but by the reactions by everyone else, I imagine they were fairly funny. They seemed to have a certain bit of poetry to it.
It almost seemed as if we had moved back to the days of old when a story teller would share history and lore through spoken word. The poetry of his humor rang through the car and my new found Chinese friend helped translate a small portion of this ancient lore.
It was quite an experience. Other than trying to sleep on the train and feeling like I need a Chiropractor after the ride it was an experience to say the least. I wasn’t built for hard seat travel in Chinese trains.
Ps. I would also like to make a plea to the Chinese government to redesign the Xi’an Train Station. It was the first time I actually felt like livestock in gates going to sale.