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In GuangZhou. Taking the Train to HangZhou  [Hang-Zhou, HANG_Geological-Area More Detail (5th Nov)
   
  Yesterday proves to be more exhausting than I think it was. Also, it's time to pay for my chronic sleep deprivation. I wake up at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Checking my stuff again here and there, I kill another 3 hours. At 5 pm, after a Big Mac at the Big M restaurant, I set off to the train station.
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Inside a bus - take a guess at China's population from this sample.
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Quick question: out of all the routes, which bus is the last to come?
.. .. 1, 2
.. .. 3
The bus I am waiting for.  
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GuangZhou's subway is only a few years old. One of it's terminal is right underneath the train station. How convenient.
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Subway is not the standard transportation of citizens as it's a few times more expensive than buses. You can actually meditate here if you like (this is a bias sample for passenger count).
  If there is a hell in every city of China, it's the train station - that is at least true 16 years ago when I had my first backpack trip in China.

It was 16 years ago but the image is still vivid. One late night, I walked out of a train station in northern China. The square in front of it was huge. But what I first saw was the perhaps few thousands of people that covered half of the square. They were sitting and sleeping on the ground, washing and drinking from nearby drainage. It flash across the back of my head that it was either a refugee camp or a corner in hell.

Things have changed after 16 years. But still I hear of crime from time to time near train stations. During Lunar New Year, the train station is still the gathering place of "blind current" - people who come from poorer provinces looking for work. All they bring is a one way ticket and a few big bags and they can't afford even the cheapest accommodation. I feel bad that what happened 16 years ago happens again at least once a year. Only difference is that there are plenty of Mercedes zooming by right next to them today.

The train service is reshaping itself to look after more wealthy passengers now. A new station, the GuangZhou east station, is under construction to provide more decent train services. I am lucky this time because my train leaves from the east station. I am not lucky this time because I don't get to see the improved hell, the west station, that I miss a lot.

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Outside the east station. It might not look like heaven but it's definitely not hell. Good improvement.
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Not yet in use, this is the upper level of the station. Not like hell at all.
img_2005.jpgMy train runs from Hong Kong to ShangHai. Since I didn't book well in advance, all FK could get me is a "hard seat" ticket.

What is "hard seat"? Read on ...

  Train is the classic way to travel China. It's not at all comfortable (could be near torture) but you feel like you are really in touch with China - both with the vast piece of land and the people. No one can really say he has traveled China unless he's been on a train.

There are 5 grades of train tickets:
1) The most expensive being "soft bed".  It's 4 beds in a close cabin. As expensive as air travel.
2) "Hard bed". 6 beds in a semi-open compartment. You can smell the roof of the train if you take the top bed.
3) "Soft seat". But I double if this exists anymore.
4) "Hard seat". If the seat doesn't kill you, the passengers sitting or smoking next to you will. Read on ...
5) "Stand". I call it "hard stand" although there is no "soft stand". You will agree if you stand your way from GuangZhou to BeiJing.

 
  14 years ago, I hard-stood half the distance to BeiJing, slept under the seats next to yellowish spit during nights, lost my wallet in a transfer, got sick and hard-seated back like a dog. I would never take the train when I am on business trip but since I am backpacking this time, I have to - for old time's sake.
 
img_2008.jpgThe hard seat section. It is very different from 16 years ago. Air conditioned and the people look, well forgive me, more civilized on the average. However, "foot on the seat" is still common. Especially when that foot is smelly and wearing a grayish sock which you bet was white 2 weeks ago. It's gonna turn hellish here when people fall asleep at night. img_2011.jpg
The hard bed section. You get 5 new compartment-mates for the night.
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That's what you have to prepare if you don't wanna starve on a long ride. This gentleman has got beer with him so he is smiling.
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Life in the hard bed section. The lady is so bored she has to keep herself entertained by reading newspaper and chewing her own tongue. Oh, ok, it's just the angle.
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One deck of cards, one suit case, 2 lower beds and 4 passengers equals fun. They are playing a game called "tractor" which is very popular in the mainland but almost not known in Hong Kong.
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Food supply at the platform during a quick stop. Ok, I have to cut down on food. 12 buns, 10 eggs and 5 chicken legs, only, please. 
 

 

 

This is the soft bed section where I forget to take a PIC of. Sorry.

  For old time's sake, yes. But my bones have grown too old to ride the hard seat section. Upon boarding the train, I fight my way to the upgrade counter and got myself a hard bed ticket. If you are on the edge of your seat wanting to see me illustrate how bad it is riding in the hard seat section, sorry, I have to disappoint you.  
 
  Dead tired. Crawl into bed at 9pm. Plan to wake up early morning to see again how hellish it's like in the hard seat section after people go to sleep. So ...
   

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