My friend Ray from university and I had decided we were going to take on Beijing and then Shanghai. Well, actually, we were going to try for Xi’an in between to see the Terracotta Warriors, but learned a hard lesson in careful planning….. and all flights/trains were sold out for our time-frame.
I arrived in Beijing about 12 hours after Ray and for the first time had to navigate my way from an international airport to my accommodations – alone – and in a non-English speaking country. Thanks to his detailed directions, I made it just fine!
[NOTE: that this was also my first hostel experience! I had been in Korea for about 6 months at this point, but had not yet had the occasion to use a hostel.]
We had several hot, dehydrated, and culturally stimulating days in Beijing. You know that brand of dehydration where you’re so hot and uncomfortable that you don’t feel like drinking water and completely lose your appetite? Each day, we ran off a solid hostel breakfast and then relied on Coca-Cola and small bits of street food for sustenance for the remainder of the day. Our Beijing diet didn’t really set us up well for our day trip to the Great Wall. On the way up (he was running, I was struggling) we sang “Be A Man” – because why wouldn’t we?! (and… not to brag… but we got personalized metals at the top)
When we were trying to plot our next destination, we realized quickly that Xi’an was not going to happen. Whoops. We figured flying straight to Shanghi was our only option, so we hopped on the free hostel computer and booked th…. HOLYMOTHEROFMOTHER!! The fights were outrageously expensive. Fast train? EW.NO. Overnight 14-hour chug-a-long train for like $20? Sure, why not…
Here’s what transpired:
- We packed up and walked to the Beijing Station, walked in and realized we had made a pretty big mistake not getting there earlier.
- Waited in an epic line and then picked up the tickets.
- Gave weird look to people carrying these silly mini-stools. Like, why would you ever want to tote those around?
- Stepped into our “standing room only” car and realized immediately why people had the stools: the options were stand or sit on the ground (actual seats existed, but not for us…)
- Some man offered me his little stool, so I had that to perch on for a bit.
- Endured for a while. Then things got more interesting….
We had opted for the “head under one row / feet under the other” positioning, with our torsos basically mid aisle. I was able to get a pretty decent snooze on until I heard rustling near the end of the train car. I ignored it, assuming it was just passengers getting ready for their stop. Much to my dismay, when I removed my hoodie from my face (I was wearing it backwards to maximize face coverage), I saw an irritated lady looking down at us from behind a drink/snack cart. In what universe is it a good idea to roll a drink cart through a standing-room-only train car?! We begrudgingly moved from our makeshift beds and then immediately returned to sleeping position after she went past.
About 45 minutes and just before the last stop before Shanghai, a woman took pity on us and swapped spots so we wouldn’t be ambushed by the other people waiting for seats (or the other people about to get onto the train!).
Got off the train and bee-lined for the bathroom. I have never been so happy to wash my face.
TL:DR = Transit in China needs to be planned/booked in advance or else you’ll wind up sitting/laying on the floor of a train for 14+ hours.
Other interesting things that happened in China:
- Chinese teenage boys got a good laugh courtesy of yours-truly. Let’s just say I did make it up the Great Wall….. but juuuust barely.
- I haggled for the first time!
- In Shanghai, we were caught in a monsoon so intense we needed to buy entirely new outfits. AND my contact lens very nearly floated out of my eye.
- After nearly 6 months being open, the security at the Shanghai World Expo was —utterly perplexed– by Ray’s epipen. So much so, that they radioed the medic and even they were confused. He ended up having to sign it in but it was a pretty interesting ordeal.
- A friend from high school was living in Beijing, so we were able to go to an expat party and see what an apartment in China looks like.
- We saw how silk was made and proudly announced to our tour group that we had both eaten silkworms. NBD. I bought a pillow that can be unzipped and turned into a blanket… and I love it just as much as the day I bought it and lovingly crammed it into my backpack to bring back to Korea ❤
- What cool and interesting stories did you bring home from China?
- Have you experienced a super long bus or train ride? Where were you?
- Where is the strangest place you’e slept?