Ok so I had said it rained in Beijing while I was there, right? Perhaps I didn’t make it clear it was like Rainmageddon no joke. While perhaps not at the level of 2012’s rain storms that were the most epic in 60 years, it was still pretty awesome in all the best and worst ways.
Recent Rain in China
This link shows an article with a photo of a tunnel outside of Beijing West station on July 20th.. I was at that station only 1 day later.
Beijing West Station
This article focuses on the transportation hiccups.. That photo is exactly where I was only one day later. I notice now that the message in the middle showing cancellations has my train, the Z49. But luckily the next day it wasn’t canceled, only delayed. I guess I can count my blessings.
In other news that small smudge of a McDonalds M on the left is where I ate lunch that day.
Where I was, major streets were still reasonable but the smaller ones were quickly becoming small rivers. I wore sandals just so I could recklessly walk through them instead of trying to get around which was near impossible.
This obviously didn’t have a great effect on my train scheduled for 11:27 AM on July 21st that was to go from Beijing West Railyway Station to Chengdu North Railway Station. All together the schedule was to be a slightly longer than 21 hour ride that was to end around 8:30 AM on July 22nd.
This already sounds intense but I was prepared with The Walking Dead season 5, Kindle Paperwhite, and my phone with external power bank that can charge it to full 2 or 3 times.
Upon arrival I was a bit early and famished so I got something quick and easy which usually means Micky D’s because it’s something you can grab and take with you if necessary which is something that cannot always be said about Chinese food.
As the clock ticked closer I was stating outside of the gate waiting for my train to be called to commence boarding and about 15 min prior to the scheduled departure time I started to zone out a bit just because I was bored waiting by myself. All of a sudden, I realized that the time was 11:25 AM and my train was no longer on the board and I panicked a second, worried that I had missed my train. I found a guard and asked him about my train and he said simply, “还没到” meaning it still hasn’t arrived. I was relieved and sure that it wouldn’t be long and so I asked him when he thought it might come. He pointed up at the board and told me to look and I noticed my train was back up again but with a new arrival time, 14:22, a whole 3 hours later.
In my pampered hubris I thought this was the end of the world and I lamented the seemingly eternal delay before me. With 3 hours I looked for a place to sit but I wasn’t so fortunate as there were people pretty much everywhere. There is a Chinese idiom for this, 人山人海 which means literally “people mountain, people sea” or in my local dialect, “Everyone and their fucking mother is here”.
With no seats I found a shop inside selling those small portable fold-able seats often used for outside Chinese BBQ or just for sitting outside in general and I thought this would be a good thing right now. It was 20 yuan for the more sturdy one which I felt might be necessary since I have a big butt and I intended on keeping it even if it’s a bit troublesome to carry back home. I find myself wanting one every now and again so it’ll come in handy later.
I found a spot and plopped myself down and didn’t realize just how long I’d be in that spot. I saw a white dude kind of wandering past me and I asked him where he was going. Earlier I had seen him rush past me toward the 4th gate so I had a hunch he was on the same train, especially since he was much less in a haste now which would make sense if he was on the same one.
He said he was going to Chengdu and I said, “OH!? Me, too!” so he ended up sitting down and we chatted and joked which certainly made the time go faster. As the time got close to the 14:00 mark the time changed to 晚点 which means delayed. With groans of disgust we just sat and talked taking time to glance up at the board every now and again.
The guy was an Australian named Joel and he’s quite the witty dude. Hilarious and with a good sense of humor I feel like the delay wasn’t too bad if I’ve at least made a new friend.
So the waiting went on well past 4 PM and such. The room got busier and busier and there were messages on the board in red that showed cancellations so I decided I wanted to go ask someone if there was even a soft estimate of when the train might come and also hit the bathroom because the line was long and I wasn’t too worried about Joel stealing my stuff. He seemed ok. So with great effort I struggled through the crowd to leave the waiting room and find a guard to ask. I finally found one about the same time a bunch of military guys came and started ushering people. The guard answered that he got notice that maybe around 18:30 the train would come and that was only about 2 hours away at this point so I was happy to take that.
Now, as I’m trying to get back in, masses of people are trying to get out so I cannot get through. I had to tell a military guy that I needed to get back in because my friend and my stuff was all in there and he helped me pave a way by walking ahead of me and helping me get through as the Chinese won’t push or bother a military man.
I got back and spread the good news and no sooner had I done so, the board updated from “delayed” to 18:50. At this point, this 5 and a half hour delay was “not bad”. So we sat and continued waiting.
Of course it was too good to be true and as the time rolled around, we found that this too, was a false hope and it changed back to “晚点” around 6:30 PM or so.
It started to become a really screwed up game, when would the train arrive? There was concern it wouldn’t arrive at all or that it would arrive like some crazy amount of time later and we’d spend the night at the train station.
But in the end the intercom voiced the oncoming train and there was an audible cheer from the crowd that was waiting for it. I wasn’t sure if it was our train so I asked some visibly happy people what the intercom said as it’s not clear enough for me. She said some train was coming and I said I was going to Chengdu and she told me it was the same train. I literally danced a jig I was so happy.
When all was said and done, Joel and I had waited over 10 hours for a train at Beijing West. If I was alone I might’ve gone a little crazy but chatting with a new friend really helped pass the time. We agreed to get hotpot in Chengdu together since we were going to the same place so I would see him there.
The seat on this train that I had was the hard sleeper seat which this time was quite nice, nicer than previous ones anyway. Not there is much of a difference but these had a bit more privacy from people walking pass the space since instead of it being open out into the aisle, there was a small wall until the door frame. On other ones that space is open with a ladder for getting to the middle and top bunks but here they were just small little fold-able steps to use with the bed themselves to go up. It’s a bit more streamlined. While not a perfect execution, I tried to get a good “PanoSphere” shot with my phone so you have a good idea of what it feels like.
I was lucky enough to get the bottom bunk which is usually slightly more expensive but a huge difference in seat. The bottom one usually has more headroom so you can sit straight up, the middle and top even I, as short as I am, must hunch over. There are seats also next to the windows for such passengers so it’s not a condemnation but it’s just less convenient. On this train, the top bunk had some storage at the very top above the entryway that is not on the other hard seat cars I’ve been in. So even the very top one isn’t bad on this car because you have your own storage space so you don’t need to come down except to use the toilet or if you want to sit up rather than hunch or lay down. On any train the middle is usually the cheapest because it doesn’t have the privacy of the top nor the convenience of the bottom.
After getting on I brushed my teeth and washed my face the best I could and even changed into pajamas. For a train ride over 20 hours, comfort is a necessity. I slept pretty soundly until about 7:30 AM when they were selling breakfast. I had enough food that I didn’t need to buy anything but water until 3 hour from arrival because I didn’t want to worry about buying food when I got to Chengdu at 11PM. Which is longer than it should’ve taken. A 21 hour 13 min train ride turned into 10 hours waiting at the station and 25.5 hour ride because they had to change the train course a bit and they ran it at a slower speed, presumably for safety. I’m alive, so I won’t complain. I only got antsy the last 2 hours or so.
The scenery on the way was at times, amazing. While the photo doesn’t do any justice, here is my attempt at getting a shot. Just trust me that it’s not even close.
Anyway, I’m in Chengdu now and I must sleep. Tomorrow I see Pandas! When I return I should be able to give you my last few days in Chengdu.