The Hard Seat back to Beijing – A transit nightmare

It started at the Bell Tower in Xian, all packed up, waiting for the 611 bus to take us to Xian Train Station for our overnight train trip back to Beijing. The bus wasn’t by choice, there weren’t any taxi’s available, and with all our luggage we couldn’t safely fit on a single rickshaw.

There were a lot of people waiting for the bus, and with a sprained wrist everything was that much harder. Sharon probably had it worse with an actual 80 Litre backpack on her back.

The weather in Xian was HOT! We’re talking sun beating down, 40 degree heat. And this was at 7.30pm in the evening! I could feel the sweat behind my ears. Behind my ears!!

When the bus finally arrived, Sharon brilliantly busted her way through to the front of the queue. Being 6 feet tall with a massive pack on her back, she was not one to be messed with. I followed her lead like a little fish swims under the belly of a shark, but still didn’t think I was going to make it unless somehow everyone in the bus got vacuum sealed.

T – panting ‘I’m not going to make it’
Sharon – you’re gonna make it. Just keep pushing.

And I did, with one hand gripping the ceiling bar above my head while also holding my hand bag which repeatedly banged me and the person next to me in the face. We didn’t speak, and avoided eye contact, while my bag silently swung between our heads.

15 minutes later, we entered the 30 metre cattle queue to get our bags checked. While shuffling an inch forward at a time, there was a commotion coming from the entry, and an elderly man was being dragged out of the station kicking and shouting while a mob of angry men followed. It was hard to watch, and I wondered if this was the consequence of not having a train ticket? In preparation, I held my ticket tightly in my hand, ready for viewing. The last thing I needed was to be dragged out to the streets by my hair with an angry mob…

Inside the train station, we joined the queue for our T232 train to Beijing, and next, the line to enter our No.2 carriage.

What ever I was expecting from a Hard Seat ticket, this was much worse.The carriage was filled with groups of 4 hard seats facing each other and a table in the centre of the groups, creating no room to stretch your legs, no dividing arm rests, and at full capacity with people crowding the aisles who had obviously purchased standing room only, as well as commuters curled up in the aisles sleeping.

The noise was insulting, lots of clashing chinese music, people yelling, people coughing, children wailing, the sound of rubbish being crumpled and thrown, food being eaten and bags being moved. I rested my head against the window of my side seat and closed my eyes to avoid the bright white lights. A scary thought later, I moved my head away, fearful of contracting a hot boil on my forehead from where it had connected with the window.

It was pretty depressing to think that after the last few hours of being hot, sweaty, tired, lining up and being treated like cattle, and the physical effort of hauling our bags around, this was what we had to look forward to for the next 13 hours.

The last straw was when Sharon came back from a toilet run and described it to me. ‘There’s only one squatting toilet and it’s much more disgusting and wet than in the Soft Sleep carriage. Very stinky with pee everywhere, and I think there was food in the hole..maybe rice?

That was it. My spirit broke. I wasn’t built for this, and started crying to Sharon that we should have brought some hard liquor and sleeping pills.. ‘But don’t you have any valium?’

TIP – NEVER purchase Hard Seat tickets for a long train trip in China. And if you do, make sure you bring alcohol (Spirits). This is VERY important.

Banged up, dusty and broken, the fact that I was able to hold off from going to the toilet for around 16 hours was an act of God.

Arriving in Beijing, Sharon and I both agreed that we were going to hunt down and kill the tour agent who sold us these seats. But only after we’re done washing the filth off from our skin, and from our memories.

‘See you soon. Train!’ – Memorable moments in the city of Xian

While waiting for my train at the Beijing West Train station, a group of Mongolean children aged between 4-10yrs old befriended me. They were so friendly and cute and spoke really good engrish. I took the opportunity to learn some Chinese words, and have since been applying them in my day to day communication with the locals.

Walking into the chemist to find a brace to support my sprained left wrist
T – hand on wrist, ‘wrist, pain (pain face), want keep straight’ straight hand motion.

Serving lady – looks and finds hair band.

T – ‘No’ shakes head vigorously, bends wrist ‘NO’ shakes head, makes wrist and hand straight and wraps other hand around wrist ‘YES’ vigourous nodding.

Serving lady – ‘ ahh’, brightens and points finger to the sky (universal sign language for ‘I’ve got an idea’), brings me wrapping cloth to strap around my wrist – not quite the brace but it will have to do.

T – ‘ XiaXia’ (Thankyou) ‘ Huoche’ (‘goodbye’, pronounced ‘Hua Chur’)

Serving lady – makes ‘choo choo’ train sound.

This is how I discovered that all this time in Xian when I thought I was saying ‘goodbye‘ to people, I was actually saying ‘train’

T – XiaXia (Thank you), ‘Huoche’ (Train) waves hand

For the record, ‘Zai Jian’ is how you say goodbye.

Where do the locals eat? – Memorable moments in the city of Xian

While sifting through the Muslim Markets, which there is nothing Muslim about by the way, we stumbled apon a cafeteria which seemed to have the most amazing food at about a 1/4 of the price of the cafes and shopping centre food courts.

Desperately wanting to chose a meal from one of the vendors but not knowing what was what, we settled for a Japanese stall that had pictures of the dishes on their menu. Mmm, pointing, this I can do!
I’m unable to relay what the name of the shop was as it was all in chinese characters, but the sushi rolls were great! What would normaly cost $8 AUD was only 8 RMB (equivalent to $1.15 AUD) Cheap Cheap!

But don’t expect to ever get exactly what you’ve requested. Pointing to the picture of the salmon and avocado sushi rolls, I received something more like salted dry fish and cucumber with crab extender and some other type of vegie. I returned the next evening to try again which resulted in salmon with cucumber and again some other sort of vegie. Closer, but no bananna.

I tried to communicate the error, and was handed more wasabi and soya sauce with a smile. After 5 packets of soy and wasabi, I stopped trying. Deep down I think she understood what I was saying, but it was probably more fun to mess with me… it’s ok, it was still the best cheap food I had in Xian.

Bell Tower Youth Hostel – Memorable moments in the city of Xian

Staying at the Bell Tower Youth Hostel was the very first, and hopefully last, hostel I’ve ever had to stay in. I would have liked to say ‘had the pleasure’ of staying in, but it doesn’t deserve it.

The rooms were ok…ish. I wouldn’t step into the shower without any slippers on. To be fair, I wouldn’t even enter the bathroom without any slippers on. Outside the room was worse. Dirty, loud, smelly, with grafitti on the walls.

The plus side was that the hostel was situated next to the Bell Tower, a primary landmark right in the centre of the city. And though the City of Xian is very beautiful at night with lights decorating its buildings, street performers, and kites flying in the sky, the most exciting thing about this city during the daytime was the shopping centre that had an entire floor the size of my neighbourhood block. Which was pretty boring if you weren’t shopping or eating.

The strangest thing was that all my electronics went haywire in protest while I was staying in the Hostel. My camera started vibrating angrily whenever I wanted to take a photo, my netbook couldn’t find or connect to the wireless internet that everyone else in the hostel was able to connect to (even though it picked up on every other connection that was within the vaccinity, but not available to me), and my phone became possessed.

Sharon in Dutch accent‘last night at around 3am I woke up to the sound of your phone beeping. Beep beep beep, it just kept on going! I thought you were txting, and after a while I had enough and rolled over to tell you to keep it down but you were sound alseep. So I picked up your phone to switch it off and it was filling the screen with the number ‘9’s… Strange. If it had been the number ‘6’ I would have freaked out!’

That was the first night. The second night I pulled the phone apart and slept with the lights on.

The Terracotta Warriors

The Lonely Planet list the Terracotta Warriors as the Number 2 thing to see in China, losing only to the Forbidden City as number 1, and followed by the Bund in Shanghai, and the Great Wall at number 4. And as amazing as it was, I personally feel the Great wall wins over both the Warriors and the Forbidden city.

Don’t get me wrong, the Terracotta Warriors were amazing in their own right and completely incredible!!

The excavation site is massive! And to think that this was only discovered in 1974 and that they are still working through and discovering more and more relics is unbelievable!

The mausoleum had been in planning since Quin (Shi Huang) became Emporer when he was just 13, in 246 BC – thats 38 years of planning for someones death! And these people believed that in the afterlife, the Emporer would need all his earthly pleasures, and army to look over him, including over 8,000 warriors of different sorts, his arts community including instruments and replicas of the musicians, swan’s, ducks, cranes, horses and charriots, and horse stables etc .. oh yeah, I was pretty impressed. Until I found out that they had recreated the stables, put real horses in them with water pots near their heads, and then burried the horses alive! This made me sick to the stomach and I was very disappointed in the Quin people = (

There are always so many more Chinese nationals touring the site from other provinces than there are overseas foreigners that the site doesn’t cater primarily for english speakers, and a lot of the video information was in Chinese.

So without understanding the complete background of what I was viewing, and with such an active imagination from growing up on Sci-fi’s and horrors, it was hard not to dream up an alternative history for how this earthly underworld came to be.

Was the Emporers army assembling to fight off some dark supernatural super power that turned everything living, within a 16,300 square metre radius of this site, into stone? or terracotta?? And did the surviving community transform the remains into this life size Mausoleum, and bury it deep in the earth, not to be spoken, or written in any of the history books, in the hope of appeasing this evil heinous entity into never rising again???

As I pondered these thoughts, I could almost see these terracotta warriors come to life, eye’s slowly opening, releasing white beams from their gaze – (Much like in Never Ending story when the lasers shoot out of the eyes of the Golden statue guards as Atreyu tries to pass)

Completely impossible! However, I did make note of the exits just in case.

On a midnight train to Xian – Challenges and triumphs

A spontaneous decision was made to take a weekend trip to Xian, a province south of Beijing. It was difficult to get tickets due to school holidays in China so we settled for Soft sleep (cabin bed) to Xian, and Hard Seat back to Beijing.

It was a 13 hour long trip from Beijing to Xian, and after fighting my way through the masses commuting from the mammoth Beijing West Train station, I was relieved to finally board the train.

‘I love top bunks!’ Sharon clapped excitedly after discovering that our allocated beds were both top bunks, but in separate cabins.

I couldn’t believe she was happy about this – the top bunk is really awesome and fun when you’re little, but when you morph into something heavy, lumpy and awkward, the new game is called how to keep your arse as close to the ground as possible.

The cabbins included 2 bunk beds in quite a small space, with some storage for the luggage above the entry door. There was a 6 inch long single step to help the top bunkers get into their beds, which didn’t offer much footing, and not only did I need to get myself up there, I had to somehow get my 70ltr wheely bag up there with me. Did I mention that I left Sydney last week with a sprained left wrist that hasn’t healed? And I consume water like a camel getting ready to take a trip through the Sahara Desert? And I visit the bathroom most nights religeously (good friends know this about me). sigh I immediately saw the challenges.

Challenge 1 – How to get my 15kg bag into the top bunk?
Answer – Men.
As I struggled to lift my bag off the ground (I’m used to only dragging luggage,) a couple of men appeared out of nowhere and lifted my bag effortlessly into my bunk.
Side note – The thing about having big boobs is that they are always being watched, and if the owner of the boobs (me) is in distress, help or hindrance, is never far away. Fortunately, this time it was help.

The men waited and watched patiently as I attempted to conjure up my inner primate and climb into the top bunk. I managed to get the gorrilla huffs and grunts going, but the climbing technique was more like dragging myself out of the deep end of the pool, with wet and heavy clothes on, and no ladder. It was disgustingly graceful.

Final grunt ‘ Xiaxia, Xiaxia ‘ (thank you thank you) waiving the men away.

Phew… I made it….. what. what’s that? I. need. to ….pee?

Challenge 2 – The Toilet.
Apart from the logistical difficulties of getting to the carriage toilet from my top bunk, with only 2 toilets per 2 full carriages, I was not expecting it to be pretty. And was prepared to avoid a toilet trip at all cost.. Apart from peeing in the bed.

What to do?
FirstlyDon’t panic! If you panic, your bladder will feel your fear and need to pee even more. Try to think happy, non-urinating related thoughts.

Secondlylie on your back. Your bladder does not need the extra pressure of your body weight. You’ll just confuse it by sending the wrong signals.

ThirdlyNo more water or liquids of any type! This can help greatly, but may also invite another challenger called Dehydration, who comes with an army of Dry throat, Dry mouth, Dry lips and Headaches.

In the end, it was just a waiting game. Or as Iron Chef would say ‘ whose cuisine will reign supreme?’ Will my parchness over come my need for release??

As I let my dehydration and bladder battle it out, it soon became obvious that I was going to lose the war to both. I ended up going to the toilet 3 times before falling asleep, exhausted, to Country Death Song by the Voilent Femmes playing on my iPod.