China Travel

A Tale of Two Trains: Tickets, Bunks and Open-Crotched Tots

August 21, 2016

The fastest train from Beijing to Xi’an takes about 5.5 hours and will cost you around $78 bucks (CNY 514).  I had bought my ticket a day in advance but I grossly underestimated how much time I would need to get from my hostel to Beijing West, the departure station.  The receptionist was horrified when I told him my train was departing in 30 minutes and I was still standing in front of him in the reception area.  “Run,” he said.

During my entire travels, I have been carrying a 46L Osprey backpack weighing in at around nearly 35lbs (~15.5kg).  I call it my turtle shell because it’s green-ish in color.  I have another friend who calls it a bomb because the minute I set it down, there is always an explosion of clothes and toiletries.  When unpacking, I like to sprawl…

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Anyhow, I’m in a dress and flip flops with a huge turtle shell on my back ungracefully running through the streets of Beijing.  It’s 92°F (33°C) out with 80° humidity.  I’m still a tall girl for Asia and look pretty foreign.  Bystanders stare.  I asked 3 or 4 people mid-run how far the station was that would connect me to Beijing West.  When I finally found the place, the train I needed to take was just pulling out of the platform and the next one set to arrive in 8 minutes.  8 minutes!  I wasn’t going to make my train to Xi’an.

When I arrived at Beijing West, I hobbled over to Customer Service, aggressively panting while trying to explain that my train had departed 10 minutes earlier.  I showed her my paid ticket for $78 bucks and asked if there was anything that could be done.  After a very confusing game of musical-ticket-windows in which I had no idea what was happening, I paid $1 for a change fee and was handed a new train ticket that was set to depart in an hour.  I was completely drenched in sweat and still panting, but felt so relieved.

I walked onto the train and collapsed into my assigned seat.  I reflected on how stressed I had felt only an hour earlier.

“Stress is caused by being here but wanting to be there.”  – Eckhart Tolle

I’m finally here, I thought.   I’m on the train, Xi’an-bound and everything worked out. Even though I’m in a place where I don’t speak the language and the locals sell bugs for snacks and some of the small children urinate and defecate on public streets, everything always works out.  

I was ecstatic to be on that train.

About a week later, I was leaving a place called Zhangjiajie, a lush, mountainous region in China that served as James Cameron’s inspiration behind the scenery in Avatar.  I had flown in from Xi’an, but decided to train out.  The plan was to take an overnight train to a city whose name I can’t remember and then ride a bus to Yangshuo, my final destination.  I was tired when boarding the 12-hour overnight train from Zhangjiajie City.  I was ready to pass out, but pass out I did not.

My assigned bed was the middle bunk – not the top bunk or the bottom bunk as there were three levels.  I was on that second level, sandwiched between a young snoring man above and an old snoring lady below.

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If you’re seeking an authentic cultural experience in China, this is it.  Ride the overnight train in the standard bunkbed car.   You will likely be the only foreigner there and everyone will be social, but you will have no idea what they are talking about.

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Photo Credit: Source unclear – image from Google Image Search

 They will stare at you and you will stare at them because they are staring at you.   Everyone eats instant noodles and walks around barefoot or in socks.  There may be a passenger or two clipping his or her nails right on their bunk.  It’s authentic.

There are bathrooms in the cars, but the one in my car was straight-up foul.  I was holding my bladder until the last possible moment where I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  When that time came, I used the foul toilet and kind-of felt defeated about the whole thing.  I couldn’t make myself wash my face or brush my teeth in the sink area.  I would do that later after I had arrived to my final destination. 

Miraculously, I was able to get some sleep because I awoke to the sun shining through the car window and playful sounds of a young child. The bunk spaces were narrow making it impossible to sit up fully, so I climbed down the ladder to have a stretch and check out this vocal toddler.  

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The kid was climbing on top and somersaulting all over his mother on their bottom bunk.  Cute, I thought.  Then I spotted something strange.  The toddler had an open slit in his overalls in his crotch-area.  Not a small slit, but a BIG hole.

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I had heard about this before.  Dozens of fellow travelers told me stories about small kids squatting in public, shamelessly peeing and pooping in the street.  Some of the small children, mostly those who are potty-training, have slits in their pants in the crotch-area for seamless access and quick, easy performance.  I knew the stories were true, but hadn’t witnessed the slitted-pants until that moment.  I still don’t understand how this could be sanitary, but hey, I guess it’s cultural.

There is even a Wiki article on Chinese open-crotch pants.  It’s a real thing!

As we were pulling into the final station, the kid with the open-crotch pants came over my way and handed me a small cracker from the bag he was noshing on.  I accepted said cracker and would hold it loosely in my hand until I departed the train and had a chance to covertly drop it outdoors.  It was a kind gesture, but the thought of eating a cracker from a kid who was rolling around with his bum and junk hanging out and rubbing against everything didn’t exactly build up my appetite.  

“Stress is caused by being here but wanting to be there.”  – Eckhart Tolle

I’m finally here, I thought.   I’m off the train, headed to Yangshuo, and everything worked out.  Even though I’m in a place where I don’t speak the language and the locals sell bugs for snacks and some of the small children urinate and defecate on public streets, everything always works out.  

I was ecstatic to be off that train.

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