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copenhagen, denmark

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18h train, standing ticket

We needed to get out of Beijing, for the sake of saving money and travel time, as soon as Ryan got back from his visa run in Hong Kong. I’d discovered that you can actually buy train tickets online instead of having to lug yourself to the train station or a ticket office with passports and an explanation written up in Chinese for the counter person to understand - it’s easier to do on a booking site, like ctrip, and I was able to book in this way with passport numbers and a credit card. Unfortunately, however, I found that the train we needed to catch (being one of the two heading westward to Xinjiang from Beijing) was completely booked up apart from standing tickets, which cost the same as a hard seat (approx 40CAD). I booked the 18h, crestfallen, although the confirmation cheekily stated that it was “hard seat.” Yeah, right. We got to the train station after a 2 hour sleep, half expecting a hard seat, and being gestured to by train staff that no, it was in fact standing. Shit. 10am, 18hours to go. We snagged a spot huddled by the carriage doors, having to rise every hour or so as the train stopped in order to let people get off and on and continuously fight, push, weasel our way to get our spot back. We were fortunate enough that no woman armed with multiple babies and big bags didn’t try to edge her way into it, or I certainly would’ve given it up. To say that the train was crowded is an understatement. The thing is, I’ve taken dilapidated trains in Myanmar, even some in Thailand, but never have I had to pay so much for a seat, or a standing ticket, for that matter. When a ticket costs you the equivalent of 3CAD or in the case of Myanmar sometimes a third of a dollar (for 12+h journeys), you can’t really complain about having to cram in a wooden seat or sleep in the restaurant carriage on the cockroach soaked floor. But for 200¥… Midday, a cup of noodles. 6pm, another cup of noodles. 3am, more noodles. Thank goodness for hot water on trains, but any more instant ramen and I’ll turn into a big noodle myself. All the passengers with standing tickets were lovely. We would take turns allowing for the other person to extend their legs, or for some men - who had sometimes been standing for hours, with no space to so much as squat, even - to crouch for a few hours and rest. A no smoking policy appears to be in effect on trains, but very much ignored. The space between carriages is, in most Chinese trains, the designated smoking area, and even though the conductor was adamant in reminding people not to light up, men would find their way over and try to have a cigarette nevertheless. I think that by nighttime the conductor had given up on yelling at people, while other passengers kept to smoking in the lavatories (making the wait for a wee unbearable). It was amazing how little of a crap some people gave about the conductors orders and the new rules. At one point, around midnight, we’d stopped at a station for a 10min leg stretch, and a group of men went off to buy beers. They tried to board the train but the conductor told them they couldn’t bring on their beers. They shrugged and boarded on the next carriage instead. The conductor sighed defeatedly. While the price of the standing ticket, being equivalent to that of a seat, is a bit steep, it may actually be a more comfortable way (if there can be a “comfortable” way to be on a train for 18hours) to ride. Once we’d established our half metre squared area, people were respectful and understanding of it and in turn we’d make room for others. Being on a train from 10am until 5am is brutal, but this time it was an interesting (and exhausting) experience as well. To bed!

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