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The line to Beijing

Beijing, P.R. China5.13.2007Mira tells me that I do everything the hard way. Now that I think of it, I may. For, “why pass through open gates when first you can break them down?” Maybe Voltaire said that. Maybe I made it up. Either way Mira and I woke up in Qingdao and packed up our [...]

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Beijing, P.R. China
5.13.2007

Mira tells me that I do everything the hard way. Now that I think of it, I may. For, “why pass through open gates when first you can break them down?” Maybe Voltaire said that. Maybe I made it up. Either way Mira and I woke up in Qingdao and packed up our bundles and went off to find a train ticket. Found a booking office and was told that we could not go straight to Beijing as there were no more tickets available. I don’t make reservations, never have. So we got a train out to the provincal capital of Shandong, Ji’nan and figured that we would make Beijing, somehow, from there. We had seats on this train and the ride was a real nice pass through the agricultural lands of Eastern China. Peasents out in the middle of fields poking at the dirt with hoes and toes. There was a young bulkly huge Chinese man sitting accross from me (in Chinese hard seat class the passengers face each other in four and six seat arrangement blocks) who seemed to intentionally avoid looking at me at all costs. He seemed a little timid and his large size seemed to make him even more sheepish. Around five hours into the journey I flicked out my jack knife to cut open some wrapper, and the poor guy got so startled that he nearly jumped out of his seat. Mira and I giggled a little about this. Come to find out he thought that I was a terrorist. He told me so after we began talking some hours later. It was my beard he told me, and added that I look scary to Chinese people or something to that effect. We laughed at this and another Chinese kid joined in our conversation.

The other kid said that he was also going to Beijing and would assist us in getting a ticket. We accepted the gesture and ran over to the ticket booth after our train arrived in Ji’nan. Mira watched my bundle as I waited in line with the other kid. He was a medical student and the pride of his family, who were poor Shandong pesents. Of his entire village he was the only one to ever leave the county. Being one of five children there was not much to go around but he studied hard and was just accepted as an intern at a hospital in Qingdao. I asked him why he wanted to become a doctor and he replied with a deep smile, “It is my father’s dream.” I too smiled at this.

So it was nearly ten o’clock at night by the time we got up to the ticket counter and all of the tickets on the midnight train to Beijing were sold out. So I opted for the next train which departed at five thirty AM. I bought two cheapest class tickets for 35 yuan (three and a half dollars) each and reported to Mira that we had seven hours to spare and that our tickets did not even get us any seats, as we were going “wu zuo”- no seat. She glared at me a tired annoyed kind of glare and asked what I wanted to do in the mean time.

A slight travel dilemma.

What do you do when your in an off city in the middle of the night with seven hours to spare before your train leaves? Do you troop it out on the benches and eaves of the station or find a cheap room? Generally, I would easily choose the former, but this circumstance was a little different. I was travelling with my girlfriend, who had a computer in her heavy rucksack, and we were both a little worn from the train journey that just consumated. I also did not wish for either of us to be a little cranky the next day and, as Mira would be leaving in a week, wanted all the time that I would have with her to be as relaxed as possible. But we are proud proud travellers and sought to stick out the night around the station. We went over to a cafe accross the station courtyard. Which meant that we had to fight our way through droves of hotel runners who tried desperatly to sell us a room- “binguan?” “binguan?” One of the old bawds attached herself to Mira’s arm and tried to drag her away. Mira got pissed and threw the old croon off. We made it to the cafe to find that it was probably ninety degrees inside and horribly stuffy. None of the windows were open and there were nearly a hundred people inside smoking cigerettes. We quickly exited and walked around the courtyard for a while more, battling the runners. Finaly a cute high school girl on a bicycle came up to us and asked nicely if we would like a room, in aquiesement I asked her how much. She named a decent price, was sweet, and seemed uncorrupted. We agreed, followed her over to a hotel and slept out four hours.

Next day we hoped on our train, stood in out “no seats” and set off for Beijing. The compartment was full of cigerette smoke and crowded with Chinese, bags, and just about everything else. But it would only cost us 35 yuan each to get to the capital city, so this was alright with us. We found a good little hovel for ourselves by an open window in a corridor that lead to the dining car. We stood there just breathing in the crisp morning air and watching the outskirts of Ji’nan rolling past. Completely satisfied with our place in the world we held on to these positions for most of the ride. After around four hours of standing in the small hallway one of the cooks in the dining car either took pity on us, or grew weary of us being in his way, and offered us a booth. We accepted it gladly and collasped into it with our tired heads nestled in our akimboed arms. We slept a little until the cooks got into a very loud fist fight with each other in the dining car- a real common occurance in China.

We eventually rolled into Beijing around noon and stepped out into the city and checked the sky to see if it really is brown with pollution.

Dining car while the cooks and train keepers took their lunch.
Crowded corridor where Mira and I stowed away just enjoying the passing landscape and the wind blowing on our sleepy faces.
Outside of a Shanghai butcher’s shop.

Filed under: China, Urbanization

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3611 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York

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