Saturday, January 22, 2011

Beijing Brunch

After skiing, M. and I parted ways.  She flew back to her Gansu home via Beijing.  From Chung Chun to Beijing, I got a standing ticket for the twelve hour trip through the night.  I boarded the train and settled into a corner of the ice box with white metal frosted walls, sitting on my pack in the smoking area between train cars.  The conductor came through, yelled at me in incomprehensible Chinese, and pushed me into the heated train car with seats. 
There were many open seats.  Passengers were spread out sleeping on the three seat benches.  I found an empty seat, asked if I could sit down even though I only had a standing ticket then was bombarded with questions.  Where are you from?  Where are you going?  What are you doing in China?  How much money do you make?  It was 10 pm and I was tired, but by being polite, one woman who was getting off at the next stop gave me her three seats and motioned me to lie down, pretend to sleep and not let anyone take the seats.
If there were so many empty seats, why did the ticket office sell me a standing ticket?  Apparently the train sells seats only once between the starting destination and the final destination.  When people get off at stops between these two points, those seats become free for anyone.  I wonder how the train makes money this way.  Wouldn't it be more profitable to re-sell the seat once they become unoccupied?  I guess selling standing tickets is a way to re-sell the seat except standing tickets are cheaper.  It is kind of like a lottery.  Some trains are so full no seats ever open up and people are standing and sitting in the aisles, on the sinks, in the smoking sections, finding any empty space to occupy.  I was lucky.  My train had many passengers who had already disembarked and I could sleep soundly curled up on three seats.
I arrived in Beijing at 10 am and immediately went to the ticket hall.  Strangely the lines were short.  I handed the seller a piece of paper with three destinations:  Inner Mongolia, Xian, or Pingyao which is a stop between Xian and Beijing.  During high travel season, ie. the Chinese New Year, train tickets are hard to purchase.  I was going to let the fate of being able to buy a train ticket dictate where I would go next.  Pingyao won with a seat ticket for midnight.
I had twelve hours to chill in Beijing and decided to head to a hostel to see if I could get a cheap shower and a place to store my pack.  The outdoor single file lines to buy a subway ticket were LONG, but moved quickly since the fare was only 2 RMB ($0.30) to every destination.  Then I had to move to the entry way into the actual subway which was blocked by a mass of people all crowding to put their bags through the one security machine before entering the turnstiles to go underground.  My initial reaction to Beijing was, ugh... too many people, too many lines, not very convenient.
My second reaction was Wow!  The subway is amazing.  Once you get access to it, it is easy, fast, not crowded, a great way to travel.
The hostel wanted to charge me $10 to take a shower and to store my pack.  I was like no way!  Beds usually cost half that price and you stay the night.  I decided to hike around and just carry my backpack.
First stop, brunch, sweet snacks made out of dates, potatoes, sweet potates, figs, rice, wheat, peanuts...

1 comment:

Serge said...

If subways are like that all over the world, that would definitely be very, very convenient as you get to avoid the crowds while enjoying a fast mode of transportation as you spend just a small amount of money.