Suitcase and World: On the Train to Tianshui!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On the Train to Tianshui!

The last time I left on a train from Xi'an, it was to go to Beijing. On that trip, I took a hard sleeper today. Today, we travel in relatively luxury in a soft sleeper train.

The gals had agreed to breakfast at 6a but I skipped it. I had not slept well all night and decided a few more minutes rest was worth it. I headed down to the lobby a few minutes before 7a to settle up on my laundry bill (156 yuan) and check out. Wolander....okay I know his name is Woldner but I can't get Wolander out of my head.... had called me last night to tell me he was going to be taking us to the airport so after checking out, I waited outside for his familiar face. In the meantime, Yim and Mal were checking out.

Wolander and the driver soon showed up and took us on a short ride to the train station. He dropped us off about a block away and we walked the rest of the distance.

Wolander dragging my suitcase with Yim walking alongside him.  The station is the building at the end of the street.

At the station, I gave Wolander my passport so he could get my ticket as the other two already had theirs. The travel agency must have made the bookings in advance because my ticket had me sitting in the same soft sleeper compartment as Yim and Mal.

We then followed Wolander into the train station, first passing ticket control and then security. Inside the building, he led us to the lounge for the soft sleeper car passengers and there, we said our goodbye's and thank you's to him.  The room was very clean and pretty much empty. Good sign for us.  Maybe the train won't be full.

Wolander had gotten us to the station with plenty of waiting time. We patiently watched the boarding signs for information for our train to Tianshui. Departure time was 9:09a and the train would be positioned at platform 3.

When we heard the boarding announcement, we made our way towards the train. We boarded our car number and made our way down to Cabin #6.

There was already a gentleman sitting on one of the lower bunks.  From the looks of his seat, it looked like he had taken the train overnight. 

So we had the other three bunks. I did not shy away from saying that I was not about to climb up to the upper bunk leaving those two to Yim and Mal.

Yim and I stowed our suitcases under one of the lower bunks. Yim clamored up to the upper bunk with ease. For Mal it was bit more of a challenge but she eventually got herself up. We then hoisted her suitcase up to her and she stowed it on the shelf above the bunk.  That was no easy feat as her suitcase weighed a ton!!

The train left pretty much on schedule and we then all settled in for the 4.5 hour ride to Tianshui.

Happy to have made it on the train!

I watched the train pull out of the station.  Bye Xi'an!  I'll be back one day!

That's my stuff on the seat across from the man we shared the cabin with.

At one point, the conductor passed along and asked for our tickets which we gave to him. In exchange, we all got a plastic card. We had absolutely no idea what the card.  Perhaps it's their way to simply keep track of riders and tickets as it would not surprise me if the occasional passenger somehow lost their ticket.

Yim and Mal took naps and I pretty much just kept myself busy to pass the time. I have decided that my favorite sitting spot on the train is the fold down seat in the aisle. I can sit and watch the world go by as the train whizzes along. The only downside is that despite the fact that smoking is not allowed on the train, everyone seems to do it and they do it at the end sections of the train. The smell of the smoke wafts all the way down the corridor that runs alongside the compartments. There is no clean air on a Chinese train. I think I lose several thousand lung cells on each journey I take. The other downside is that we are right next to the dining car so people are constantly walking up and down the corridor. No matter, I still enjoy the passing view which today is a cloudy, rainy one.

Shortly before we arrived into Tianshui, I decided we needed to have some lunch. Based on our itinerary, my intuition told me that we would be hitting the ground, doing sightseeing, once we left the train. There would be no time to grab a bite before hand. I decided to check out the dining car - there were a few people eating. The place looked acceptable - small tables with table cloths and all.

So, I convinced Yim and Mal to go for lunch. Of course, there was no English menu though one of the servers, all of whom were men, pointed out a meat dish and an egg and tomato dish to us. With no other decipherable menu options, we opted for those two dishes. In no time, small bowls of rice and our two dishes were delivered to us.

The food was passable. Unfortunately, the dining car turned out to be the smoking car as well despite the No Smoking signs that were prominently displayed on the walls. Seems like the signs are viewed as *suggestions* rather than actual rules.  Food does not taste good when you have to eat it while breathing in cigarette smoke!!

Yes, that's a woman puffing on a cigarette at the table next to us.

For our so-so meal, which we did not finish, we had to cough up 80 won. A total rip off by Chinese standards but what do you expect on a train?

The train pulled into the station at Tianshui in the late afternoon. We disembarked the train and did the lemming thing to exit....that is we followed the crowd to the front entrance of the terminal. There, our guide was standing, holding up a sign with Yim's name on it. As we walked out, the first thing that hit me were the raindrops on my face. It was a gentle but steady rain. I dreaded the thought that we would be sightseeing in the rain though I was prepared with my rain poncho already stashed in my travel purse.

Our guide introduced himself as David. He seems like a very friendly fellow. You can tell just by looking at home. As we left the train station and plunged into the traffic of Tianshui, David described the game plan for the rest of the day. The first thing on the agenda were the Maijishan Grottoes - the landmark that is most famous in Tianshui and what has brought us here.

We're off to the grottoes!