Train to Datong
As if buying the tickets earlier this week wasn’t bad enough, going to the Beijing train station to board the train was like getting inline to an unknown hell. At the front of the station, they had piles of people smashing into this one aisle gate. It was like a nightmare from elementary school when you’re trying to manage your space in line when everyone’s pushing for a prize or something. I literally got sucked in like a whirlpool with my backpack both strapped to my front and back, I was pushed in the sea of people past the gate where you show your ticket and passport, and spat out on the other side like a white water rapid having just released you from its hold.
After finding my way through to the gate, which was relatively easy, I was stunned at the train ahead of me. Walking down to the very first car, I saw a lot of the sleeper cars which was what I had originally wanted, but the ticket person couldn’t speak any English, and my visual signing of what I wanted did not work.
As I got closer and closer to my car, the crowds were getting incredible. People with bags and bags of stuff, standing all in the aisle ways.
I got to my car, and literally could not even make it to my seat, where I saw I was in the middle seat of a row of 3, facing another row of 3, with a tiny table. Everyone just sat there looking. All the luggage racks were taken, luggage was on the floor. People were smoking. People were standing, crowding in. People were sitting on tiny stools in the middle of the walkway.
I immediately found an attendant where I showed my phone translation for ‘I would like to upgrade my ticket’. She brought me to another car that had even more people crowded around a jail cell like compartment where a little man sat with a calculator and a receipt machine. Everyone had their hands passing through the jail bars to the attendant trying to get their ticket seen. I showed mine, and he put my ticket number as number 17. 17 in line that is, for wanting to upgrade my seat.
They explained that all I had to do was stand there until a seat was open. So while being pressed up against the jail cell bars, with my backpack now on the ground, any person trying to transit the car created a push around all people to allow someone through.
Finally after a terrible hour of waiting in the most uncomfortable way ever, he came back with seats available. He had a list of the seats, which I counted, and it didn’t look like there would be 17 of them. As he called out the ticket numbers, people would quickly push and shove their money through the bars to the attendant to obtain their new seat.
Minutes went by which seemed like hours waiting to see if my wait was for naught. Last seat, number seat 15. Terrible.
I tried to manage my way back to my seat which by this point, I became Chinese and simply pushed through the aisleway not being conscious of the lack of space, but made my way forcefully to my seat.
I kept my backpack between my legs as I sat at the seat which I had to make someone move who had taken the seat. I sat hugely uncomfortable and nervous being the only foreigner on the train, and as we made our first stop, the crowds of people lightened, and I felt a bit more relaxed in the seat in between a teenage boy and an old man.
The old man couldn’t stop looking at me and smiling, and kept trying to say something to me, but only laughed when I couldn’t understand. So I got out my pen and paper and wrote the characters for my name is Benjamin. He wrote the characters for ‘which country’. So I wrote back the characters for ‘America’. He then tried to talk as in, why can’t you talk if you can write. So I wrote down the characters for Japanese, and can read/write, but no speak/hear. J That made my point across and we laughed. He then pulled out his phone to show me pictures of his trip to New York. Very random that this little old man on this ruralesque train had had the fortune of going to New York apparently to visit a daughter.
After 7 hours on the train, we started to pull into the village of Datong. Village? Um, no, this was a huge city which by any means would out high rise most cities in the US, but this tiny little city is nestled up near the Mongolian border and home to the region of the hanging temples and the Yungang caves. That is the whole reason I’m here, to see these amazing things in person.
I found my way to the hostel via cab, and I was amazed by this place. It was on the 22nd floor of this high rise building and a brand new loft type apartment that had been retrofitted as a hostel with single rooms and dorm rooms. I had booked a single room, and when Tina, the young girl ‘manning’ the hostel showed me around in her impeccable English, my room was huge, with a beautiful queen size bed, clean floors, and a view out over the city. The whole place was so curious as in, why are you running a hostel in this penthouse like apartment in Datong? It was very bizarre, but I didn’t need to question it as it was a great deal.
After getting settled in, I ventured to the walled city to find the best restaurant in Datong, a place called FengLingGe, a dumpling house that is in an old temple like building. Here I had amazing selection of dumplings from pork, vegetable, mushroom, to crab. It was absolutely delicious, decadent, and the environment was that of like a fine palace. I enjoyed watching everyone eat while I enjoyed my meal, and felt a sense of relaxation overcome me after my long day of travel, and looked forward to my night’s rest in that beautiful room.
When I returned, I met the French guy who is going with us on our journey tomorrow, along with the New Zealand girls. All four of us will have a driver taking us to our sight seeing places tomorrow, and then at the end, I will be brought to the airport for my trip to Shanghai!