It's the Choo Choo. Ride it!

The first weekend of April was Qing Ming Jie, which is translated literally as “Tomb Sweeping Festival.”  It is the Chinese equivalent of Memorial Day, when family members visit their ancestors in the cemetery.  Tian and I used this holiday, and its nice three-day weekend, as an excuse to travel down to Xiaogan, Tian’s hometown, and visit her parents. 

Like most Chinese traveling that weekend, we took to the rails.  On Friday night, we took a 10-hour overnight sleeper train from Beijing to Xiaogan.  Then we took another train back on Sunday night, and arrived back in Beijing early on Monday morning.

A normal cabin in a Chinese sleeper train.  Three levels with two beds per level.

A normal cabin in a Chinese sleeper train. Three levels with two beds per level. The ones shown here are the middle beds.

Sleeper trains are a classic Chinese way to travel.  As far as the physical accommodations go, they are quite satisfactory.  Even for me, who stands taller than most Chinese people, the length and width of the bed is manageable.  People with wider frames, however, would find the beds a little restricting.  The space is acceptably clean, and there is storage space for bags.  Bathrooms, however, can get pretty disgusting, and it is important to sleep on your valuables to keep them safe from possible thieves.

This helps give you a sense of the size.

This helps give you a sense of the size.

The biggest adventure of the trip usually comes from the other passengers sharing your cabin.  There are six beds in the same cab, two wide by three high, so the dynamics of the trip always rest on who is in the same space and which level your beds are. 


Tian demonstrating bed mounting procedure.  Gives new meaning to the term "climbing" into bed.

Tian demonstrating bed mounting procedure. Gives new meaning to the term "climbing" into bed.

This trip, we did not have the best of luck with our bunkmates.  On the first train, we were on the second level, and below us were two very popular people of a large tour group.  They had many visitors and drank until lights out.  No problem there really, but the two remaining guys still chatted up the place throughout the night.  Once I also woke up to cigarette smoke (against the rules), and I assertively chased them out of the cabin with it.  But really, these kinds of things are all part of the allure of the train in China, and it didn’t interrupt our sleep that badly.

Our second trip did test my tolerance at times, however.  We had a family of four along with a cranky baby in our cabin, and we also were on the bottom bunks, which meant that all bed traffic passed through us.  Additionally, the family members were not very friendly or respectful with us, and as they got up and down, they stepped on our beds and sat at our feet to put shoes on and off.  They also stored some things under our beds, which they randomly rustled through.  Despite the lack of personal space, we still managed to get some decent sleep though, and we kept everything in perspective because the family also was in a hard situation dealing with a baby on an overnight train.  Tian and I joked that we might someday find ourselves in the same position and in need of good karma.


One comment

  1. What a great way to travel. I did that once from Moscow to St. Petersburg
    with Scott, my son. Like you, part of the fun were the travel mates, although there were only four, thus reducing the chance of a crying baby for many hours. (Yes, a little sympathy is important with a crying baby, there for the grace of God etc. . . traveling with Jenny years ago improved my tolerance forever more!)

    The bed etc look incredibly clean, but I do remember bathrooms in China, best avoided if possible. Even our guide would recommend or not recommend bathrooms as we toured around.

    What an adventure for you Jeff and Tian, it must be wonderful to share all this with Jeff. I’m sure you have insights that you never had before!

    I think about you often. I’m so glad for this blog. I hope some day to renew a face-to-face friendship!


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