Suzhou. Rather than spend the night in Xian, we decided to take another night train directly to Suzhou, which is near Shanghai, because we wanted to spend more time in that area. It turns out we were in for a memorable 13-hour train ride.
You see, weeks before the wedding, Tian and Dan had gone to the train ticket station to purchase tickets for this train the day they had become available. Unfortunately, given the peak summer travel season in China, the tickets sold so fast that they were not able to secure a sleeper car for us. So they did the best they could and booked the “hard seats.”
Hard seats have a reputation with both foreign tourist and Chinese travelers alike, and on our trip they definitely lived up to it. By themselves, the seats did not have a lot of space or legroom, which we expected. What we did not expect were a slew of other crazy factors that worked together to make the whole experience an exercise in the absurd.
- The train packed as many “standing room” passengers into the aisles as possible. How anyone would sell, let alone buy, “standing” tickets for a 13-hour train ride is beyond me. But they did in droves.
- Every 20 minutes or so for the first few hours and even occasionally late at night, a snack cart would push its way through the aisles forcing all of the “standing room” passengers to do acrobatics to get out of the way. As little sleep as we got that night, they must have got absolutely none.
- The florescent cabin lights were on all at full power all night. We were part of an experiment.
- A family of passengers commandeered one of the few bathrooms for themselves and camped out inside. They let no one enter, even after some harsh words delivered by other passengers. Basically this rendered one of the precious few bathrooms unavailable the entire trip.
- The line for the bathroom was always long, and people coming and going (with the dirtiest of shoes, trust me), had no choice but to step practically on standing passengers or their belongings.
- A group of middle school students on tour were drinking beer into the late night! And that’s not the most surprising part; their tour guide actually knew about it and permitted it. It was the strangest site to behold.
Here are some pictures of the experience:
Even though the trip was exhausting, we had a fun time and took it all in stride as part of the experience. We got to Suzhou in the early morning, and went directly to our hotel and took a quick nap before heading out to explore the city.