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Journey from Beijing to Gongyi

Zhengzhou, China

This past Monday Rachel and I left Beijing and headed South for Gongyi, which is just west of the city of Zhengzhou. The 9 hour train ride turned out to be one for the ages. We were both being unreasonably cheap, trying to make our money stretch enough so we can eventually reach Indonesia. When the lady at the ticket counter told us that there was a ticket on the hard-seat for 94 rmb (not even $14) we jumped on it. How bad could it be, it was only a 9 hour train-ride? Rose did it. Big mistake...
We left from our hostel at 5:40 am and got to the train station just a few minutes past 7. When we arrived in the waiting room we received a typical reaction being the only two foreigners in a train station in China. Both of us groggily found a couple of empty seats to rest in the packed waiting room. In just a few minutes we saw this cute little boy with his father doting along behind him. All of a sudden the toddler squats down in his crotch-less pants and starts peeing in the middle of the waiting room. This is actually not uncommon to see in China. Crotch-less pants for toddlers are all the rage. During our week in Beijing we noticed a couple of parents encouraging their children to let loose, even in the Forbidden City.
Shortly after the child's public urination, a train station employee with nary a care, treks through the fresh puddle. About ten minutes later a "maintenance worker" with a mop comes over to clean up the mess.
A little later in our wait right after Rachel went to the bathroom, a beggar walked across the train station headed directly for me and then knelt down right in front of me in a full bow, forehead to the ground, hands spread before him. I am meanwhile taken aback by this act and don't really know what to do. After he is done he carried on by going down the line to each individual person and repeating the act. I will say that he probably made 30 rmb in a short amount of time.
Around this time there was a long line of people ready to get on the train. We really couldn’t understand why people were concerned with being the first to get on the train. Unless people had standing room only on their tickets they were presumably guaranteed a seat on the train. Finally, the gates opened and throngs of eager passengers rushed to get their tickets checked. Once we arrived to the platform, the train had not yet opened its doors for the passengers to get on the train. We waited at the end of the line and the people again tried to surge to get on the train as quickly as possible, pushing and shoving. The employee checking tickets was visibly not happy. By the time we got on the train there was a traffic jam in the middle of the aisle with no one moving. These people were not the sharpest tools in the shed since they just stood there looking helpless with faraway looks in their eyes. We still needed to make it all the way to the back of the car where our seats were. After about a minute of being patient, Rachel and I started to loudly make comments about this in English. This of course does no good since very few people spoke English on the train. At least they could hear a bit of annoyance in our voices. We gave them a chance to start moving. Once it was clear that nothing was going to happen, Rachel began to push past the statues with me right behind her.
When we made it to our seats they were separated by an aisle. The seats on one side of the aisle sat six with a small table separating the seats, while the other side of the aisle held four. The people in the cluster of six seats were nice enough to move to the other side so Rachel and I could sit next to each other. Fortunately, there were three nice teenaged college guys sitting across from us. Now the problem became apparent that there were four big guys sharing this little space on hard wooden benches covered with a bed sheet. There could have been worse seating arrangements. The toddler that had earlier urinated in the train station was just a few rows ahead of us. Later we witnessed that same child urinating in the hall outside the bathroom doors.
I was in one of the aisle seats so whenever someone passed with a cart they would hit my arm. This went on for the next nine hours. After getting up before dawn we thought that we would be able sleep on the train to pass the time. As soon as the train started to move peddlers’ began to come out of the woodwork and sell their wares. To our annoyance, these people were selling not only things that people might actually want to buy like snacks and drinks but also useless junk like stupid plastic toys and a brush to clean your socks. These vendors would parade loudly up and down the aisles in an attempt to sell their products. Not exactly an ideal environment for sleeping.
The icing on the cake came when the teenage girl next to Rachel who had been playing with her cell phone the entire ride answered a call. She began screaming into the phone in a hysteric rage. She was literally crying and screaming. Naturally, this drew attention from the passengers around us. What she was saying must have been hilariously immature because everyone in earshot began laughing uproariously. If only we could speak Chinese.
Around this time, the train ride began to turn around for the better. People began to show their interest in us, especially Rachel. The last hour people began to come around and try to strike up conversations with their limited English. You could tell that most people were good hearted and curious about what brought us to the area and why we were sitting on the cheapest seats on the budget train. By the time we arrived in Zhengzhou people were merrily informing us that this was our stop. A guy even helped Rachel put her pack on.
With the train ride behind us we made our way to the bus station across the street and purchased tickets on the next bus to Gongyi, departing in just 30 minutes. This bus felt like the lap of luxury after the benches on the train. A kind attendant on the bus asked where we were heading and told us that she would inform us when we reached Chenggong College where Rose, Rachel’s college roommate lives and teaches. Almost on cue we ran into Rose just after getting off the bus at the gates of the college.
The last couple of days have been fun and relaxing. We’ll fill you in about our experiences here in a couple of days!

permalink written by  zachel on March 16, 2009 from Zhengzhou, China
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged TrainZhengzhouGongyi

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