The four of us–mothers and daughters took a train from Shanghai to Guangzhou–an 18-22 hour trip. In Guangzhou we were going to give lectures arranged by a Calvin College alum who worked for the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou.
The first challenge to doing this is buying the tickets. In China you can only buy tickets at the origin location of your trip and only shortly before you go. But we all had flown to Shanghai so we could not get the tickets before we arrived! Ruth’s niece managed to get the tickets for us while Ruth was off lecturing in China, but found that the train we wanted was sold out before the tickets went on sale. Yes, I know, that doesn’t sound possible! She got us tickets for another train that left and arrived at different stations.
Always get a soft sleeper–a compartment for four with beds with mattress, pillow and comforter and a door that closed and locked! Since there were four of us, that worked well so we didn’t have to share with anyone.
The Shanghai station was new and modern so it was easy to navigate and find our train.
We left on time around 11:30 a.m.. Soon after leaving the station, someone came and took our tickets (which were also our receipts!) and gave us little plastic tickets with our berth number on it. We tried to figure out what they were for. Ruth tried to see if they were to be used to let us in and out of our compartment if we locked it. We looked for places to post the tickets without success. In the end, we put them away in hopes that at some point their use would become evident to us.
Each compartment had a stainless steel thermos for hot water which you could get at the end of each car, and a stainless tray. Ruth and I decided to try to get tea or coffee in the dining car for an outing. After some attempts at discussion, it became clear that this was not what the dining car was for–you had to bring your own drinks. We went back to our compartment, got hot meals, fruit, and cold drinks when the vendors came down the hall selling their wares, and resorted to getting our newly acquired tea out of our bags to make our own hot drinks. Luckily we had had tea lessons in Shanghai. I think the stainless tray was for used tea leaves.
We kept ourselves quite amused by the double takes of people as they went past our compartment, especially when they saw Karis’s red hair. We were THE only westerners on the train.
It got dark around 7 pm so we went to sleep and slept relatively well. We awoke around 5:00 since the train was supposed to arrive at 5:30. However, nothing happened. We did got through some much poorer areas than around Shanghai and of course, rice fields and mountainous and very rugged areas.
At about 7 a.m. someone came buy and gave us back our tickets and took our plastic replacements. Mmmmm. Maybe this was the system they used to make sure we got off at the right station. We arrived about 30 minutes later.
The Guangzhou station that we arrived at was very old. We walked out with all our luggage into a sea of humanity, thousands of people exiting the train and moving through a cement tunnel with puddles and water on the floor–Annemaria thought it looked like a sewer. I had clear visions of the holocaust. All we could do was move with the crowd which eventually moved up a long cement ramp to a huge plaza. There far in the distance we saw one westerner with a sign with our names on it. We were easy to spot. And right there, parked illegally on the plaza, was a van with consulate license plates. From this sea of humanity, our luggage was taken from us, loaded into the van, and we were taken to a very upscale hotel.
I highly recommend the trains!