Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The train and the bus.

We don't have a car in China.  Sometimes I miss driving but I don't miss the insurance and repair costs.  Or gas prices.
People in China do have cars but for long distances, most take buses or trains.  They are cheap, efficient and pretty comfortable.
For our trip to Inner Mongolia, we took a hard sleeper train.  Hard sleeper doesn't mean that you sit on wood!  It has to do with number of bunks in the compartments and a few other things.  Hard sleepers are actually pretty comfortable and very cheap.  We went from one side of the country to the other for less than $30.00 each.
On our trip up, we shared a cabin with our friend and her daughter.  That made our cabin Americans 5 and Chinese person !  We shared with a very nice, very pleasant student who was going home to his town near Hai La Er.  He had studied in Japan, just did an internship in ShenYang and was headed home for the summer.  He was a little nervous around us and spent most of his time with his friends in another compartment.  He turned down our offer of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The trains become kind of mini-communities.  You have  a communal sink near the squatty potty.  There people bathe, brush teeth and so on.  The squatty potties are kept pretty clean but you do drop your tp directly through the hole onto the track.  You are not allowed to use the toilets when the train stops in a station. Best advice I can give- never walk on train tracks!
In your cabin, there is a large thermos of hot water that is regularly replaced.  There is a dining car but most people bring their own food.  Workers walk up and down the narrow aisle selling noodles and water.
In a hard sleeper, each cabin has six bunks.  They range in price, depending on location.  The bottom bunk  usually has people sitting on it but the person who has bought the bottom bunk can ask people not to sit there.  That can be a problem as you can not sit up in the middle or top bunks.  That is why it is good to travel with friends. There are some seats in the aisle that are okay.
Our train wasn't air conditioned which is pretty unusual.  On the trip up, we left at 1:30 in the afternoon and gradually rode into coolness.  On the trip back, we left at 7:30 at night and rode all night in heat and then had a warm and sticky ride until 2:30 in the afternoon.  That was miserable.  At night, they turn the fans off and close the windows.  It gets hot.
So, basically, you get on the train and read, knit or play games. We spent a lot of time just looking out the window at this endlessly fascinating country.  Around 10:00, the lights go out and everyone goes to bed. On the way up, we didn't sleep.  On the way back, we slept.
The trip us was fun and relaxing because we were with friends.  The trip back was not as fun as our friends weren't with us and we shared a cabin with other people.  They were nice and friendly but it feels awkward to sleep with total strangers!

Train station in ShenYang.

Getting on the train.

The hallway.  There are seats next the windows and small tables. You can see how narrow the hallway is and get a sense of the layout of the cabins.

Middle bunk- actually pretty comfortable.

Train station - Hai La Er

Train station Man Zhou Li

The Bus

When we left the camp, we took a long distance bus to Man Zhou Li.  In Chinese culture, the community sends people off, so many of the camp workers came and stood by us on the side of the road to wait for the bus.  When the bus came, they told us that there were no seats to Man Zhou Li but that seats would open up in about 45 minutes.  Still very American in our thinking, we said we didn't mind waiting for another bus.  No other bus, they said!  You just sit in the middle!  So we sat on camp seats in the aisle until enough seats opened up for us to sit.  This rotation went on for the whole ride as people went on and off the bus.

The bus route goes along the China/Russia border and goes through beautiful grasslands.  I was thrilled to see bird after bird flying around.  Living in a big city leads to nature deprivation!
A very nice woman sat next to me and offered me a cucumber.  I really didn't want it but it was rude to refuse.  She thoughtfully bit the top off for me!  I bit around the top so that I could take the top off and hid that piece of the cucumber between the seat and the wall of the bus.  After a few bites, I gave it back.  Then she gave me sunflower seeds and we ate together.  It was very warm and hospitable!

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