Golden Week Travels (黄金周旅游) Posted by sasha on Oct 3, 2010 in Uncategorized
Greetings from Hohhot (呼和浩特 – hū hé hào tè), the capital city of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (内蒙古自治区 – nèi méng gǔ zì zhì qū). Seeing as how it is the autumn edition of Golden Week (黄金周 – huáng jīn zhōu), it was time to get out of the big city for a change of scenery. Although I have previously sworn off traveing in China on Chinese holidays, I had a change of heart, and I decided to give it the ole’ college try and fight the crowds to buy train tickets (买火车票 – mǎi huǒ chē piào). In China, there are two long holidays every year – one week in October for National Day (国庆节 – guó qìng jié) and another long holiday in January/February for Spring Festival (春节 – chūn jié). As you can probably imagine in a country with such a massive population, traveling on these holidays can be a headache and a half. Well-off families book up plane tickets and fancy hotel rooms, while the 老白人 line-up at 5 a.m. to procure train tickets bound for their hometown (老家 – lǎo jiā).
Armed with a list of seven potential holiday destinations and a pocket full of kuai, I headed to my local train ticket office. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a very long line. Not surprsingly, the people in said short line were incredibly pushy and spared no attempts to cut me. Having fended off the aggressive line-jumpers, I finally had my turn. First, I asked for tickets to Shanghai (上海 – Shànghǎi). “没有 (méi yǒu)” was all I heard back from the attendant (literally meaning “no have”). “That’s OK,” I thought. “I’ve already been there. Plus, it’ll be too crowded next week.” On to potential travel destination #2 – Hangzhou (杭州 – Hángzhōu). Again, I was greeted with a prompt “没有.” It soon became obvious to me that requesting tickets for the popular tourist destinations of Southern China would all result in a quick “没有” from the nice lady behind the counter. With pressure from the guy behind me, I quickly jumped down the list to choice #7 – Hohhot. Much to my excitement, I finally heard “有” from behind the counter (literally meaning “have”). Sadly, my request for a hard sleeper (硬卧 – yìng wò) was denied, and as such we ended up booking two hard seat (硬座 – yìng zuò) tickets. Not ideal, but at least we had tickets.
Arriving at Beijing West Railway Station (北京西站 – Běi jīng xī zhàn) last night around 7 p.m., the check-in process was shockingly quick and trouble-free. Despite the massive crowds of people present everywhere in the station, it really wasn’t so bad, and we actually managed to find some seats to wait for the train. Of course, this being China, the travel trouble was going to have to come sooner or later…
Boarding the train, I quickly realized exactly what we were in for. While we were fortunate enough to have seats, there were plenty of people who were not so fortunate. This meant an extremely over-crowded train car with dozens of people crowding the aisles, in what was certainly well beyond a fire hazard. It was clear that my plan of being able to kill time by strolling about the train was going to have to be abandoned.
Thankfully, we brought along a bottle of red wine (红葡萄酒 – hóng pú táo jiǔ) to make the ride a bit more enjoyable. Although the first few hours were a breeze, the hours of midnight-5 a.m. were not so great. With so many people crowding the aisles, the lights remained on all through the night. Instead of quietly enjoying a book or listening to personal headphones, our fellow travelers preferred loudly chatting with each other, smoking, and playing music right out of their cell phone speakers right up until the moment we pulled into Hohhot. Oh well… T.I.C. At least we made it! While riding Chinese trains can be a miserable experience, it at least shows you how real people get around. Plus, there’s always the chance that you can see a woman beat up on her husband for being a drunk idiot…
Tomorrow, we’re heading off on a 3-day tour of the desert and the grasslands outside of the city. We plan to sleep in a traditional Mongolian dwelling, a yurt (蒙古包 – méng gǔ bāo) and ride camels (骑骆驼 – qí luò tuo). You can expect a full recap of the trip when I return to Beijing next weekend.
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