There is no train.
Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009
February 10, 2008
Buy From Me!
The train pulled into the Xian (西安) train station at 6:30 am. I sleepily stumbled down the street looking for a nice hotel in which to stay. Most hotels had their room rates right in the lobby in big bright red-lit numbers that can be seen from outside. I was glad not to have to enter the hotels to compare rates.
I passed vendors barking at me to buy their goods and taxi drivers trying to get me into their cabs. I was in awe at how aggressive they were at such an early hour. Everyone seemed to have been awake for a while. No one was buying anything though. Everyone but me, who had come from the train had somewhere to go. I imagined that the most probable destination of these people involved a warm soft bed.
Within a matter of minutes the passengers had all dissipated and it was just me and the vendors. It felt a bit overwhelming. I stopped looking at people and just kept walking. I found a suitable looking hotel, checked in, turned the heater on to its max setting, and fell asleep.
Well then, how did I get here?
When I woke up later that morning, I went to the front desk to ask about getting a train ticket. At first they had no idea what I was talking about.
Clerks: “Trains don’t come here.”
Me: “What? I came here on a train. In fact, I can see the train station from your window. Look over there.”
Clerks: “Oh that. What do you want?”
Me: “…to buy a train ticket to Chongqing.”
Me: “Because I want to go to Chongqing.”
Clerks: “Have you seen the Terracotta Warriors?”
Me: “Not yet. Where can I buy a train ticket?
Clerks: “There is no train. You have to take a bus.”
Me: “Chongqing is very far from here. How can I take a bus?”
Clerks: “Chongqing? What about the Terracotta Warriors?”
Me: “Later. First I need a ticket to Chongqing. I want to leave the day after tomorrow.”
Clerks: “But you just got here. Have you seen the Terracotta Warriors?”
Me: “I’ll see them after I buy my train ticket to Chongqing. Where can I buy a train ticket?”
Clerks: “We don’t know. Have you tried the bank?”
As crazy a suggestion as it seemed, I did go to the bank and had a similar conversation with the tellers there. I felt like I was the only sane person in a village of lunatics. Every time I found someone who could speak English I would asked him or her about getting a train ticket. They all told me the same thing. The train doesn’t exist, doesn’t stop here, doesn’t go to Chongqing (重庆), or some other excuse. Then they would ask if I’d seen the Terracotta Warriors yet.
I walked down to the train station in hopes of getting a ticket there. There were so many people. Everyone was pushing and shoving, spitting and throwing up, yelling and screaming, or doing some other combination of things to ensure that anyone standing in line next to them would be guaranteed not to have a good time.
It would have taken me days to get to the front of any of the lines and then, I imagined, I would find out that none of the ticket clerks spoke English. Or maybe, it would turn out that I was in the line for people with red shoes, but I had on green shoes. (Yes, I wear green shoes.) I was beginning to feel that everyone was right and there was no train to Chongqing just a very long line for no reason. And that thing I rode to town in the night before, just my imagination.
The Fancy Hotel Plan B
If all else fails when you are in a foreign country and no one seems to be able to help you, go to the fanciest hotel you can find. The people there are usually more than willing to help you if you smile and look friendly. I call this my “Fancy Hotel Plan B”.
I walked around looking for a very fancy hotel. I found one and it had a travel agency in the lobby. None of the travel agents spoke English very well, but I managed to find a hotel guests, who had a thick British accent. He happily and enthusiastically did all the translating I needed. First he called the train station and asked about a ticket to Chongqing. They were all sold out. The long lines I saw, were people waiting to buy tickets for next week, or the week after that, or the week after that…
I bought airfare to Chongqing. Lucky for me, flying domestically in China isn’t too expensive. With my ticket in hand I headed out to see those Terracotta Warriors everyone was so concerned I’d miss.
How to get to the Terracotta Warriors from Xian City:
Step 1. Walk to the train station parking lot/open area.
Step 2. Walk up to a vendor, smile, and pretend that you are about to say something in English.
Step 3. Say nothing but just point to a picture of the Terracotta Warriors from your travel book or brochure.
Step 4. Walk in the direction the vendor points.
Step 5. Repeat steps 2~4 until you’ve found the bus. Then board the bus and relax.
If you’ve ever lived in Japan, Korea, or China you will come to the realization that the people there are deathly afraid of speaking English, especially in front of foreigners. I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes, but I can’t. Back home, if someone were to ask me a question in Spanish I would answer them with the little Spanish I knew.
If they were to ask me a question in some other language, well they would just be out of luck because I don’t speak anything other than English and 3rd-grade-level Spanish. But I would never feel embarrassed, giggle, or run away like people do in Korea, Japan, and China.
Even people who speak English very well feel embarrassed or shy about what they think is their “low level” of English. I’m just happy that they stopped to help me at all. They really have nothing to feel embarrassed about. In fact they should feel proud that they know more languages than the poor ignorant tourist they are talking to and I should be the embarrassed one.
Wait to Leave
The next day was my flight from Xian to Chongqing. I set out early because I knew that the bus would just sit there until the seats were all filled up. I brought the book, Midnight Cab, and prepared to wait.
I walked towards the train station and found the bus just sitting there on the sidewalk in front of a hotel. It said, “Xian Airport” and it cost 26 Yuan. The driver didn’t wait for the entire bus to be filled, but we did sit there for about 45 minutes before leaving.
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
- Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
- Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
- Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.
There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.
My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.
- A Bite of China (Playlist)
- Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations – Harbin, China
- China: A Century of Revolution (Playlist)
- China Uncensored (Playlist)
- Crash Course:
- Engineering an Empire: China
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
- Dreams of Joy (Part 2 of Shanghai Girls)
- Empress Dowager Cixi
- The Joy Luck Club
- The Kitchen God’s Wife
- Lost on Planet China
- Mao’s Last Dancer
- Mao: The Unknown Story*
- The Private Life of Chairman Mao
- Sex Lives of the Great Dictators
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- The Red Chamber
- Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China*
*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.
- If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.
- Go to the East Square of Xian, next to the Railway Station.
- Take bus #915 or bus #306.
- 34°23’02.9″N 109°16’42.5″E
If I remember right, the #306 is a green bus.
Lintong County, Shaanxi Province
N34 22 60 E109 5 60
- 65CNY Dec – Feb
- 90CNY Mar – Nov
8:00 – 18:00 everyday
- The bus to the Terracotta Warriors first goes to the Huaqing Hot Springs(华清池) before heading to the ceramic soldiers.
- It costs about 70CNY to get into the hot spring and it’s open from 9:10 to 17:00.