This was my first train journey starting in China.
As the attentive and memory-efficient will know, I had already visited Beijing West Railway Station to collect my tickets and work out how to get here.
I had looked at the building and decided that this could be complicated, not least of all because if the various doom-mongering guidebooks I’d read.
I live my life as a pessimist but frankly it is possible to take this mindset too far.
I arrived at the Railway Station, slightly surprised to be asked if I needed a taxi by the waiting cab drivers. I was coming in, not going out.
Walking to the station entrance, I presented my ticket and passport. Yes, at the entrance. It was stamped.
Next step, security.
I passed through security.
In front of me was an escalator going up to the first floor beneath huge display board… train numbers in Roman alphabet and Arabic numbers, something, time, another number, something.
I went up to find a vast display board with a similar display and my train listed with the number 4.
I was far too early (being cautious) for this to be a platform. Surely.
For every train there was a waiting room. There seemed to be twelve waiting rooms and each was the room for different trains.
The waiting rooms are like the departure gates at an airport.
In the waiting room I entered there were four ticket checkpoints, each for a different train.
I found the ticket checkpoint for my train and waited, presuming each door would take the passengers to the same platform. None of the four trains were arriving at the same time.
The crowds of people seemed to be lining up, mostly behind the doors for the trains they were waiting for.
There were far more people than there were seats. The seasoned experts brought collapsible chairs with them. The practiced sat on their heavy duty luggage. The novices, such as me, stood up…
And wondered when somebody was going to take the empty plastic bag from the small child before she suffocated herself.
Would that somebody end up being me? Trying to explain why I was apparently assaulting and robbing a small child…
Perhaps I was watching Darwinism in action.
She was quite an enterprising little girl.
She stopped, thank goodness, pulling the bag over her head and made a makeshift balloon instead. Phew.
Her next actions were to chase it around her parents, before deciding to beat her big sister with it.
It’s amazing what you find entertaining while waiting for a train.
Ticket checking was called for another train and then the train to Xi’an. The four entry points, became two.
I knew this because people surged forward even though the gate wouldn’t actually open for another five minutes.
There was no pushing with the exception of the old man who pushed past on my left, annoying the guy in front of me… got no further… retreated… then tried the right side.
When this failed to work, he backed out and when the ticket checking actually began he dashed past on the left… passing a whole three people.
The man in front of me turned to me and, I think, complained. I tutted and shook my head, in agreement. He seemed to understand.
I’m English. Of course I can be relied upon to passive-aggressively disapprove of queue-jumpers.
Through the second ticket check (after entering the station) and then down the steps to the platform.
Actually, number 4, after all.
The train had arrived 40 minutes before departure so there was plenty of time to board but people were dashing down the corridor like they had only seconds to spare.
How did I know it was definitely my train? Signage. Platforms were numbered, the train number and its destination were displayed, and then there was this.
I found the coach and presented my ticket to the conductor for the third inspection.
The compartment was virtually identical to the Russian and Chinese trains on the Trans Siberian Railway. There were TV screens though and the bedding was already made up in the duvet and pillow covers.
Shortly after I settled in, a teenage girl and a man entered. She was the quickest to the plug socket in the cabin (of course she was) and he was relegated to a seat on the corridor.
Aside from the girl giving me a lime, which I thought was very kind, (and I reciprocated with dried apricots) there was no interaction.
The mobile phone coverage is clearly much better here than in Russia.
Like Russia, though, the train had no wifi, otherwise I’d have been plugged into the internet too.
The conductor entered the compartment and swapped our tickets for key cards.
There were two staff members pushing refreshment trolleys up and down the train. This stopped at 10pm and resumed at 8am – pretty civilised, I thought.
In comparison with the Trans Siberian Railway trains, this was a much smoother journey. The carriage barely juddered.
When I finally awoke, it was raining and the train was passing through green mountains. We went through tunnels and farmland, passing rice fields.
For the last 40 minutes journey into Xi’an, we passed raised railway lines, presumably being on one ourselves, crossing a wide river and more farmland.
We then entered the outskirts of the city, passing industrial areas before threading our way through skyscrapers and residential districts.
Train facilities wise: a squat toilet (like all public toilets) at one end of the carriage, a Western toilet at the other end, next to a separate wash room. Marvellous.
Null points for the lack of hot water urn.
The conductor carrying a small kettle up the corridor once, was never going to maintain my tea drinking capacity. Good effort, though.
Last stop, Xi’an.
The teenage girl wished me a good day. People do try to connect here, even the teenagers. It’s really nice.
Like Beijing South Railway Station, the passengers are funnelled off the platform, down the main corridor to the exit.
It was much busier than Beijing had been but it was calm and none of this much written about jostling.
There was no main concourse. We headed straight for the exit which was the same as Beijing. I guess the view is: once you’ve made your journey, what business would you have in hanging around the railway station?
At the exit, guess what, another ticket check.
Once through the doors, I came face to face with the walls of Xi’an.