I had been looking forward to this journey because of its earworm potential – “Night train to Shanghai” has the right number of syllables to match “Night Boat to Cairo” by Madness.
It was also my last overnight journey until I headed for Vietnam.
The next journeys would be in daylight hours so hopefully, I’d see a little more of China’s scenery.
I headed for the station – a straightforward journey. Go to the Metro around the corner and travel North to the end of the line.
There was a part of me that was a little surprised that the Metro final stop’s name didn’t match the Railway Station’s name.
I stopped myself from imagining the worst and chatted with a lady who asked me how long I was visiting China for.
Arriving at the final stop, I began the trek to the actual station. The walk only took ten minutes but it felt longer.
Beijing West includes distance on its signpost. Xi’an North does not.
I find that knowing how far I have to walk extremely reassuring. Especially when long distance train connections are involved.
What was a little confusing here was that the entry doors to the station were numbered, and I wasn’t sure if this corresponded with waiting areas though I hadn’t yet seen a display board.
Nothing for it but to walk through a door. They could only turn me away and send me to the right door.
Ticket checked, I was in the right place.
Up the escalator to a vast concourse and this really did feel like an airport departures area.
There were no separate waiting areas, as there had been at Beijing West. All of the checking gates led off the same concourse.
There were 24 gates and 24 platforms. Two major cities with multiple huge stations. Railway travel is busy here.
I found my gate, spotted my train and presented my ticket.
“Come back in 30 minutes,” said the conductor.
There were fifteen people waiting. I was at the front of the queue. I was going nowhere.
Twenty minutes later and twenty five minutes before the train was scheduled to depart, there were over one hundred people behind me
Good decision, I felt.
Five minutes before checking, old ladies materialised from nowhere. And, as with old ladies everywhere, who have urgent business to attend to, they sharpened their elbows and jostled up to the conductor to demand ticket inspection and therefore boarding.
Less of a queue more of an ambush at this point.
A very polite ambush but once the conductor had allowed two people to go through BEFORE checking had opened, he was in trouble.
I think he knew it too.
He looked a little clammy and spoke rapidly into his walkie-talkie several times. With each response he heard, he huffed in exasperation.
The people who were in front of me were not happy at this turn of events.
If anybody remembers the cartoon “Wacky Races”, the situation at the gate was like that.
Nobody was pushing and people were allowing space between each other… but not too much, because if you did, someone would sidle into that space, and nobody would challenge them but they’d look cross.
Everyone was shuffling to furtively take pole position. Dick Dastardly would have been proud.
The conductor was now surrounded by old ladies who wanted to have their tickets checked.
He gave up.
There were passive-aggressive mutterings and tuttings around me that made me think I was in England.
I really felt quite at home.
The ticket barriers finally flashed: “Checking” and people moved forward, in an orderly fashion.
Through the barrier, down the stairs and the door to my carriage was in front of me.
No conductor to triple check I was at the right place, though.
I can read and I’d soon be kicked out if I had made a mistake.
I wasn’t sure if I had ended up in First Class as the compartment seemed even nicer than the one I was in three days ago.
There was a thermos on the table. Result!
There were three, THREE (instead of one toilet) at the end of the carriage. The taps were sensor automated and THERE WAS TOILET PAPER.
Back in the compartment my travel companions were a man and woman travelling together along with another woman.
The man and woman said hello, pointed out the snazzy slippers for me to wear and offered me several snacks throughout the first hour of the journey.
She then lay down in the bottom bunk to sleep and he climbed up to the top bunk where he watched something on his phone, rather loudly.
Not understanding the language, the noise did not bother me. However, I think his wife was irritated.
When he started singing along, I began to wonder whether she would allow him to survive the night.
I would find out when we reached Shanghai.