First let me say that the miserable little hotel near the train station redeemed itself with the breakfast that was included in the fee. It was great. There was Western fare available, but who would want that when all kinds of savory goodies were available. I opted for seaweed, which was excellent, and some veriform tofu noodles, and a tofu custard. All of these had wonderful spices and sauces. So despite the foot prints on the wall, and the oddness of the place, I’d go there again for the food!
And it was an easy roll to the train station.
There is a procedure for taking the train. First you go to the ticket office. For my train, I was instructd by the online railway booking agent to go to any gate, from 5-20. So spotting the numbered windows, I braved the lines: phenomenal crowds of people and luggage pushing toward the buiding like one giant amoeba. Heading toward window 19, I and my (ridiculous amount of) luggage made it, only to find that that was NOT the ticket office, it was the entry door. So off to the ticket office, a healthy jaunt away with more crowds doing the Chinese que. The agent had warned that some officials will not take your confirmation. They will tell you ” no good”, but, they said, be confident that your confirmation voucher is valid. If you should be denied, just go to another window and continue til you have success.
Fortunately I had no such problems (in either direction). I returned to the entrance and immediately after being permitted to enter, was greeted with an X-ray security check — for which I was completely unprepared. Throwing my heavy roll-on onto the conveyor belt, I then struggled to off load my back pack. Meanwhile the carry-on with iPad and all my paper work was sliding through the X-ray machine with no one, at least not me, on the receiving end. Oh well, it was fine. I gathered it all together, and was on my way.
My next challenge was to find the correct waiting room. The Beijing Train Station is enormous. Thre are many huge waiting areas, with more waiting areas behind them. The elegantly attired railway officials were all quite helpful. Showing them my ticket, first class, they were courteous in getting me to the right places. I do beleive first class helps.
Of course I could not read my ticket, or more realistically put, I didn’t know how to read it. I would show a porter, who would point down the platform. I’d hustle down seven cars or so, and repeat my ritual to the next porter, who would also point down the platform. I mean WAY down the platform. Had to be at least a quarter mile. I finally stepped into a car and asked if I could sit down. No no no. So I showed my ticket to the close-by passengers, and they pointed back one car.
Well what a delight. When it became clear where I was to sit, a Chinese boy clambered over his mother and took the seat next to me, thrilled that there was an American on board. So this 12 year old, Henry, became my seat mate. I gotta admit it was nice to be speaking with someone fluent in English. He had lived in Colorado, and being one of those kids who just assumes your his best friend, we chatted and played games all of the way to Harbin, and eight hour trip. He did teach me a lot about my iPhone. Although now, of course, I have forgotten.