Maria Holland

Slow Train to Xi’An

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Last night after our meal/betrothal ceremony, we made our way towards the train station.  Like everything else in this trip, we’re going about our train rides backwards.  I took them to the best city in China before going to dirtier, more crowded, and more hectic places; we started in the delightfully warm south before heading north to frozen Beijing; and now, after riding the world’s fastest train, we’re taking a normal Chinese train. 

Dad was hoping to find a quiet corner with a power outlet so he could write, but I think he forgot we were in pre-Lunar New Year China, not a small US airport on a sleepy weekday.  We barely managed to find a seat.  We were the only foreigners in the entire train station as far as we could tell, and I’m pretty sure that when Dad was sitting down I was the tallest person in the room.  Needless to say, we got people-watched, but also did our share of people-watching.  I think our luggage (suitcases, not their contents) alone was more expensive than the entire load that some people carried; most people went with the enormous-rice-bag-stuffed-full-and-even-beyond option. 

I went to the bathroom before getting on the train, which turned out to be a very bad idea.  “I don’t often say this”, I told Mom upon my return, “but wait and go on the train.”  Not only was the bathroom set up over a single, regularly-flushed trench, but only three of the bathrooms had doors.  Observation of the day: it’s perfectly acceptable to text while squatting in China – I can testify to this personally. 

We boarded at 9 and were on our way right on time at 9:20.  This was my 5th overnight train, but a first for my parents.  We had hard-sleeper berths, which meant beds stacked three-high all the way down the car. 


Mom and Dad had lower bunks where we sat for a while, and when the lights were turned off I moved up to my middle berth. 

I thought the train was under 12 hours, but it turned out that we didn’t arrive until almost 1.  This is probably because we spent approximately as much time stopped as we did moving.  There was one particular time when we stopped for like 30 minutes to let another train pass; I remember because I really had to go to the bathroom but there’s “No Occupying While Stabling” (Chinglish for “Please don’t use the bathroom while the train is stopped”). 

The good news is, we got to sleep in all morning before getting to Xi’An!


Arriving in Xi’An, I quickly realized we were at a bigger tourist draw than I’d ever been in China.  The hostel we were looking for was about 1 km away, so we were planning to walk.  But then a woman came up to offer us a taxi ride, and I figured I’d at least ask the price.  “30 yuan” (almost $5), her response, was so ridiculous that I wished I knew how to say “Hell, no!” in Chinese.  As it was, I mocked her offer (which should have been, at most, 80 cents) and told her that I knew it was only a kilometer away.  She replied, not ashamed at all, “Over a kilometer.” 

We walked to the hostel (Qixian) without a problem, but there I found out that I had been Chinese-lied to again.  I had called to book a hostel room the night before and was told we had a room with two big beds; I arrived to find out the room actually only had one.  We were offered a four-bed room (but no bathroom) but I decided to take a (very small) stand.  So often I put up with the ridiculous situations I get into in China, and I let the lies and misinformation slip by uncommented.  But this time I was sick of it; I told them I was unhappy with how they had handled my reservation and told them we were going to the other hostel in town.  We ended up finding a good room with three beds and a large bathroom, here at the Shuyuan Hostel.  It’s quaint, our room is warm, and we got to do laundry, so I’m happy we came over here! 

We went for a walk through the Muslim Quarter this afternoon, where we bought some souvenirs and had dinner. 


My parents have definitely liked Xinjiang cuisine the most so far on their trip, so maybe someday when (not if!) they come back to China, we’ll try to go straight to the source – Urumqi! 

Back at the hostel, we arranged for a doctor of Chinese medicine to come and work his magic with Dad.  He got a 30 minute massage and then opted to try acupuncture on a problem area that’s been bothering him for almost a year now.  I can’t decide if the acupuncture pictures are acceptable to show or not, so I’ll settle for one of Dad and the good doctor.


Tomorrow we’re going to the see the Terracotta Army and the Tomb of Emperor . . . Something.  We should be headed straight to the train station afterwards, so more details on all that will follow in about 36 hours, from our final destination – Beijing!

  1. did the acupunture help John Boy??!!

  2. and what souvenirs from our Muslim friends?!

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