Today was the day of reckoning. Four days away from my planned travel day to leave Beijing, I knew that it was today or no day. I would either walk away with a train ticket or go home crying. There was no more postponing, no more nerves. Now or never.
But today was influenced by a recent development: yesterday, a group of CET students bought tickets to Xi’an (where I was looking to go). Their method was to go to the local travel agent (Xindadu Hotel) early and make themselves unforgettable as foreigners so when the time came to purchase tickets, the agency would know who they were and where they were going. Word spread of their success today and many others attempted to repeat their strategic moves.
But I knew of at least one other group of 5 attempting tickets to Xi’an at the Xindadu. I wasn’t about to go head-to-head with my own classmates in trying to get seats on the same train. The more people you have in your party, the harder it is to buy tickets especially from the same seller.
So, I decided to go to another seller in the area to try to beat the group of 5 classmates. A small sidewalk seller a few blocks away would do just fine, but the issue was that this seller was outside. And outside is freezing cold. At last check, the outside temperature was 14 degrees Farenheit plus windchill. Now, I knew I’d have to wait in the cold for an hour plus so I bundled up real good. I still was cold but I survived.
The better part about this outside location was that the small ticket window meant a line had to be used. Oh my god, a line for tickets for train tickets! When I arrived I was number 16 in line. Now there were many points where fights almost broke out as people argued over where they were in line and who was cutting whom and who could have family with them, etc. Luckily a police officer was on hand because clearly an incident has happened before. I was ready to make a break for the ticket window several times because I thought the line was going to dissolve into a free-for-all, but still, the line held steady to my surprise.
I got up to the ticket window and yes, a ticket to Xi’an. BUT, the catch. No soft sleepers. Shucks. No hard sleepers. Um, what? No soft seats. This looks ugly. Yes, I’m sitting in a hard seat for 12 hours next to Chinese people I don’t know. Great way to soak up the culture. Poor way to stay sane. I’m going to be sitting among the finest sunflower seed munchers, Beijing spitters, and moth-ball cloth wearers. 150RMB and a really cold hour and half will get you that.
And so ends the game of Chinese Train Ticket Chess (see photo above). And I’m lucky. At least I got tickets. More of my classmates are trying again tomorrow.