Our overnight train to Xi’an was due to depart at 4:55pm on Monday, but the Fairmont hotel concierge provided our running joke for the day. He called me
perhaps a half dozen times Sunday and Monday, and each time was to push the hour we should leave to get to the train station earlier. We finally wound up leaving the hotel at 12:30pm to make the thirty minute trek by taxi-van to the Beijing West Station, where we were to check in our bikes as luggage and board our soft sleeper for the fourteen hour journey to Xi’an. The hotel sent along a young assistant concierge to help us navigate the mammoth station.
Unfortunately, he had evidently never been to the train station before, so he really had no idea how to help us get our bikes checked in. Since we didn’t know either, we wound up sending our bikes by truck freight, at a substantial additional cost, rather than checking them in as train luggage! I didn’t even realize that was what was happening, until we arrived in Xi’an, and found our bikes were not with the train, as they should have been, but at the truck depot instead, many kilometers away… So much for assuming that someone else could do a better job that we, guided by our instincts, can do! This was to be consistently the case, not only in China, but also I think in life generally – not to put too much faith in guides, guidebooks, or teachers…better to rely on one’s own inner guide and compass.
Our train seats were reserved in a soft sleeper, so it was easy to find our compartment and see that we had the two lower berths in the four-person compartment. A mother and her teenage daughter had the two upper berths, and the rest of their family was in the next compartment. There were packages of fresh and tasty tomatoes and cucumbers available to buy on the train, as well as hot water for tea for the entire journey. The sleeper beds were a bit cramped, but the train itself was clean (even the toilet stayed reasonably clean for the entire journey!), and by 9pm, everyone around us was quietly sleeping, interrupted only by the periodic jerking of the train car.
The train compartments do have large windows for seeing the countryside, but on the overnight train, it got dark so quickly that there really wasn’t much time to sightsee. In the morning, before we arrived in Xi’an, I did get a chance to see that we had entered an agricultural area, with vast fields planted with corn and other crops.