I had arranged to travel from Kunming to Dali by train, so that I could see the countryside – the only other option being to fly. My Dad did this journey by truck along the Burma road, so in solidarity I thought I should journey by land. A “hard seat” had been booked for me, which means a variety of things, including the fact that it is not a hard seat. Websites about travelling by train in China warn against this class of seat – the carriages tend to be crowded and smelly and not really intended for waiguoren (foreigners). However, there was no choice on this train, so I submitted to my fate.
Last year there was a terrorist attack at Kunming station and since then they’ve introduced airport style security – passport checks, x-ray scanning of luggage, named and numbered seats for passengers, the works. Luckily it is not that strict and Lucy was able to sweet talk the security man into letting her accompany me into the station. Just as well as all signs were in characters and I’m not sure I would have worked out that I needed to go to waiting area 4 and then gate 26 or 27. I joined a vast herd of people and in due course we were allowed to board. My seat looked perfectly comfortable, there were lacy curtains at the windows and it was very clean. You are advised to place your luggage in the overhead rack and keep an eye on it at all times. Throwing a 20kg suitcase over my head was not so easy, but I succeeded in the end. It would have to be a strong and quick thief to run off with it unnoticed!
Then a woman and her 6 yr old son sat (both of them) in the seat next to me. For the next 6 hours the boy got up, sat down, slid onto the floor, got up, went out, came back, bounced up and down on the seat and sprayed instant noodles everywhere. Joy. I had been warned about dire toilets on trains and told not to drink anything. However, I didn’t think I could keep my legs crossed for 6 hours and after about 4, I just had to ‘try the experience’. Actually it was no worse than any Chinese toilet – a hole in the floor let everything fall onto the tracks, which at least limited the smell.
Everyone was plugged into their phones or tablets so not much opportunity for conversation. I was the only waiguoren on board which pleased me because I knew that my guide would easily spot me at the station when we arrived. Except she wasn’t there – in her place was a vast mob, shouting at the arrivals. I have no clue if they were friendly or not, but none of them had my name on a board. A quick call and a couple of minutes later my guide appeared, all flustered because some accident had caused a traffic jam. All in all it hasn’t been a great day, but I am now installed in a Tibetan hotel in old Dali. I think I’ll have roast yak for dinner.