All aboooaaard! Let the choo choo begin!
And as the train starts its choo choo, the passengers start the chew chew.
The first smell that will hit you is that of the indisputable Chinese culinary number one: the instant noodle soups. You could fill a whole compartment with them and, believe me, this is the best smell that your nose will get during the whole journey in a hard seat train, and I’m not talking about the ubiquitous cigarette odour.
Have you ever felt tempted to take some hard-boiled eggs and sausages as your train snacks, but then you felt compassionate for whoever ends up sitting next to you? Well, the Chinese imagination goes way further than eggs and sausages. So, there’s a fish on a stick (every food tastes better when it’s on a stick – culinary law no.1) washed down by tangerines in syrup, an array of marinated eggs (chicken’s, duck’s, goose’s, quail’s), chicken feet (every part of an animal is edible – culinary law no. 2), sugar cane peeled with the use of teeth, sucked on and then spat on the floor… With every inflow of passengers I learn that there are many more cool train snacks than I have ever realized. In Chinese trains people don’t read books, newspapers, magazines, they don’t do crosswords or Sudoku. They eat and when they don’t eat, they scroll their smartphones. But mostly, they eat.
Right, coz what would you even do on your smartphone? You’re used to googling stuff, following your facebook friends, watching youtube videos and suddenly it’s all gone! The Chinese have their internet impressively censored and you need a very decent vpn (location hiding software) to protect you from social media withdrawal. Without it you’re left with baidu to fill in for google and wechat to substitute facebook. Apart from that, another useful app is a train finder, e.g. China trains. Trains are not censored, you don’t need vpn to use the app.
What is censored, though, is the luggage. Every Chinese man transporting his baskets or carrier bags on the bamboo sticks, every lady with her wicker backpack-like construction, every gentleman carrying his girlfriend’s handbag (or his own handbag, for that matter), every tourist thinking that there’s nothing in his baggage to endanger Chinese railway safety, must go through security check, which consists of 2-3 X-rays. This is a simple and effective way to lose a knife before your first ride. I’m quite sure the security guy will enjoy our knife for a long time.
Despite all those nuisances, Chinese trains still make a good travelling option. One huge advantage is that, unlike all wheel vehicles, they don’t beep crazily on everything moving around them and let the passengers have a good night sleep on a hard sleep kind of bed.