Tag Archives: Train

Like a Drug

Written on: 14 June 2010, 20:00. Somewhere in between Xining and Chengdu.

14 June. 16 days before it’s time to return home. I’m now 11 hours into my 25-hour train ride towards Chengdu, where in the following day, I will take another 20-hour train ride to Kunming to begin the last leg of my journey travelling through some parts of Yunnan. How fast time has passed.

We were planning our itinerary and I came to realise that there’s not time to do both Yunnan and Chengdu as planned. Since it doesn’t quite make sense to leave from Chengdu yet not explore the city and its surrounding sights, I’m considering extending my trip for up to a week. I’m not sure whether I’ll eventually do it since, firstly, I may not be able to extend my visa since I’m holding a “group visa” and not a regular individual tourist visa (result of travelling from Nepal to Tibet). Next, when I called the parents to inform them of my possible plans, they were more keen to have me back, especially since I would be doing the extra days alone.

To be honest, I feel as if I could travel forever. And these potential plans for extension is perhaps just my form of escape from real life and the harsh truth that comes next month, where I may well already be married to my new husband, named Work.

A paragraph in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love”, which I’m halfway through right now, sums it up perfectly:

But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal? Or to learn how to speak a language for no higher purpose than that it pleases your ear to hear it? Or to nap in a garden, in a patch of sunlight, in the middle of the day, right next to your favourite fountain? And then to do it again the next day?

Or in my own context, to be sitting here in the middle compartment of my hard-sleeper berth, in my third long-distance train ride in two weeks, writing this entry while my friends HX and Seng are playing a game of “Tap of War” on Seng’s iPhone just below me? To watch the world go by from the bus window? To look forward to a fabulous meal of noodles, kebabs, and milk tea? And another awesome meal of  hotpot and beer?

Travelling is like a drug that one can’t wean off. And like a drug addict, I’m craving for more, looking forward to the next dose of  “days of travel”, and every new destination, a new drug, waiting to be consumed, to give me, the “user”  a new high.

But my supply is running short. If I decide not to extend, or am unable to, 16 doses is all I have left. Then “cold turkey” it would be, till the next round of supply comes in, and who knows when that would ever be.

Update (17 June): I did not manage to extend my group visa, so looks like the “supply” will indeed run out come 30 June.

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Of life, beer, and the people we meet.

It’s amazing how much can happen in a single train ride. For starters, I’m not even in Xining (Qinghai province) now, but in Xi’an (Shaanxi province) right now. And in case you were wondering, no, we did not board the wrong train thinking that Xi’an was in fact Xining given the similarities of their names. And no, we also did not miss our stop and ended up somewhere an additional 12-hour train ride away from my original destination.

 

When we first boarded our train, HX and I discovered we weren’t even seated next to each other; we were separated by an aisle. She was sitting next to these two Swiss girls who were also in the same tour group as we were in in Tibet, while I was seated next to an old man heading to Lanzhou. ‘Fate’ had it when the two Swiss girls, deciding that a 48-hour train ride to Beijing was too long to endure while seated, managed to obtain an upgrade to “hard sleeper” class, and so, HX and I shifted in and took over their seats. Seated opposite us were two Tibetian students who were also about our age and another Han Chinese guy. 

Because of that now one empty seat and our ‘prime’ location at the start of the carriage near the train attendants’ office, there were always two train attendants who always took the opportunity to skive and chatted with all of us seated there. Our conversations somehow always revolved around HX’s and my trip to Xining as well as life in Singapore. Everyone kept asking us why we were heading to Xining when there’s not much to do there. The two Tibetian guys, who studied in Xi’an for four years and were heading back for graduation, as well as the Han Chinese guy, who lived near Xi’an, told us that Xi’an was more fun and even the two train attendants agreed. 

Crazy as it seemed at that point, within the first eight hours of our ride, we knew that we had to go to Xi’an. We figured that since our friend, Seng, was only going to meet us in Xining on the 10th, meaning that we would be staying in Xining for at least a good six days, it was more wise for us to head elsewhere first. And, of course, the decision was made easier now that we knew two people who were practically local to Xi’an, and with whom we got along with very well – The Tibetian guys. 

Though they initially spoke to each other in Tibetian and we spoke to each other in English, we hit it off quite quickly in our only common language – Mandarin. 

We discovered over the course of our trip how generous Tibetians are. Perhaps it is due to their Buddhist nature or their good upbringing, but they never hesistated to share with us everything, sometimes even forcing us to accept the food and drinks they seemed to have plenty of. Air-dried yak meat straight from the bone, gua zi, chicken feet snacks, milk tea, chang wine, Budweiser beer, more Budweiser beer, HuangHe Beer (okay you get it – a hell a lot of beer). Oh and cigarettes too, which we kindly declined.’ 

Eating air-dried Yak meat straight from the bone

Eating air-dried Yak meat straight from the bone

Chang, Yak and Chicken Feet

Chang, Yak and Chicken Feet

These people really knew how to enjoy a good train ride. All they had with them were a luggage full of food and drinks, and perhaps just about one extra set of clothes.  

We spent most of our time hanging out with them at the lunch carriage where we drank and drank a lot. Did I mention we drank a lot? You really don’t want to know that we finished 31 bottles x 330ml of Budweisers during the 36-hour ride. Whoops, I didn’t just reveal that. And that does not even include the box of Huanghe beer they bought at a stop, and their stash of Tibetian chang wine. Interestingly, most of the other beer-drinking people in the lunch carriage were Tibetian, and boy did they drink a lot. 

First day of Budweisers

First day of Budweisers

HuangHe Beer

HuangHe Beer

Second day of Budweisers

Second day of Budweisers

Tiger 'Crystal' Beer. All 24 bottles. At some bar in Xi'an.

Tiger 'Crystal' Beer. All 24 bottles. At some bar in Xi'an.

Pretending to be Yaks

Pretending to be Yaks

  

My alcoholic friends would indeed be very proud. 

I guess when beer only costs 10yuan (about S$2) a bottle, it really isn’t that inaccessible. And, to my defense, the beer here is a lot lighter than what we’re used to back home. 

 Bonding over alcohol and some gua zi like old men playing chess at a HDB void deck, four of us quickly realised how ‘fated’ we were. Had the Swiss girls not have upgraded, we probably would have spent most of our time just speaking to them and not much to the Tibetian guys, especially since they were initially not sitting directly opposite us, and we will probably not be here in Xi’an right now. Also, almost the whole carriage was full of people who were much older than we were, yet we were seated so close to each other. How well we connected with each other, and what fun times we had. 

 Before this starts sounding like some epic love story, it really isn’t, but one about how fast life changes and the people we meet along the way who make life more enjoyable. And I’m really glad I got to meet these two people. 

I was just telling HX today that there were a few times in Tibet when I wished we had stayed in Nepal a couple more days since we had a few days to spare anyways. But I’m glad that we left as planned and travelled through Tibet, and got onto the right train from Lhasa at the right time and met our two new friends – Ciren Qujia and Tudan Yixi (direct translations of their Tibetian names).  

  

Ciren Qujia & Tudan Yixi

Ciren Qujia & Tudan Yixi. Cant seem to flip the image.

Photo of a photo taken at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda fountain show. Pardon its blurness

Photo of a photo taken at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda fountain show. Pardon its blurness

Last photo before we had to say goodbye for good.

Last photo before we had to say goodbye for good.

Back to travelling to Xi’an. So, we smsed the owner of our hostel in Xining to inform him of our delay, extended our ticket to Xi’an, and hoped hard that we would be able to find accomodation in Xi’an. So here I am writing this in my journal from my Xi’an hostel dorm room while HX is already snoring (literally. At least she’s not sleep-talking/laughing. Yet, that is.) 

We’ve been here a day (at the point of writing in my journal. And I digress: HX really did just sleep talk, asking if I heard some echo.) and I’m pretty sure we’ll be at least a little sad to leave Xi’an come Wed. 

But I’m learning to accept that’s how life really is: New destinations. New life stories. New amazing people to meet.

 

More random photos: 

View of the endless plains from the Tibet-Qinghai railway

View of the endless plains from the Tibet-Qinghai railway

  

The tracks

The tracks

Some of the people from the Tibet tour. The only ones remaining just before we alighted.

Some of the people from the Tibet tour. The only ones remaining just before we alighted.

PS: We survived the 36-hour ride pretty well. Our bums are still intact, thankfully! I’m not so sure about our livers though. 

 

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24-Hour Train Ride to Xining?

Train ticket to Xining

Yep that’s right. On “hard seat” class no less.

God save our souls.

After a five day road trip through the highlands of Tibet, and another two days spent in Lhasa, we’ll be leaving Tibet tomorrow morning to catch a 24-hour train ride to Xining, in the Qinghai province of China.

I’m  really fearing the ride to be honest. I initially thought that the ride would be a long 30 hours, but even if it’s actually “only” 24 hours, I can imagine that it is going to be a painful ride: Sitting-down-for-24-hours-and-not-being-able-to-lie-down-to-sleep painful. 

The only time I’ve taken such a long train ride was two years ago when my dad, sis and I took a 17-hour train ride into Kiruna (North of Sweden, somewhere in the artic circle). I remember it being rather torturous, and back then, we had a sleeper berth, and tomorrow, it’s going to a seat, a “hard seat” (whatever hard means really.)

Earlier today, while shopping for food for the ride since we figured that the food sold on the train is probably going to be really expensive, it almost felt as if we were stocking up for war:

Cup noodles for 2 meals? Check
Bread for breafkast? Check
Drinks (water and other drinks) to last the ride? Check
Other snacks in case we’re bored/hungry/itchy mouth? Check

Of course the main consolation is that I’m saving 50USD by taking the seat, which will probably cover my accomodation in Xining. Also, the scenery from the oxygen-pumped train (yep that’s right) as it goes through the Tibetian plateau is supposed to be AMAZING. Besides, being in a railway that has been deemed as an astronomical engineering feat would probably be an experience in itself. And at the risk of schadenfreude, our two friends, ZB and Lek, who travelled in Nepal and Tibet with us, are taking a 42-hour train ride to Chengdu on a “hard seat” the following day. Good luck to them man. Good luck to us, especially our bums.

Will let you know if I survive the ride.

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