A Train to Beijing

Matt Gross, writer for the New York Times Travel section, was feeling lucky when he walked up to a train counter in China. There was no lines, so he thought he would have no problem getting a ticket. The train he wanted to board had no tickets left, but an officer offered up his own ticket – right out of his pocket. Read about his experience on the Chinese train in the article On a People’s Train From Urumqi to Beijing.

“By afternoon, everyone was comfortable enough with my presence that I could barely wander the corridors without being asked to join a game of cards, or sit on a bunk and listen to a Uighur man strum energetic folk songs on his two-string guitar. The 48 hours went by quickly. There was always something happening, whether it was the Dushanbe shoe salesman who came by to chat, a toddler to exchange funny faces with, or the 20-minute station stops, when half the train seemed to rush outside to buy some strange local melon.

During the rare quiet moments, I would glance up from my reading — Gogol’s “Dead Souls” — and gaze out the window at the ever-changing landscape. What began near Urumqi as a wide desert landscape — its desolate beauty a master class in yellows and browns — turned into a more traditional Chinese panorama: terraced hills furrowed with squiggly paths, gently fading into mist-shrouded mountains. Finally, as we neared Beijing, the fields of corn and wheat were increasingly interrupted by factories and office parks, and the fog that had lent the mountains their mystical aura became instead a smoggy haze that blotted the sun and trapped the heat. Luckily, the train cars were well air-conditioned.

Still, after two nights in such close quarters, we were all a little tired and smelly. (A few women somehow managed to maintain fresh looks.) As the train inched toward the capital, new friends exchanged business cards and phone numbers, while a half-dozen people stopped by to remind me to consolidate my belongings.”