12 Hours in a Hotel on Wheels
Inside a Small Room in a Metal Box
After Jack picked us up from the Dongfang Hotel, we took a van to Beijing Station. There was a lot of chaotic traffic around the terminal, so we got out in the middle of the street and weaved our way between the honking cars and into the station proper. Jack walked us through the whole terminal and stayed with us in the waiting room until it was time to board our train.
While it was sometimes annoying that Jack didn't explain what we were doing or where we were going, it would have been pretty hard to figure all this out on our own. He walked us all the way to our cabin and made sure we were all set and in the right place, then we said our goodbyes to him and Beijing.
The last time we took an overnight train it was a lot like taking a plane or a bus. We sat in seats that reclined. It was pretty cramped and wasn't the most comfortable way to sleep. This time, we had the luxury of being booked in 4-berth cabin in a sleeper car. It was pretty cramped and wasn't the most comfortable way to sleep.
As we were getting settled in, a woman came by to ask us if we wanted coffee or tea in the morning. Naturally we said yes. We ordered one of each then brushed our teeth in the sinks of questionable cleanliness and settled in for the night.
The first few hours on the train were loud. Certainly, the sound of the train's wheels clicking along the rails was ever-present, but so were the sounds of humans jammed into a cramped metal box. People were in the hallway chatting and there was a woman somewhere on our car who laughed like she was in a David Lynch film. Most of all, I think people were avoiding the confining space of their cabins by standing in the confining space of the hallway.
Eventually, though, after everyone in the car queued up to use the car's single squat toilet and retired to their own cabins, the human noise died down. It was time to get some sleep.
It wasn't the most ideal sleeping situation, and sleep did not come easily. The train rocked back and forth as the wheels clacked along on the rails. Our cabin was right next to the bathroom, so every time the toilet flushed (which was frequently throughout the night), our cabin was filled with a sound of the high-pressure whoosh, a lot like an airplane toilet, as deposited items were flushed away. Where they went, I didn't want to know.
We did manage to get a little sleep, though, but it came in fits and starts. I felt like I'd just finally gotten to sleep when there was a loud rapping at our cabin door. I opened it and there was a woman standing there with the coffee and tea we'd ordered the night before. It wasn't particularly good coffee or tea, but it was welcome after a very restless night.
It was about 6:30 a.m., and we were were almost in Xi'an. We had to start getting ready to leave the train, which was a little challenging after such a rough night. We were all moving a little sluggishly, but when the train finally stopped, we had to quickly hustle out of the room and down the narrow hall.
And then we were in Xi'an. Chris, our guide for the second city on our China tour, met us at the station. A visit to the famous Terracotta Army was on the day's agenda, but first, we headed off to the hotel so we could check in.