Train to Qingdao

12:39 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

I've travelled by train across the UK, central Europe and India, with each experience being worlds apart. Train travel in China was different again.

Typically, buying train tickets involved that distinctive Chinese flavour - organised chaos. We arrived at the train station to find a couple of thousand other people queuing for tickets whilst gently pushing forward and staring at the foreigners. Occasionally someone tried to sell us a dodgy ticket or would stand right next to us and nod along cluelessly to our conversation.

Once we had the tickets we waited in a huge hanger/waiting room. There was a nagging lack of restaurants or shops at the station. Jinan train station is missing a money making trick. The only things we could find were instant noodles and packaged chicken feet. I skipped lunch.

Chinese people are a bit the like the British; they like queuing for no reason. As the departure time drew close, people began getting flustered and started anxiously queuing at the gate. You couldn't even board the train without a seat booking. Out on the platform, people queue in solemn silence whilst waiting for the train. I missed the usual hustle and bustle of a train station.

The train itself was quite comfortable. Staring out of the window of a train, you can get a real sense of a country. Look out of the window on the Trans Pennine Express between Leeds and Manchester and you'll see an transport system clinging to ageing Victorian structures. You'll see identi-kit suburban houses and sprawling retail parks. Gaze from the Indian Railways train between Delhi and Agra and you'll see hundreds of people walking across the tracks, carefully stepping over broken earth and patches of litter. Between the small villages you'll see exotic fields stretching into the distance, totally untouched by modern machinery. The railway sidings in China discretely demostrate China's position as the world's second largest economy. The flat plains are covered with carefully cultivated, mechanised farms. Development reaches out across the province, blurring the divisions between one city and the next. For every field you see, there is an accompanying factory beltching smoke. The railways itself is protected by large concrete fencing and barbed wire. Huge grade-seperated intersections mean local traffic doesn't disrupt the train's progress.

To be honest, I was underwhelmed with the experience. It was efficient but didn't have any character. I was really looking forward to getting trapped with a curious Chinese person with whom I could practise Mandarin. Instead, people travelled silently, totally absorbed with their mobile phones and ipads.

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