First email from Tibet
There is so much to write, it’s hard to start. Actually the problem is more the zillions of photos I’ve taken and which ones to send?
We took a bus from Doumen to the bus station in Guangzhou. Then we took the train from Guangzhou to Lhasa, Tibet. The bus trip took about 2 hours. The train trip took about 56 hours. It was an experience. The scenery was amazing, the soft-sleeper too small for 4 adults, the “bathrooms” went from ok to bad, and the dining car is a whole story of its own. We slept really well the first night and badly the second night. The couple sharing the soft-sleeper cabin was really very nice and we all were on our most polite behavior. They were actually coming to Lhasa for a medical conference. She was a nurse and we’re not exactly sure what he did but it had to do with the non-medical side of medicine. Like most people taking the train, they brought all of their own food. The train had a hot-water dispenser so you could make instant noodles and tea which most people ate. We brought tea, coffee, crackers, peanut butter, a few oranges, and some cookies. . We had to rely on the dining car. We also brought our own mugs and utensils and any necessary bathroom supplies like toilet paper, soap, towels, etc
Randal and I were on the left side of the small cabin and our companions were on the right side. Randal had the bottom bunk and I had the top bunk. We all shared the table in the middle. Very close quarters.
Our cabin mates.
The storage space over the top bunk. The bunks were definitely long enough and wide enough for us to sleep comfortably and there were wonderful down comforters. Sometimes the train would be really warm and sometimes it would be really cold. That is a TV screen and each bunk had one but no one ever turned it on. Randal and I packed in duffle bags and had two extra bags, one with food and one with my odds and ends. They fit in the space allotted but if we wanted anything from it was a pain to go digging around in them and then repack. So like everyone else we spent the train trip in the same set of clothes.
Train travel….. I got on the bus in Doumen with my funny tie-dyed dress and finally took it off when we got to our hotel in Lhasa! I pulled on some flannel pants early on and they stayed there the whole trip too. I looked incredibly odd, but I was quite comfortable since everyone slept in his clothes. You can see Randal’s knee so there was room for both of us on the bottom bunk during the day while we watched the scenery go by, read or snoozed. We shared the tiny table and each bunk had netting where you stored stuff too. The yellow bag holds our food stuff. I am reading Jane Eyre which I’d never “had” to do in school. I had brought 3 books to China but finished them so needed to go to the Doumen bookstore where I knew they sold some classics in English. I am actually enjoying it.
The wash area for our car of soft sleepers. Each soft sleeper car had two toilets too, one Asian and one Western. By the middle of the second day both were out of order so we used the ones in the next car. By the end of the trip you didn’t want to go into the Western toilet unless you were wearing knee high rubber boots. Randal and I were the only Westerners on the train so maybe only we noticed. We were in cabin number 8 so there were at least 32 people in our car, or could have been if they were all full, though we have no way of knowing. It felt very full and some of the children hit the emergency beeper button making us crazy since it beeped just outside our door and it took forever for a train attendant to turn it off.
There were fold down seats in the narrow hall way which made walking through the car slow going. But it was nice to sit out there too if no one was smoking. Lots of smoking on the train.
The dining car misadventures……
Nothing in English and the picture menu in Randal’s right hand disappeared before we were able to use it and it never reappeared again. Waitresses would eventually hand us a menu in written in Chinese and look at us exasperated with our inability to order from it. The dining times listed were nowhere connected to reality. Lunch was hours after the time listed and we were only finally served because lovely young women who spoke a bit of English helped us order eggs with tomato, a small whole cooled fish, and some rice. The first night we walked to the dining car about 6pm though it supposedly opened at 5pm. We were told the dining car opened at 6:30pm so we returned at 6:30. Then we sat till about 7:30 though others seemed to be getting food…I finally made enough “noise” that they took me back to point to what we wanted since none of our English speaking friends were there at the time. Randal and I were the only Westerners on the train.
Dining car friends Echo and Echo’s Auntie Chen.
Echo is studying to be a dentist and believes that English is an essential language so speaks it quite well. That was lucky for us because none of the dining car staff ever acted as if they wanted to find any way to communicate with us. Echo helped us with dinner one night and lunch on our last day. We had our other dinner meal because one train staff finally came over to our table and then took me to the kitchen to point at the food. Not sure why the waitresses couldn’t have thought to do that but they just didn’t seem to want to make any effort to interact with us at all. Any help we ever received was from the other passengers or the train staff, never the dining car staff. The food was relatively expensive and not bad except for the last lunch which was bad. Randal and I had never experienced this type of bad service anywhere in China so were very disappointed.
The scenery was amazing as we climbed higher and got closer to Tibet.
We traveled 5,000 kilometers 3,100 miles and climbed from sea level to 12,000 feet above sea level. The train cars aren’t pressurized as airplanes are, but the gradual climb allows you to adapt to 40% less oxygen in the air. Along the way we saw, yak, sheep, antelope, small burros and small horses. The trip itself was not at all boring; it was more the cramped compartment and dining car that made us want it to end.
More scenery photos next email.