July 11th, 2016
We were in Xi’an South train station.
Well, we actually were inside the temporary waiting hall, made of metal slates and metal sheet roof. It rained outside on and off. Heavy. The walkways flooded. The water went by fast, having a depth between your ankle and Knee.
Everyone’s feet were wet. And wet Chinese feet had a distinctive smell I believe only a litter better than the no-door Chinese public toilet.
People were tired. After all the midnight had passed and some people were here sitting on the bare concrete for hours. When rain got heavy, the metal roof would leak. That created puddles inside the hall.
No information was given as which train would delay how long.The only thing we knew was we were trapped. Xi’an South station was about an hour away from Xi’an city. At this time of the day, there were no public transportation available.
We couldn’t go back to Xi’an even if we wanted.
I stood there and thought how we ended up under this leaky roof.
It all started after two weeks of over 36 degree Celsius in Xian, we had none other in our mind than finding a cooler place to go. Lanzhou or Urumqi on the silk road in the western China apparently were even hotter. Sichuan was lower temperature but higher humidity, making people miserable too. The south central China was all under flood, a year worse than 1998 when thousands of people died. We heard many towns close to Yangtse River were destroyed, along with their train stations and tracks.
We looked at the weather forecasts for a long time and decided to head north. Mongolia seemed to be a nice place to get some cool air, except the train tickets there were pretty hard to come by.
After constantly looking at 12306 the Chinese train booking website for a couple of days, we secured 3 hard sleeper tickets on a Tuesday night. We knew the K692 train would have to travel over 2,500 kilometers and 49 hours for the whole trip, leaving Kunming, southwestern China for Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, northern China. In Xi’an we would be boarding this train at about the middle point.
We had no idea how badly the train could delay when heavy rain falls on the mountainous terrain between Kunming and Xi’an.
Anita sat on the concrete floor and had her upper body and head on the big backpack I normally carry. Sleeping. Julia sat on the same backpack sleeping on her mom’s lap. I stood and chatted with some Chinese students waiting for another train to Chengdu.
They all had their smart phone and Wechat app open.
Finally at close to 2 AM a guy ran into the hall and shouted our train number in Mandarin. We couldn’t be happier.
Once inside the train station(Chinese don’t allow people in the station until about one hour before your train’s departure) it was more horrible. The air was rancid from people’s sweat and pee on the floor of the washroom.
Around 2:30 AM we boarded the train. Inside the train we exhaled. It was tidy. The were slept on but at least appeared white. The sleeper cars were dark and passengers slept on their berths.
When we woke up at 9 AM next morning, the scenery outside was the barren northern Shaanxi. The broadcast said we were delayed five and half hours. I asked the conductor what happened, and he said somewhere down the line in Yunnan or Sichuan the rain made the track not stable.
“Every train was halted and nobody knew when they could pass”. This train was supposed to run from Kunming to Hohhot every day but it actually parked in Kunming for 4 full days, and we were lucky enough to be on the first train out.
“It was only 5 hours delay. Better than some people waited 4 full days!”
I’m not sure if we were supposed to be really happy about this. Outside the window the yellow dusty gravel gradually gave way to green shrubs and that turned into the famous green pasture of the Mongolia steppe.
We saw factories, big and small here and there but overall the sun was bright and the sky finally blue.
More and more people left, by the time we hit Baotou in Inner Mongolia, our car had less than 40% people. I was still on my flip-flop with my dirty feet, so were most of the people from Xi’an. We bought a couple railway lunch boxes, which were expensive and stale.
We weren’t complaining because it could be way worse. We could still be under that metal roof in Xi’an South Station fighting the mosquitos and stinky air!