Sleeping on a Chinese Train, 2012

The rooms on the New Orient Express ‘新東方快車’ were cute. Very squishy, but cute. Beds were about 2-3 feet wide at most, which meant no tossing or turning while sleeping. I hit my head on the table next to my bed every time I tried to turn. I also almost fell off the bed and face-planted into the trashcan below. It felt like we were sleeping on cement, so I used half of my blanket as a mattress pad. Suitcases had to be shoved under the beds for more space. Only one person could be standing and moving in the room; the other had the sit on the bed. It was like a sad Whose Line game. Complimentary bottled water, tissues, fruit, and small hand towels were nice. The bananas were some of the strangest I’ve had, though. They were very gummy and rubbery in texture, with an odd plastic smell.

We departed Turpan main train station at around 7:50pm, leaving Xinjiang behind for its neighboring province Gansu. The New Orient Express trudged along at an impressive top speed of 120km/h, or about 75mph. Supposedly. Definitely saw trucks speed past us. Dunhuang, the city in Gansu we were traveling to, is 500miles from Turpan, so we were in for a long trip.

Dinner was served at 8:30pm. Major props to the chefs running the kitchen on this antiquated train! The food tasted better than the 5-star hotel in Urumqi. There were also 70+ people to feed, and the small kitchen that was no bigger than a bathroom stall managed to serve everyone at the same time. Although I felt like I was drinking a bottle of oil, seasoned with vegetables, at least my taste buds were happy. Corn, mushrooms, tofu, egg, and fried eggplant. 

The past few days of traveling in complete desert taught me the true meaning of the Chinese idiom, “鸟不生蛋” [niao bu sheng dan]. It means someplace that birds wouldn’t even want to lay their eggs in. Since there wasn’t a much of the view, I decided to learn more about our new home. The New Orient Express was built in the 1980’s, with 8 sleeping cars, 2 dining rooms and 1 bar/entertainment car with a piano and karaoke machine. Each sleeping car had 5 rooms (2 people a room). Usually trains that are “軟卧” [ruan wuo], which was our train, sleep at least 4 people to a room. But our tour company rented out the entire train so we could afford 2 people to a room. The less desirable, but cheapest, way to travel by train in China is choosing the “硬卧” [ying wuo] train. Sleeps 6-8 people a room. Be aware of the distinction if you’re traveling overnight by train in China!

Each car has just one shower, one toilet, and one washroom. Signup lists for using the shower were posted on the shower door. Our relatives had a “VIP” room because of their senior age. The VIP room had its own shower, toilet and washroom. Fortunately for my mom and me, our relatives generously opened their bathroom to us, so we didn’t have to wait in line. Bad news: the shower was so tiny that it was impossible to not bruise yourself: the toilet, the sink, the showerhead. It was actually the radius of a manhole. The showerhead confusingly faced the toilet, so all the water just straight up hits the toilet paper. The entire roll was soppy and useless by the end of the shower. The only place to hang clothes was a single hook over the sink. Moreover, water seeped out of the bathroom into the bedroom. The temperature of the water was as unpredictable as the desert climate we were traveling through, i.e. going from 50 to 80-degrees and back every few seconds.


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