I’ve heard it’s more expensive but easier to purchase train tickets from third party agencies. Which is what we tried to do, but we could never find the hotel that supposedly sold the train tickets, and the ticket office is just to the right of the train station past the public square filled with old men sitting on the rice sacks that hold their belongings. So we went to the ticket office. We got in line for the English ticket window, which was not so much a line, and the lady behind the counter did not speak English. We asked for tickets aboard a night train to Beijing. Hard sleeper? No. We got what they gave us.
The most expensive train from Shanghai to Beijing costs sixty United States dollars. This ticket buys passage to the soft seat waiting room, reached through the specially marked door at the front of the Shanghai train station, and there is a piano in it. In front of a staircase is a board of upcoming trains followed by numbers. These numbers do not correspond to the track number, like you might sit in the soft chairs of the waiting room for a half an hour thinking they do. This number is the floor that your actual waiting room is on. Okay. So we hustle up to the second floor waiting room where there aren’t any seats left, but there is a store selling cookies and beverages for inflated prices that are still cheaper than anything you could have imagined before arriving in China. That’s where we are when they announce the train, buying crackers with sugary lemon filling that are delicious, so I don’t know if there was an announcement but the mass of people in the waiting room converge on a single point, so we joined them there.
Sixty United States dollars buys you a bed in a four person cabin. The cabin also has a a vase with a fake flower in it, and a menu, and a magazine in Chinese, four bunks with sheets and pillows and an informational brochure. The Z trains are the fastest trains China has. It says that in the brochure. Five Z trains leave Shanghai between 6:45pm and 7:30pm. Three of these serve dinner, including ours. It is a sort of sausage half-calzone with pickled carrots, and it comes with a few pieces of plastic-wrapped bread in a paper bag. The vegans in the bunk across, with some help from Mister Chen, eventually manage to communicate something to the lady cart attendant. She eventually reappears with rice and vegetables from the restaurant car. The lady cart attendant does insists on repatriating their little bags of bread.
In the dining car you can order a 15RMB Tsingtsao and listen to the people who have ordered multiple bottles of wine with their dinner and are talking about senior management. On the fanciest means of conveyance between Shanghai and Beijing you do not just get the ambiance of a fake flower in a vase. You also get to travel with the fanciest people going from Shanghai and Beijing. Hell. You are the fanciest people going from Shanghai to Beijing.
CHINESE RAILWAYS’ Z6
ONE WAY TICKET SOFT SLEEPER 499RMB (ABOUT$63USD) (BOTTOM BUNK)
478RMB (ABOUT $61USD) (TOP BUNK)
DEPARTS SHANGHAI DAILY 7:14PM
ARRIVES BEIJING, CHINA NEXT DAY 7:12AM
SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Shimmy down to the restaurant car while you can still afford it.