China, November 1, 1999
For a ticket, just go to the train station to get whatcha want
Today I went looking for a train ticket to Hong Kong and I'm not sure
which is harder, buying a train ticket in Russia or asking someone to help
you buy a ticket in Beijing. I'm sure you've read about the Russian
experience, so you know I prepared for the
worst in getting a train ticket here.
I was told many optimistic stories as I asked around for the proper place to get a place on the train. First, I was told that there was a store right near my new apartment that had all the train tickets I could ever want. At lunch, I took the office bus over to the hotel (I live in a company paid hotel suite now), and walked to the office. I got 'mayo,' which is not a condiment here, but the Chinese version of 'no.'
On the way back to work, a friend told me of a phone number I could call where I could pay for the ticket by credit card. Unfortunately, she didn't have the number with her so I just felt teased. When I got back to the office, my new officemate called the booking agencies she knew, all of which told her that there were no tickets for the train, or that tickets could only be booked twenty days in advance. Not one to believe what retail workers say on the phone, I persuaded her to call the train station itself. Low and behold, they had tickets!
Off to the station we went, and to my surprise, it was amazingly modern, with a special window for Hong Kong & Macao tickets. In the end, I didn't even need my officemates translation, for the lady behind the window slid a bilingual form through the slot for us to fill out. Moments after handing it back to her, along with $80, I had my ticket and a smile.
The ticket is a curious little thing. Like a DC subway card, it is a small stiff paper card with all the info bilingually on the front, but without my name. Yes, they had asked for my passport, though they never wrote any information from it down on the card or in their computers. My Russian-tinted mind saw a horde of Muscovites buying up all the tickets to resell them at double the face value. Hell, that ain't even Russian, we have scalpers in the USA too.
So, anyway, now I have a ticket to Hong Kong, and I'm off for the southern wonder bright and early tomorrow morning.
Footnote: I didn't make the train.