Academented Christmas, day the twentieth – Chinese trains

Today’s post is actually a public service announcement.

If you, especially if you are an early career researcher who does not have huge budget freedoms, wish to travel to China for work or leisure, I say, excellent for you! The road, rail, and air networks are relatively expansive, and there should be a way to get to most places. However, if you wish to commence or visit a city that is not an international hub (most of these are situated on China’s enormous coast from east to south), but still a large enough city, air or rail may be your best bet.

Travel agents (or “ticket offices”) can be easily found in cities – there is one in the PKU campus – who will be able to provide both ticketing services, as well as general advice on travel and routes. The basics are as follows:

  • you will need ID, preferably passport, for buying any and all tickets and travelling.
  • Prices on flights will fluctuate depending on how long you buy them before the date of travel;
  • prices on trains will not.
  • The high-speed trains all have service codes beginning with G, and are the prime choice of many who want to travel between large cities and massive cities. They are air-conditioned.
  • Not all trains are air-conditioned.
  • Make sure you are headed for the right station, as most of the larger cities have multiple stations at different ends of town, and are commonly denoted by cardinal direction. (North 北 bei3; South 南 nan2; East 东 dong1; West西xi1. It’s also possible that there will be a “city station” 城 cheng2.)
  • A train station is a “火车站 (huo3che1zhan4)”, and an airport is a “机场 (i1chang3)”. A stop is “站 (zhan4)”.
  • N.B. The numbers in the romanised spellings of the Chinese characters indicate which of the four sounds the word should take.
  • Finally, remember your pot noodle for the train, and also that the hot (drinking) water is free, the cold (drinking) water is bottled, and you need to buy it.

Now, you may choose your destination…

Where do you want to go?

This is an example of how a ticket vendor may display the choice of destinations: the yellow titles are the names of provinces, followed by a list of cities within.

P.S. Of course, coaches are available to smaller places, but not always for the faint-of-heart, and, by my own experiences, you’re better off travelling on those only if you are confident in your Chinese.

P.P.S.Finally – driving. I would not go there myself unless I had time to take extra driving lessons specifically in Chinese traffic. So much for optimism!

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