I woke up crazy early to catch the morning train outta Lanzhou. This was going to be my first time (of many) navigating the China train system and I wasnt 100% sure what to expect. The Chinese railway is pretty amazing. There are a ton of routes all over China and a lot of them have high speed trains, some of them going up to 200mph. Again, this is another area where i wonder… why the hell is the US so far behind? Our public transportation is horrible and we have so few routes. The fact that you cant even take Bart from SF to one of the nearest big cities, San Jose, is ridiculous.
Luckily for non-Mandarin speakers like me, there a few websites here where you can buy train tickets online. This is a lifesaver as you need to specify which cities you are traveling between, figure out what times are available, choose a seat type (they have 5 different types ranging from standing room only, to hard seats, to sleeper bunks), and then check availability for each of your choices. Often times i had to navigate this process like 20 times, checking different possible routes, and various options till i found the perfect one. There is no way in hell i could have done this in person when nobody speaks English.
Once you have a ticket, this is only step one in the process. You need to go to the station and pick up your ticket. If you have a Chinese ID, you can use self-serve automated machines, but otherwise you need to queue up at a teller. I get to the station with about an hour to spare, and almost immediately realize that i am screwed. The lines are crazy long and the station is absolutely chaos. It’s a struggle for me to even figure out what line to go in as some lines are for refunds only. I get in a long ass line and slowly wait for it to move. Time is ticking. And ticking. I am starting to panic. Finally I get to the front w/ only minutes to spare. I pick up my ticket, but i still need to find my platform. I look at the display (photo below) of trains and it’s a huge struggle to figure out where to go.
Of course, i miss my train. Now i need to get in a new line to exchange my ticket. There is even more chaos here because everyone who is in this line trying to get an exchange is pissed off and yelling. Eventually, when i am almost at the front, the line closes and now i have to change to another line, starting over again. 10 minutes later, the first line reopens, and once again i am screwed. i miss the next train and the one after it as well. I am obviously pissed at this point, but eventually i get a ticket on the noon train. Good thing i got up at 7am for this.
I haver a little time to kill now. Everyone you ask has nothing good to say about the town i’m in (Lanzhou).. but there is one that it is famous for and that is LaMian, the beef noodles. As i mentioned, this is a Muslim area, so not much pork here, and they make these amazing hand pulled noodles with a spicy beef soup. Seriously, literally every single person that i told that i was coming here, said “ohhh. yes… the beef noodles”. They are *that* famous. These days, you can find LaMian all over China, but everyone says that its not nearly as good as if you get it from this town. Anyways, with a little time to kill, i got to try these world famous noodles. And they were *fantastic*. The texture of hand pulled noodles is so perfectly chewy, and the spicy broth was so damn good. In the end, missing all those trains turned out to be a good thing. Also, for those back home, coincidentally, just a month ago the Sf Chronicle had an article about a new place that opened up in the bay area that actually has a good rendition of these special noodles (in Fremont). Check it out!
Eventually, I was able take my train…