the nameless three on a slow train to beijing

With the RMB coins from heaven, I immediately dialed the Philippine Consulate Office. That’s when I realized that it was a Saturday and there was no office. I called a hostel instead and finally got someone who can speak English. What a relief! But her guess was as good as mine, that a tourist information center here is like most elected local government politicians: USELESS.

So I sat, lit a stick and tried drawing resolution from the nicotine rushing through my brain. Until I spotted a group of young policemen a few meters away from me. I tried my luck and asked them the same single question I’ve been asking in the last two hours. But still, all I got were blank faces and gaping mouths. I tried simplifying my English up to a point that we appeared like playing charades.

I noticed an old raggedy lady staring at us like a tennis audience as her head followed whoever was talking. I pointed my finger towards the counter, when I was flabbergasted by a strong slap on my arm. The raggedy lady grabbed me and literally dragged me towards the left side of the building. I got scared by the fact that I was being hauled by an old shabby Chinese lady who was wearing a deconstructed layers of self sown jacket. I looked dumbstrucked and freaked-out as the scenes from film “Drag me to Hell” were flashing in my head. Until she uttered a word..

Youngsters!” I froze.

ME: WHAT! Did you just… Do you speak English? Can you understand what I’m saying?
LADY: No! No English… Tourist… window… (Poining at a building)

My jaw dropped with amazement as she rudely shooed me away. It felt like a scene in a Kung-fu Hustle-ish film, or a character from a Chinese Sunday theater jumped out of the screen to help me. True enough, there was a  building across the street that has counter inside for foreign tourists. I was able to book a return ticket. In a state of shock, I confabulatedly grabbed the ticket and walked away, I still couldn’t get over with what just happened.

I was still on my first day and the series of events were asphyxiating. I was drowning in whims.


It dawned on me that the price of the seat I just purchased was cheap, way too cheap. I was expecting something between RMB 300 to RMB 370 but RMB 88? Something must be seriously wrong.

I can’t wait for my first train ride. I ran and had a quick stop at a convenient store to buy a bottle of water, cookies and bread. I went straight to my train via gate 2, entered the cabin, then a horrible sight welcomed me…

I booked a hard seat.



The hard seat is the lowest form of train in China, they got the fast bullet train but you really have to book days or weeks ahead of time to get a seat or a sleeper cabin.


I was seated beside an old lady, when I arrived she immediately gave me a sweet smile and she was saying something in Mandarin. I told her that I don’t understand Chinese, I attempted : “Wo de Zhangwen jiang de bu tai hao.” Then I get the WTF?!-look once again. Maybe I mispronounced the words or whatev.


We started conversing:

ME: Hi, I’m Ron, what’s your name?
LADY: chor-chor-chor-chor-chor (don’t really understand what she’s saying so I will just substitute).
ME: Okay, I’m traveling alone… Im… going… to… Beijing…
LADY: Ooh PAI-JING. chor-chor-chor-chor-chor—CHOR?!
ME: Wait, I know you’re asking me something but I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.
LADY: chor-chor-chor-chor-chor
ME: DO—YOU—SPEAK—ENGLISH? (with hand signs this time)
ME: HAHAHA (oh Crap!)


After the next station, someone sat in front of me.  A woman  in her 30’s who got a bag-full of snacks. She opened the bag and shared it to us. I swear I was eating like it was mine. Who cares right? They started talking, it seemed like the Old lady was trying to tell her that I was this dummy backpacker who is traveling alone without a phrasebook.

Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I got the groove of listening to them as if I’m getting what they were talking about. It lasted for 3 hours, amazingly without me getting bored.

Then an old man from the other seat transferred to our table and brought some sunflower seeds to nibble. He started talking to me. I was trying to explain that I don’t speak Chinese. He pulled a paper out and started drawing, and that became our form of communication–PICTIONARY!

train4 copy

We talked about love, life, work and family, They shared their stories, I shared mine. And after 5 hours, my energy started dwindling. While watching them talk, I realized that that scenario looked so familiar and I feel strangely at home. I stood up to walk to the end of the cabin where everyone had been going to smoke. Standing from the aisle, that was when I saw the picture and figured out why it felt so familiar. That is because we were like a real family–My own real family. It’s like us: my sister, mom and my dad on a dinner table perhaps 20 years from now.

The younger lady is feisty and opinionated, just like my sister. The old Man is my dad, comforting and composed. The old lady, like my mom who is sweet and funny.

It made me contemplate and smile. Maybe that was God’s way of reminding me that I still have a family back home. I sat and fell asleep. The old lady folded her blanket on the table in front of me and offered it as pillow. I did not hesitate.

I woke up an hour before midnight. We had been traveling for twelve hours and we were still running fast across a vast hilly land somewhere in the middle of China. The train cabin drew significantly peaceful that time. I pulled out my ticket from my pocket and it said 12:10 so I thought we will be arriving in an hour. Time to start prepping up my stuff. But 12:10 passed, and the train was not showing signs of slowing down, no one was preparing to alight.

Chilly air creeped through my spine “Good Lord, please don’t tell me, that it’s 12:10 PM tomorrow…”

To cut the story short, my first train ride lasted for almost 30 hours… on a hard seat.


We arrived in Beijing mid-day. I asked them for their names but they were writing it in Chinese. We alighted and gave each other warm sad hugs. Who knows when I’m gonna see these three nameless souls again? Possibly not anymore. These three strangers gave me comfort far beyond the softest cabin bed. I experienced hard core cultural lessons and whoever they are, no matter how short our encounter had been, I will always remember them as my family on that slow train ride in the middle of China. They made the most uncomfortable journey my most memorable one.


Now I’m in Beijing, and I couldn’t find that effing shuttle I’m supposed to take… Here we go again.


This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Blogger’s Blog Carnival themed Unforgettable Human Encounters on the Road which is hosted by Marky of Nomadic Experiences. Click on the Blog Carnival Logo on the left to see more interesting posts and topics.

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  • chyng

    June 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    a priceless experience on traveling alone. ansaya!
    will wait for your next entry. Ü

  • flip'n travels

    June 25, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    chyng, true i can’t wait to do it again soon, next week probably. stay tuned! 🙂

  • Nomadic Pinoy

    June 28, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Hahaha, I’m loving the ‘lost-in-translation’ moments with your fellow passengers. They were great companions really and you had great story to tell in the end!

  • flip'n travels

    June 29, 2010 at 9:29 am

    sir dennis…

    that’s true. it’s a combination of scary, funny and amazing adventures, that train ride changed me for good.

  • nina

    July 3, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I love this entry! Great story telling Ron! 😀

  • flip'n travels

    July 4, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    thanks Nina…. more stories to come 😉

  • pinaytraveljunkie

    July 9, 2010 at 6:54 am

    I sooo miss those train rides!

  • flip'n travels

    July 12, 2010 at 5:21 am

    aw. me too!

  • lifeisacelebration

    September 19, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Lovely story, Ron. Traveling alone, anxieties and all, really forces us to touch something inside of ourselves that we never knew existed. Strangers such as the ones you met on the train struck a chord within you – and awakened something akin to pining for your family, I guess.

    Sayang, if I knew, I would have entered my blog on my misadventure in Nanjing instead. Met an accident there and I will never forget the kindness of (Chinese) strangers. But then again, maybe we need a Blog Carnival dwelling on misadventures 😉 Cheers!

  • flip'n travels

    September 20, 2011 at 4:16 am

    thanks po, yes indeed. sometimes these people made us travelers and how we see the world. they pinched my heart and left a mark, i’m never the same!

  • paul | walkflypinoy

    October 11, 2011 at 4:49 am

    really nice story. i have been to china and i must say, the language barrier is really huge. it’s difficult and most of the time frustrating. but it’s nice to know that people could still find connections in the middle of all that. great post!

  • Krizia Leones

    January 16, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    im speechless. most people say that chinese are rude specially when foreigners start asking them for directions or whatever, but this proved me wrong.. made me excited to go there:) I love your blog btw really inspiring and entertaining. 😀

  • flipntravels

    January 18, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Thanks Kriza! Yes, I had the same notion too. But they are really nice, they may sound rude but that’s how they speak. I know we see china as the bully bit, but i hope people will not judge its people because that’s just wrong. agree? 😀

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