If you lived in China for a while or you have been travelling here with out much planning beforehand, you might know this situation. You have holidays and you want to see a bit of China. The bad thing is that Chinese usually have holidays at the same time. You might not have thought about it, but once you arrive at the train station and see all these people trying to get a ticket mainly to their home towns, you realize: ‘Shit, I should have planned my journey much more in advance.’ But sometimes things go like this and instead of lying on a bed or passing the journey quickly in one of those expensive bullet trains,you find your self on a hard seat surrounded by people. Some of them are even less lucky than you because they did not even get a seat so they have to pass a 25 hour journey somehow in the corridor. This might actually not be so bad, if you do not mind sitting on the ground. But hard seater, cheap tickets also mean a lot of advertisement. Like it is usually the case with Internetservices. If you want to have the service without advertisement, you got to pay extra. So in the hard seater trains you will have people coming around trying to sell you something at least every half an hour.
Mainly it is somebody pushing a trolley with snacks and drinks or an other with fruits. But some sell annoying blinking noisy toys. And they keep demonstrating and showing them till somebody buys one. An other favourite article are nail clippers and batteries to recharge your phone. In the evening they bring dinner and in the morning they sell toothpaste.
So there is no chance for you to sit down if you do not have a seat because every once in a while somebody will ask you to clear the way.
The seats are so uncomfortable, that it is really difficult to find a position in which you can sleep. Maybe, if you are lucky, at the end of the journey some seats will be free, you have some more space and you can sleep for a while. But then again somebody comes trying to sell you something.
The good thing about a hard seater train is that you are actually forced to pay attention to the environment. When we went to the south we hardly saw anything, because we were just sleeping in our beds. But in a seater train, if you do not find somebody around you to have a nice conversation with, the best thing is to observe the scenery.
And an other thing is, that of course a fast train is much more comfortable. But you also get to experience this part of Chinese society. The hard seater train connects you with the simple people of China, who do not have the money to get more expensive tickets. Which might be annoying in some moments because a lot of them looked at us like an alien, because they probably never saw a foreigner before. But at the same time it is nice to see how friendly, interested and helpful they can be.
I think to get a deeper impression of China travelling in a hard seater train around the Chinese New Year is probably one of the best things you can do. It is tuff but educative.