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Tuesday, 09 March 2010

Living Abroad

By Johna Ferguson

One expects life to be different in other countries but I am always amazed at some of the small differences. Take international airports. I am only talking about three in this case: Sea/Tac, Narita, Japan and Beijing, China.

At Sea/Tac, you often walk long, long distances to get to and from your gates but at both Narita and Beijing they have moving walkways everywhere. At Sea/Tac after you pick-up your baggage there are no free carts available for you to get that luggage to the bus, a taxi or your car while the other two airports offer free carts for your use.

Then there are the trains, well at least in China, for I haven’t ridden them in other countries including the states.

Tickets are sold just for one-way trips. Once you get to your destination you buy one for your return trip. There are three classes of tickets, the first is hard seat, the second is hard sleeper and the third is soft sleeper.

In hard seat, that is just what you get, a bench sometimes padded and a table to put your food etc. on. It’s cheap, but often the only way students can travel, even on long distance rides. They just put their heads down on their arms on the table and sleep.

In hard sleeper you get a bunk of your own, but in a cubicle with five other bunks, stacked three tiers on each side of an aisle which is then open to another aisle running the length of the car. There is no privacy, but everyone is used to it so they strip down to their long-johns and sleep in them under the quilt each bunk is given.

Actually this is my favorite style for now, there is no smoking in any of the cars. You meets lots of interesting people this way, but I only like it if I can get the bottom bunk for the top one is a real climb up, almost like being squashed against the roof of the car.

The third class is soft sleeper. There are only four people in a cubicle, two bunks on each side and there is a sliding door to shut out the curious people. But with my claustrophobia, I have to make sure the others in the room don’t mind leaving the sliding door open a crack all the time.

In all three types of cars there are bathrooms, squat style at each end of the car but be prepared to get your bottom frozen off in winter, as the toilet is open to the tracks below, the effluent doesn’t go into a holding tank. This means that when you are near cities, the bathrooms are locked, so you must plan according to your needs.

Another thing is there are no red-caps to help you. We had three big bags on our trip and in Beijing our check-in gate was on the 2nd floor, but we couldn’t manage the bags on the escalator. We finally found an elevator, but it wasn’t working. My husband went to find someone to make it work. Seems it was locked, for what reason no seemed to know.

After we got up to the 2nd floor, then we had to, once our gate opened, go down two long flights of stairs. I couldn’t carry any of the bags and we couldn’t leave any unattended for fear they would be taken, so what to do. Finally my husband found a fellow man traveler willing to help him carry down with the bags, otherwise maybe we’d miss the train. I guess they don't take wheel chair travelers.

At the other end our friends met us and came on board to help with the bags until we found a taxi outside the station to take us to our home. I breathed a sigh of relief to finally have made it to Qingdao, but then I know there will be a repeat when we again head back to Seattle, but for now I won’t think about that.

But a big smile was brought to my face when I made my morning toast. It is a Panda brand toaster and of course, the toast, when it pops up, has a picture of a panda’s head on one side of each piece; the darker the toast, the whiter the panda’s face. Oh what will they think of next?

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Very interesting, nice to know how others do things..wouldn't you think in China there would have been so many people available, if only for tips, or is it way to keep them from interacting with tourists from the tipping thing to just regular contact..when I was in Russia before detente, the Russian people could not even enter our hotel (or any other)..if you wanted to meet someone or have them come in and meet for lunch, etc...it was strictly forbidden..our guide told us is was to keep the interaction to a minimum, e.g., meeting on the street..That all changed with detente..Love your descriptions of accommodations, etc..great writing, Mary Follett


Who needs Arthur Frommer when we have you?

Great writing..Nice descriptions..

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