Tianjin Train Trip: trials and celebration

I just got back from a brief trip to Tianjin to attend the high school graduation of Isaac, a student I’ve known for ages. I first met his family probably 8 years ago, but didn’t really get to know them until 5 years ago. I’ve known Isaac really well over the past few years, and he even came to the EPIC TCK Conference in Cambodia with me this January. After living in Beijing almost his whole life, Isaac did his last year of high school in Tianjin and it was thrill to go there to celebrate his graduation.

After lunch in the city with one of my girls I made my way to Beijing South train station to take the bullet train to Tianjin. As my cab pulled up I suddenly realised I didn’t have my passport with me. Tianjin is so close to Beijing it didn’t feel like *travel* and it hadn’t occurred to me to bring it, but as soon as I arrived I realised I would probably need it. Problem.

While in line to see if I could buy a ticket I remembered I had sent a copy of my passport to my Dad a week or two ago, so I downloaded it from my email onto my phone. When the ticket seller asked for my passport I showed her the picture on my phone and she said I needed my passport, or at least a photocopy, to buy a ticket. She said to try the person at window 43 to get a zhengming. 证明 is a common Chinese word for a certificate proving something, corroborated by some authority with the ubiquitous red stamp. I wasn’t sure what this would acheive but hey, nothing to lose.

Took me a while to find window 43 (on the other side of the station) and when I got there the guy took one look at me and said of course he can’t do a zhengming for a foreigner. He also lectured me on how foreigners must carry their passports at all times “you should have it with you the minute you step outside your house”. Right. Thank, very helpful. (Yes, I know this is technically true, but not exactly common practise among expats!)

When I asked what I should do he said I should go to the information desk. The girl at the information desk suggested I try the VIP Lounge (thinking they might have a printer). The girls at the VIP Lounge had no idea but their supervisor said there was a place and gave me directions that I must have misunderstood because I couldn’t find the place. I went back and she sent one of the girls with me. Now there were two of us not knowing where we were going. A tiny convenience store selling snacks and drinks (the same stuff in every other store) had the name “Business Centre” so the second time past it I went to ask and saw a copy machine in a dark alcove in the back around a corner. Turned out I couldn’t print, only copy. So I pulled up the copy on my phone and copied the whole PHONE with its display. I took 4 or 5 tries coming up with something that *might* work, and hand wrote all the pertinent information labelled in Chinese. I figured that if the person could take one look and easily find the information they needed, they were less likely to complain about it being a copy.

I made my way to a DIFFERENT bank of ticket sellers. At the counter I asked for a ticket to Tianjin and passed through my cash and new “passport copy”. She asked for my passport and I said I didn’t have it. She gave me a look, looked at the copy, looked at me again, then sighed and said “next time be sure to bring your passport” and sold me a ticket. YAY!

The photocopy of my phone that sufficed as a passport copy for buying my train ticket. Still can't totally believe it worked!

The photocopy of my phone that sufficed as a passport copy for buying my train ticket. Still can’t totally believe it worked!

There are trains to Tianjin all the time so I didn’t have to wait long, and an hour later I was in the Tianjin train station. I took a cab to the school where the graduation would be – thankfully the driver was very confident of the street, if not the school. When we got to the turn into the street, he asked whether to go left or right and I said I had no idea, and “if we guess wrong we’ll just turn around”. He laughed and chose left. As he completed the turn I saw a small sign pointing to the school and we found it quite easily.

Several other Beijing people had driven down earlier in the day, but I think only Isaac’s parents knew I was coming. Isaac certainly didn’t – and the look on his face when he noticed me standing there with the others was great! Definitely worth the trip for that alone ;)

It was a long ceremony, and different to others I’ve attended. The Beijing contingent were definitely the noisiest people in the room and Isaac got some very loud, possibly obnoxious, vocal encouragement every time he was mentioned. When we were driving out of the school afterward, we asked Isaac if we’d embarrassed him and he said no, it was good. So we spent the drive out of the school complex chanting his name, thumping on the roof of the car, threatening to take traffic cones… things of that nature. He still wasn’t embarrassed, so we started yelling out the car windows to strangers we passed, saying “ISAAC毕业了!” (Isaac’s graduated!) After a few of these incidents and Isaac was holding his head in his hands. Mission embarrassment accomplished!

With 11 of us staying the night in a 3 bedroom apartment it was quite the party – even before the champagne and delicious home made treats entered into the equation! I stayed up watching videos with the teens til nearly 2am – not sure how much longer they were up after me! And most of them were out the door at 9am. I hung out a few more hours, and before I left I printed out a more legitimate looking passport copy, which was accepted without question at the Tianjin station. I bought a ticket for the next train and by the time I walked to the departure gate it was open for boarding. I got back to the Beijing South station almost exactly 24 hours after I’d arrived there the previous afternoon.

On the train back to Beijing I paid more attention to the trip. I paid the extra 10 RMB for a “First Class” ticket, which means roomier seats with more legroom and the ability to recline. I watched the scenery (what was discernible through the thick mix of fog and smog) and read the display on speed, temperature, and other things. It was exactly 38 minutes from pulling away from the platform in Tianjin to pulling up at the platform in Beijing. The top speed was 293km/h (182mph); the total distance travelled was 120km (75 miles). The temperature dropped from 29 to 24 celcius as we made our way to Beijing (84-75 F).

When we first got underway I noticed two particular bursts of speed but other than that all the acceleration (and decceleration) was really quite smooth. We stopped at Wuqing (武清) station 14 minutes after leaving Tianjin; passengers were lined up waiting on the platform so we were only stopped for a minute. From there it only took 8 minutes to get back to top speed, and we stayed there with very little variation all the way to Beijing. We started slowing 7 minutes before arriving, taking only 4 minutes to drop from 293 to 74 km/h (182/45mph), the speed we stayed at almost the whole way into the station.

While I still certainly haven’t experienced Tianjin itself, it was a lovely 24 hour trip and I’m very glad I went. Will have to go some other time to play tourist :)

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2 thoughts on “Tianjin Train Trip: trials and celebration

  1. Pingback: The best of times AND the worst of times | Tanya's Stories

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