I almost didn’t make it.
It was hot and humid in early morning July. The taxi cabs were lined up bumper to bumper around the station and everyone seemed to be in a rush to go somewhere, although no one was quite sure where that place was exactly.
No matter how many times I go to train stations in Beijing, they always seem to confuse the heck out of me. In other cities it’s more streamlined and there are less people. But in Beijing, for one reason or another, it’s always a zoo.
Having bought my ticket to Wuhan on the C-Trip app, I still needed to pick it up at Beijing West Station. First, I tried to use the self service station, but that machine required using a shenfenzheng (身份证), or Chinese ID card.
In a rush I asked a few different shop attendants where I could pick up the ticket. They all gave different answers. Eventually I figured out that I needed to go into the station and stand in one of the lines that oozed out like an ice cream cone in the sun.
The first line moved quickly and I was relieved. I checked my phone, and saw that I would still have time to grab a coffee and something quick for breakfast before departure. Perfect.
Abruptly the line began to thin. Soon I reached the front, only to find out that the attendant was closing the register. Apparently she had been working all night.
I moved onto the next line. This time deciding upon one that read “English Service” above the register.
About halfway into the line I began to hear yelling. Men who were slightly bigger than the others were throwing their voices around in hopes that they could either rush to the front or speed up the already stressed out cashier.
A moment later one of the men appeared in my vision above the crowd, crouching on a metal bar in front of the cashier’s station where a rotating gate stemmed the surge of passengers who pushed each other from behind. Like some sort of line-cutting troll he shoved his ID card under the window and demanded his ticket.
A moment later, another a man who had cut the line was walking away when he got into a shouting and shoving altercation with a man standing in the line that he had cut. They raised their voices and puffed out their chests, cursing each other.
Ultimately the man walked away, throwing insults over his shoulder as the other stood fuming in position at the center of the line.
And yet still we waited, and waited. I checked my phone and realized now that the gap between me boarding the train and it departing was becoming narrower and narrower. Fending off a few more old men trying to cut the line and passing through the steel gates, I managed to pick up both departure and return tickets for an extra five RMB.
Outside, I began to hurry. I now had to find a way to enter into the station, but the heat and crowds of people befuddled my head. Eventually I made my way to another set of turnstiles between the crowd and train platforms.
At the final set of turnstiles, I realized that I again needed a Chinese ID card to pass through. Pleading with the guard to let me jump over the gates as I was in danger of missing my train, she smiled and shook her head.
So, out of time and luck, I made my way as if I was to go back out of the line, but then casually ducked under a red rope to the side of the turnstiles.
Rushing through the final security check, grabbing two meat pies and a bottle of water, the attendant looked at my ticket and urged me to hurry onto the platform before my train departed. I dashed away towards the incorrect cabin, but a cabin nonetheless, and onto the train leaving for Wuhan.
Had I not ducked under the red rope, I would have missed my train and had to return to the line and exchange tickets. A task that would have cost me another hour, minimum, and further exposed myself to the not-to-be-taken-lightly early morning summer sweat.