Hong Kong to Beijing train: Riding in different worlds

Hong Kong to Beijing train: Riding in different worlds

By: Jim Gaylord

By: Jim Gaylord

By: Jim Gaylord

I lived in Urbana until age 13 and recently moved back at age 69. One of my favorite trips was one my wife, daughter and I made last year from Hong Kong to Beijing by train.

U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong. Hong Kong is what the Chinese call a special administrative region. The Chinese say of Hong Kong, "one country, two systems," and consider it part of China.

Despite what they say, Hong Kong is not like mainland China. Political expression in Hong Kong is much more open.

People pass out anti-communist leaflets on the street and the supporters of Falun Gong (a religious group the Chinese have labeled a "cult") pass out literature all over Hong Kong. In addition, each June thousands of people in Hong Kong commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989.

These sorts of things would not happen in mainland China. U.S. citizens who want to travel to mainland China must obtain visas. That is very easy to do. The cost of a mainland China visa is about $140 and takes a day. We took the "international train," which has three sections: deluxe soft sleeper, soft sleeper and hard sleeper.

The deluxe soft sleeper is a single compartment, for two people, with a sliding door that can be closed and locked, on a train car with only eight compartments. Each compartment contains an airplane-style toilet with wash basin and armchair on one side of the compartment and over and under beds on the other.

In addition, there is a small table, two TVs, a radio and laptop and phone recharger connections in each compartment. Each compartment also has a picture window. The car with deluxe sleepers is also right next to the dining car.

Each ticket in the deluxe sleepers costs about $158. The soft sleepers are compartments with a sliding door and four beds in each. There are two toilets that are shared in the soft sleeper cars. Each ticket in the soft sleeper costs about $108.

In the hard sleeper compartments, there are six beds and no doors separating the compartment from the corridor. Each hard sleeper car has two toilets and a small compartment with wash basins. Tickets in the hard sleeper compartments cost about $58, depending on whether the bed is a lower, middle or upper.

We chose to ride in a deluxe soft sleeper compartment even though there were three of us. My wife and I purchased two deluxe tickets and our daughter purchased one hard sleeper ticket.

As soon as the tickets were checked, our daughter moved from her car to our private compartment, where she remained the rest of the trip. Plenty of room for her.

The train left Hong Kong at 3 p.m., which gave us a chance to see the countryside and its people as we rode through south China. The ride lasted 24 hours.

Beijing Western, the largest train station in Asia, was packed with people when we arrived. We were well-rested and ready to see Beijing.

Jim Gaylord, who grew up in Urbana, taught law, economics and business at several large Chinese universities from 2005 to 2009. He now lives in Orchard Downs in Urbana. Their 17-year-old daughter is a freshman at the University of Illinois.

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