Bulldozed by Drink Carts: And other stories from my trip to China


Summer 2010

My friend Ray from university and I had decided we were going to take on Beijing and then Shanghai. Well, actually, we were going to try for Xi’an in between to see the Terracotta Warriors, but learned a hard lesson in careful planning….. and all flights/trains were sold out for our time-frame.

I arrived in Beijing about 12 hours after Ray and for the first time had to navigate my way from an international airport to my accommodations – alone – and in a non-English speaking country. Thanks to his detailed directions, I made it just fine!

Posing with our prizes for making it to the top!

Posing with our prizes for making it to the top!

[NOTE: that this was also my first hostel experience! I had been in Korea for about 6 months at this point, but had not yet had the occasion to use a hostel.]

We had several hot, dehydrated, and culturally stimulating days in Beijing. You know that brand of dehydration where you’re so hot and uncomfortable that you don’t feel like drinking water and completely lose your appetite? Each day, we ran off a solid hostel breakfast and then relied on Coca-Cola and small bits of street food for sustenance for the remainder of the day. Our Beijing diet didn’t really set us up well for our day trip to the Great Wall. On the way up (he was running, I was struggling) we sang “Be A Man” – because why wouldn’t we?! (and… not to brag… but we got personalized metals at the top)

When we were trying to plot our next destination, we realized quickly that Xi’an was not going to happen. Whoops. We figured flying straight to Shanghi was our only option, so we hopped on the free hostel computer and booked th…. HOLYMOTHEROFMOTHER!! The fights were outrageously expensive. Fast train? EW.NO. Overnight 14-hour chug-a-long train for like $20? Sure, why not…

Here’s what transpired:

  • We packed up and walked to the Beijing Station, walked in and realized we had made a pretty big mistake not getting there earlier.
  • Waited in an epic line and then picked up the tickets.
  • Gave weird look to people carrying these silly mini-stools. Like, why would you ever want to tote those around?
  • Stepped into our “standing room only” car and realized immediately why people had the stools: the options were stand or sit on the ground (actual seats existed, but not for us…)
  • Some man offered me his little stool, so I had that to perch on for a bit.
  • Endured for a while. Then things got more interesting….

We had opted for the “head under one row / feet under the other” positioning, with our torsos basically mid aisle. I was able to get a pretty decent snooze on until I heard rustling near the end of the train car. I ignored it, assuming it was just passengers getting ready for their stop. Much to my dismay, when I removed my hoodie from my face (I was wearing it backwards to maximize face coverage), I saw an irritated lady looking down at us from behind a drink/snack cart. In what universe is it a good idea to roll a drink cart through a standing-room-only train car?! We begrudgingly moved from our makeshift beds and then immediately returned to sleeping position after she went past.

About 45 minutes and just before the last stop before Shanghai, a woman took pity on us and swapped spots so we wouldn’t be ambushed by the other people waiting for seats (or the other people about to get onto the train!).

Got off the train and bee-lined for the bathroom. I have never been so happy to wash my face.

TL:DR = Transit in China needs to be planned/booked in advance or else you’ll wind up sitting/laying on the floor of a train for 14+ hours.

Other interesting things that happened in China:

  • Chinese teenage boys got a good laugh courtesy of yours-truly. Let’s just say I did make it up the Great Wall….. but juuuust barely.
  • I haggled for the first time!
  • In Shanghai, we were caught in a monsoon so intense we needed to buy entirely new outfits. AND my contact lens very nearly floated out of my eye.
  • After nearly 6 months being open, the security at the Shanghai World Expo was —utterly perplexed– by Ray’s epipen. So canmuch so, that they radioed the medic and even they were confused. He ended up having to sign it in but it was a pretty interesting ordeal.
  • A friend from high school was living in Beijing, so we were able to go to an expat party and see what an apartment in China looks like.
  • We saw how silk was made and proudly announced to our tour group that we had both eaten silkworms. NBD. I bought a pillow that can be unzipped and turned into a blanket… and I love it just as much as the day I bought it and lovingly crammed it into my backpack to bring back to Korea ❤ 


  • What cool and interesting stories did you bring home from China?
  • Have you experienced a super long bus or train ride? Where were you?
  • Where is the strangest place you’ve slept?


Posted in Asia, Budget Travel, Story, Travel and tagged , , , , .


  1. I had a similar experience in Sri Lanka trains. We got on a 2nd class one but it was all full, barely any space to even move. Then a bunch of sellers came through…giving us looks. Like seriously, do you see any space for me to move?

    Great story btw but what’s travel without some misadventures. I’m open to them but not too many…

  2. I was only in Beijing for a stopover and I spent the majority time lost, so my visit was definitely a whirlwind. I want to revisit China, your experience sounds hilariously memorable. How do you like hostels now?

  3. I found the little stools really funny and also a good lesson that when you don’t know better, you’ll have to learn really quickly. Oh and being caught in the monsoon, these are what trips are made of!

  4. What an experience! We’ve been to China some 12 years ago and from your story I understand that little has changed since then. I assume it became even more chaotic with more local people traveling around nowadays.
    I liked China from a cultural perspective (it’s just so different that any other nation and there’s so much history and tradition), but I could never get used to the crowds there. But that’s what traveling is (also) about, dealing with all the locals and their strange habits. 🙂

  5. Sounds like a fun trip with lots of laughs! 🙂 I haven’t stayed at a hostel before either. It must have been quite an experience if you aren’t used to it!

  6. Wow!! And I thought I had lived through some uncomfortable train adventures. Given you many props for being so cheerful and ready to go after spending the better part of 14 hours on the floor of a train. And I’ll definitely try to make advanced reservations for transport in China now. 🙂 Also, double bonus points for making it up the Great Wall. I’d like to believe that I would be able to do it, but I have a feeling it would be a struggle.

    • I think it was after this trip that I started saying: “If its not going to be good, I better get a good story out of it!” haha – that makes it a win-win!

  7. I have contact lenses, and I’m sitting here thinking HOW could they possibly float out of your eye… that had to be a TON of water! Hard to imagine how great a monsoon is without experiencing it! Sounds like you had a crazy trip haha

    • Haha the lens thing was pretty jarring at first.. like, “how is this even happening?!” Mine are weighted at the bottom so if they shift around it almost feels like the world is ending lol

  8. What an interesting read! I have not left a single word unread. I have not been to China, but it is in our list for years now. You have written that “stool experience” nicely. I could not stop laughing. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  9. Looks like a great trip with lots of interesting experiences in China! I’ve seen silkworms before but never dared to try them. You’re so brave 😀

  10. Oh no that doesn’t sound fun at all! I just took an overnight bus/train ride from Rome to Ljubljana but it doesn’t sound half as bad as your experience 🙁 But lessons learned and great tip on pre-booking your trips in China. And you ate silkworm??? Um… what did it taste like?? (ick!)

    • It wasn’t super fun, but at least I got a cool story out of it! Silkworms are… vile. I actually tried them in Korea – they’re street food and in my first few months I went out with the other new expats and someone bought them and was feeding them to everyone. Super nutritious and full of protein, but not the snack for me lol

  11. Haha this cracked me up!! I think that China is pretty unique when it comes to “puzzled face” stories, I am very impressed that you survived the train. I booked our flights around months in advance and they were still astonomical. They just don’t have cheap internal flights.

  12. Train travel in Europe is AMAZING! Train travel in the US is decent, but expensive. An overnight train in China? Hmmmm probably not even if you paid me! Sorry you had such an uncomfortable experience, but at least it makes for a great story!

  13. Omg! I was in china earlier this year, it was also the first time I had to get from an airport to accommodation on my own with a language barrier (Booking.com sent me the address in Chinese which I just screenshotted!) And it was my first hostel experience. China is incredible and I loved it so much but it was madness
    Luckily, my friend had been living there for a year already so was clued up about the trains. All our travel was booked about a month in advance (high speed trains at that!) Without her I would have been an absolute mess! haa
    Sounds like you had an amazing trip anyway!

  14. Pingback: 10 Asian Destinations I Loved (Plus 3 I Didn't) - The Budget Backpack

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