high. Timing must be carefully orchestrated, since train tickets can be purchased only a few days before departure.
Train accommodations are of two types: soft and hard class. Within each, you can choose seats or sleeping berths. For long or overnight journeys, soft-class sleeping compartments have four berths with comfortable padded mattresses, a small table, doilies, pillows, a thermos of hot water, an overhead fan, and an overhead luggage compartment. Your traveling companions are likely to be Chinese officials on business, Chinese entrepreneurs, or other visiting foreigners. Many people from Taiwan are now visiting China and traveling by train.
Hard-class compartments have wooden benches for seats and thinly padded berths for sleepers. The berths are not enclosed and are stacked three high. Prices for berths depend on the level, with the lowest berth being the most expensive. Hard-class tickets do not guarantee a seat, and many a traveler has sat out a long journey in the dining car-or stood for lack of a seat. Some foreigners enjoy the lively atmosphere of the hard-class sections, where they are often the main amusement for their fellow travelers; others prefer a more sedate ride.
Train food varies in quality. About two hours before mealtime, a service person will ask each foreign traveler about their dinner plans and will offer two or more grades (biaozhun) of food starting at about Y20 for four or five dishes. Experienced travelers say that there is no discernible difference in the amount or quality of the food in different grades and suggest taking the lowest biaozhun. If you are on a route with less palatable food, you can still eat reasonably well by mixing a vegetable dish together with rice for improvised "fried rice." Or you can skip the arranged fare altogether and order a noodle dish for half the price or even the cheaper boxes of hot rice and vegetables that Chinese passengers often favor. Another option is to purchase food from platform vendors at scheduled train stops. Most passengers carry a wide assortment of food (from watermelons to peanuts) to be consumed along the way. Tea bags can be purchased on the train. Often there will be no English-speaking personnel, which can be a problem for foreigners when ordering dinner. If you do not speak Chinese, you might want to take a supply of nonperishable foods.
Plan to carry your luggage with you on the train and make certain that your bags are locked. A number of travelers have reported items missing from outside pockets of luggage upon arrival at their destination. On some train routes (especially hard berth sections) security personnel may quietly ask foreigners not to associate closely with certain people they believe are undesirable; some foreigners have been set up by con men (and women) on trains.
Teachers and research scholars (or anyone of senior status) are expected to travel as tourists and pay tourist prices. Some U.S. researchers