A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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A New Game


We had not yet taken a long distance train on our trip, so we were all looking forward to our overnight train to Beijing.

At the same time, we knew we were entering uncharted territory.  China is one of those places we couldn’t figure out how to tackle, so we decided to just plunge in.

Our train left Hung Hom train station at 3:15 pm and was due to arrive at Beijing’s West Train Station 24 hours later.

We booked a “soft sleeper” – four bunks in one compartment.  At first blush, it looked incredibly small, but once we found the storage spaces, it turned out to be quite roomy.  We settled in for the ride.

Shortly after dark, there was a knock on our compartment door.  When we opened the door, a young female train attendant seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see her.

She began speaking to us in very rapid Chinese.  We looked confused.  She repeated herself, more slowly the second time around.  I didn’t know how to tell here that it didn’t matter how slowly she spoke – none of us ever made it to Chinese class.

She pulled out what appeared to be a menu, with pictures of various dishes.  The writing on the menu was only in Chinese.  She held the menu in front of us and tried another Chinese phrase.

By now I had figured out what she was there for – to take our dinner order.  But the pictures on the menu were not particularly informative.  I had no idea what anything was.

Round and round we went for about five minutes.  It went like this: She would ask us a question in Chinese, we would shrug our shoulders and repond in English, then we would repeat the cycle again.

Finally, she pointed at two items on the menu rather insistently.  I gathered these were her recommendations.  I nodded my head and she smiled.  With our order in hand, she moved on to the next compartment.

But what had we ordered?

One of the dishes turned out to be chicken with peanuts (and not too bad, either).  We never were able to figure out what the other dish was (some kind of fish or seafood?), but it did contain broccoli.

Oh, and she brought four bowls of seaweed soup.

After dinner we laughed and braced ourselves for the week ahead.  We’d been lucky so far, getting by on either the kids’ Spanish or English everywhere we’ve been.

Now, we were playing a new game.

To our credit, we adapted quickly.  The next morning the same attendant returned with the same menu to take our breakfast order.

We were able to communicate the same order in less than half the time.


1 Simon { 04.10.09 at 3:34 am }

Hi Guys,

We found that even with a phrase book it was nigh on impossible to speak Chinese and be understood. However we did find that it was relatively successful pointing at the words or phrases in the book.

Loved the madness of China though, hope you have a great time.

Take care.
The Bowmans

2 Warren McBride { 04.10.09 at 7:15 am }

Just hope that the train attendant “takes pity” on you and brings you something that previous “westerner” liked. Sounds like you made good choices. These experiences you will look back on with fondness. We look back to Viet Nam and while on a train got our just delivered spring rolls cut in half with rusty scissors. We survived and still laugh at it. Enjoy. The photos of India look great … I look forward to your posted stories.

3 Doug Spiro { 04.10.09 at 8:06 am }

It is frustrating sometimes trying to communicate when you don’t know the language but it is also rewarding because even in Chinese you can still make friends, get help when you need it and order the Kung Pow chicken.

I am with Warren and can’t wait to hear about India!

4 Jeremy and Eva Rees { 04.10.09 at 10:24 am }

We were just pondering this problem over the past few days! We started our RTW here in Mexico, and Spanish is somewhat familiar for both of us. After a week, we were able to say enough to get pretty much everything we needed, and hand gestures made up the rest. In China, where we have no concept of the language (much less a way to look words up… another previously unexperienced problem) we can’t help but wonder how things will go!

5 marina k. villatoro { 04.10.09 at 3:59 pm }

what a great blog! What a great life. I would soooooo love this for my son. but at the moment we’re just moving to guatemala for my husband’s work. so at least i get to keep my traveling up with being an expat!
The Travel Expert(a) and an Expat with a Twist

6 ST { 04.13.09 at 5:41 am }

Craig, Loved seeing you on the Great Wall, bro! (Remembering your introductory statement about some of the things you wanted to do . . .)

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