Thursday, April 19, 2012

How To Read a Chinese Train Ticket

If you're among the 4/5 of the world's population for whom Chinese is not your native language (and, frankly, if you reading this, I think it's safe to assume that you are), then independent travel in China might seem like a daunting prospect. To you I say, "take heart!" Though it is admittedly easier to travel in China if you know at least a handful of Chinese words, it is possible to get by without any Chinese language skills. When it comes to communication, a series of gestures and pointing can usually get you the basic necessities. As for reading, you won't often find yourself in a position where you have to read important information in Chinese. Most of the time the inscrutable Chinese characters you see are not vital to your well-being, and if they are there is usually an English translation. One exception to this rule is train tickets. Your life will be much easier if you can decipher the information on your ticket. That being the case, I thought it might be useful to provide this short guide to the parts of a Chinese train ticket. Here's a picture of a ticket with different parts numbered for explanation below.

  1. This is the origin city for your train ride. Tickets always include the Chinese characters and the pinyin.
  2. This is the destination city. Again, you will always have the city name in Chinese and pinyin. A tip: if you have a guidebook or something else that lists the Chinese characters of your destination city, it's worth double-checking your ticket after you buy it to be sure you are going to the right city. Some city names sound very similar, or even have the same pinyin, and it's better to find out you have the wrong ticket before you leave rather than finding out upon arrival. One other note: big cities often have several train stations servicing them. The different stations are typically distinguished from one another with one of the cardinal directions. In Chinese, these words are Bei (北) (North), Nan (南) (South), Xi (西) (West), and Dong (东) (East). On the sample ticket above, you can see that my destination was Shanghai Nan, or Shanghai South Station. This is a good thing to be aware of when you are buying and reading your ticket.
  3. This is your train number.
  4. This is the date and time of your departure. The sample ticket says: 2012年04月08日 17:09开. You're a smart person and can figure this out on your own, I'm sure, but 年 means "year," 月 means "month," 日 means "day," and 开 means "start." My train above left on April 8, 2012, at 5:09 p.m. (actually, it ended up leaving about twenty minutes behind schedule, but that's beside the point). All tickets use the year-month-date format, and use a 24-hour clock for departure times. 
  5. This is your carriage and seat number. My ticket above says: 14车 107号. 车 means "car" and 号 means "number." So, in this case, I needed to find seat number 107 in carriage number 14. Easy enough, yes? If you have a ticket for a bed on the train, this section of the ticket will also tell you which bunk you are assigned to. It will either say 上 (upper), 中 (middle), or 下 (lower). In that situation, the 号 number will indicate which column of beds your bunk is in. 
  6. This is the price you paid for your ticket. If you booked through a ticket agency or a ticket office outside of the station, you will have paid a service fee on top of this price. 
  7. This is your name and/or passport number.
  8. This tells you where you bought the ticket. In the example above, I bought the ticket at the Yiwu (义乌) train station.
  9. This gives you information about the carriage you'll be in. The ticket above roughly says that my car is a hard-seat car with air conditioning.
  10. This tells you what days it's okay to use your ticket. The above ticket (and, to be honest, every ticket I ever got in China) says that it can only be used on the date shown on the ticket. Apparently you can sometimes buy tickets that can be used any time within a certain window, but I never came across that as an option so I can't say much about it.
  11. Most tickets don't have this, but if they do it's worth paying attention to because it's important. This tells you which entrance you should enter the station by. In the example above, it says I should enter from the South Square. Most stations either only have one entrance or have multiple entrances that all get you to the same place. Here and there, though, a station has multiple entrances that lead you to different places, so it's important to enter from the correct entrance.

And that's about it. So long as you know what your ticket says, you should have no trouble navigating China's excellent train system. Happy traveling, friends.


Shanghai Travel Guide said...

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