Purchasing train tickets to Suzhou directly was nearly impossible. I guess train ticket demand was extremely high since it was New Year's Eve. If we had only known, we would have made the reservation as early as possible. Anyway, we got our one-way ticket only (Hard seat on T-Class Super Fast Train, which cost 22 Yuan per person with hotel service charge) at Sofitel Shanghai Hyland Hotel where we stayed. For our return trip, the hotel staff advised us to get it directly at Suzhou train station as there were no available seats already in Shanghai. We were really quite disappointed by our inability to book on the "D Bullet Train".
As we walked towards the train departure hall at Shanghai Railway Station (there are several numbered departure halls and you have to look for your hall number shown on a large screen of the hall's entrance), we could see the area was teeming with people and several rows of seats (there is one row and a ticket check gate for every train). Each has a number of schedule boards providing timely information on the trains number and time. We arrived early and had to wait for our boarding, which is normally 20 minutes before departure.
Nature calls. I looked for the public restroom and found it on the left side of the hall next to the entrance. I was a bit apprehensive as there was only one door and no female / male signs attached. Mostly men were coming and going as I trudged to the door. I peeked and fortunately I saw women inside the room. The layout of the restroom was a bit unusual. The strangest among this is the washroom facility (though not of the finest quality but pretty acceptable), which is an open area for both genders.
(warning! possible gross out factor here)
I walked into the ladies room and the element of surprise welcomed me. All the doors of cubicles were not locked and some doors were even widely OPEN and very much OCCUPIED. I could see women squatting down and doing their "business", exposing themselves without any qualms to strangers. Brushing aside the alarming scene, I still went to look for a vacant toilet. I found one but the sight of the overflowing fecal matter and pee spot smeared on the squat toilet were too much to bear. Plus the stench that would really make me vomit had already started to get to my nasal passages. (Please excuse for my rather detailed description.) So I decided to BACK OFF.
I couldn't believe what I was witnessing until I had flashbacks from my previous experiences. Oh yes, I remember the public restrooms in the old "Hutong area" of Beijing and one of the department stores in Shanghai Nanjing Road are very much the same. Whew, I found some of these public latrines in China to be disturbing and utterly dismal location. For whatever reason, most of the Mainlanders (NOT ALL, I have to clarify this as I might be misunderstood), these are Chinese people who live and were born in the native provinces of mainland China who seem to be less expose to proper toilet etiquette. Anyway, having said all this, I truly don't mean any malice. I hope you'll agree with me that as a "TRAVELER" we do have to keep an open mind to help us embrace the "out of the ordinary", the smelly, and the frustrating scenes that we encounter when we travel.
Time passed quickly, and before we knew it the station announced the boarding. We simply followed the main stream of people but I wasn't really fully prepared to join long queues and suffer the crowd of locals who simply stormed their way through the gate as if everyone were all in a RUSH. I don't know why but this is quite a common sight in the Train Departure Hall and politeness is virtually nonexistent.
We crammed ourselves onto a crowded "T Train" carriage and soon we found the hard seat section. It's a five-seat on a row (two and three on each side of the aisle). The seats have practically the same features but a bit small and packed against each other compared to SOFT SEAT on D Train.
Hard Seats on T Train Super Fast Train
Nevertheless, the hard seat is also upholstered and pretty comfy for a short journey. We had short stopovers in small places while a few passengers alighted and new passengers boarded. Regrettably, I never really had a perfect photo session of the train as I was seated right next to a stranger. HB was on the other side of the row.
As soon as we arrived at the Suzhou Railway Station, we went first to the ticketing office which is located outside the main terminal, farthest to the left.
Good thing we were able to buy our return trip ticket (22 Yuan per person) on the same day to Shanghai.