On the train to Suzhou, I had met a girl who was travelling to Tianjin; an hour away from Beijing.
I had one more card to play.
"The train to Suzhou in the morning. Number 124, I believe. Does that go to Tianjin?"
"Yes, and it is one hour away from Beijing."
She had the look of an outplayed poker player.
"Do you have a hard-sleeper to Tianjin then, please?"
Someone else came in with a ticket request and was given a pink ticket-reservation form to fill in.
The phone rang, and she shouted into it. It was going to be more than a quick brush-off, so she motioned for me to wait.
When we had the office to ourselves again, I finally secured a ticket to a town an hour away from Beijing. And after all my troubles, at a local price.