Tuesday, May 18, 2010

China Hates You AND The Temple of Heaven

Today I had to buy my train ticket.

This seems like it should be a simple procedure. Not something that would make me want to rip out my hair in rage. And yet...

So there I was, headed off to the train station. Getting above ground, I was good and ready to grab my ticket, and then head on with the rest of my day. It shouldn't be too hard to secure a seat on a train, right? I mean, I was at the station and everything. It should be easy-peasy. But no. This is China. This – is – China.

My video, which will make its way up to youtube at some point, really gets to the point. I believe I say things along the like of, “that's it – I'm out. Screw this country. I just want to leave and never come back!” And this was truly felt rage. Now sure, I was still smarting from my entry into this country late at night, and my feelings about the taxi driver. But never mind that, for now I was booking my ticket out of the city. And what could be sweeter?

Book a ticket. Book a ticket. Where does one go to book a ticket? I walked into the station, scanning my pack for security reasons once more, and then looked for a ticket office. Ticket office. The internet said it was through the soft seat waiting area. But no, I went in there – nothing. I went into another – nothing. There was no place to book tickets. Well let us head upstairs shall we? Ahh! A ticket office! And... there was no one in it. It was one small room that resembled more of a janitors closet, complete with that dented floor and the drain in the middle, more than a ticket office. But the sign?

As I left someone, seeing their error, came over and locked the door. Great. Good. That's it. I want out. I want to go to a hotel, pay them premium, and just book my seat out.

The wonderful thing about China is that you can not book tickets over the internet, and just for fun, you can't book tickets departing from any city other than the one you are currently in. Some places let you do a round trip ticket, but that's it.

So even if I did manage to get my ticket from Beijing to Xi'an, I couldn't book my Xi'an to Shanghai ticket. That would just be too easy.

So, frustrated, I walked back to the front of the station, passing large sign reading “Information Counter.” Now, I will point out that it read that in English. In English! Does anyone speak English there? No, of course not. That would just be too easy. They just lure you in with their sign, tricking you, giving you false hope.

Ugh – time for McDonald's to help quell the fury inside (I was hungry. It does tend to make me less than joyful. Walking up to the counter I tried to figure out how to explain my order – there was no pointing menu. Just as I was about to bail in fear, “What would you like sir?”

Really? Really?! “What would you like sir?” They have English speaking employees at McDonald's, but at the information counter they do not?! This is something you'll find in China. Everyone who speaks English can be found working fast food. It's like in Cuba – the people working resorts speak five languages. With skills like that back home you'd make huge money – and be in demand everywhere. Here? McDonald's.

I was stunned. Flabbergasted. Scared. I turned and walked away. No food just yet. Focus on the tickets. Get that train ticket.

As I left the station I saw that they were being sold outside. Of course they were.

In about thirty seconds, showing my card I wrote the train number, date, and Chinese characters for Beijing to Xi'an on, I had my ticket. It was soft sleeper only – apparently the hard sleeper and seats were sold out – but that was fine. A little pricey, but I had my exit secured! I was out of here!

Well I would be out of here. For now? Temple of Heaven.

Getting back on the subway I tried to figure out how to get there. The travel guide I had was great for pretty pictures and information, but as far as getting from point a to point b? It's less easy. I mean giving the metro station would just be too easy, so they give you a useless street address. Do they have a map they mark it on in the book? Nope.

China frustration is rising, rising, rising!

Showing a picture of the temple, and a subway map, to one of the Chinese information people go me straightened out, and then up out of the correct exit I went. There were no signs pointing out Temple of Heaven though. There was, however, an Aussie running like mad to find it. He went off one way, and I thought about following him – but was distracted by a group of four Americans walking the other way. I asked them in they knew where the Temple was, and while they did not, they knew that it was definitely not in the direction to Aussie ran.

Joining up with them I made my way to the temple, and into the park. They turned out to be some good folks, but when we reached the temple they opted to save the two bucks and not go inside. I was not ready to make that sacrifice, so bidding them good-bye (right when a delightful conversation about Lord of the Rings was starting) I headed in to see the temple.

The sky was blue, and so my pictures turned out nice. It was very pretty. We'll leave it at that. I'm not sure why I was there, or what I was meant to think or care about – apparently some famous woman killed herself there at one point? This is an unsubstantiated rumour.

The park itself offered a lot of places to explore, but as they all cost additional money to see, I stayed away. I looked, I saw, I peeked through cracks in giant doors, and then I made my way out. That was the temple for me. I started to calm more – it was a nice day, after all, and then... then nothing. I headed back.

Getting back, though, I did not simply rest. I was asked if I wanted to head out to the Apple store and poke around there, by my host. And – while I thought about being lazy and doing nothing... well nothing interesting happens indoors, so off I went.

The Apple store was in an area called The Village. There were a number of different shops there and a lovely fountain with water jets shooting out of the ground. While this is normally the type of thing that you'd see little kids playing around in, here there was a business man dressed to the nines, jumping and doing flying kicks through the jets as his buddy took pictures.

It was a wonderfully surreal moment.

In the Apple Store, I checked out the various games they had on the iPods, which has become somewhat of a standard for me, and fell into a game called Sally's salon. I don't want to talk about it. But it did capture me for an hour. So, the less said the better, I'm sure.

Then I sat outside on a bench near the fountain, as the sun set at the warm night took over. Reading my book, I was at peace, and I was in the city. And this is what I'd been missing. For twenty minutes I enjoyed the solitude of being in a crowd, until it was time to leave.

But where we left for? Just as fantastic as where I'd just been. We headed up a place called the Great Wall Restaurant, never mind that it's nowhere near the Great Wall. And there I was treated to Peaking Duck, and Lamb shaved off the leg, and noodles, and cucumber with garlic – but most importantly and most impressively, I had pigeon. Pigeon.

In Canada we see these as dirty disease carrying birds. But here, here they are food. And having eaten this roasted treat, I'm no sure if I'll ever be able to look at them the same way again. They are far more delicious than they have any right to be, and having now eaten it, I'll always wonder where I can grab it within Canada – I mean, they're everywhere. There's gotta be a way to catch and roast them. It's legal, yeah?

But the way the head was sitting there on the plate, just asking to be eaten... It wasn't that I didn't want to eat it – it's just that I wasn't sure how to eat it. I mean, it's Chinese food, and it's on a plate, therefore it's meant to be devoured, but... What? Crunch up its beak, and face, and all? I just wasn't sure.

So no tempting that fate.

Now – off to sleep – it's going to be a Great day tomorrow.

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