Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On and Off the Train

I wake up, and then put myself back to sleep. I wake up. I put myself back to sleep. I wake up – it's six thirty now, and the Chinese have started to rise from their slumber. Oh the Chinese. Look, I'm not saying all Chinese people are like this because I don't know all Chinese people. All I know are the two dozen or so that happen to be sharing this car with me. But let me tell you about them:

Six thirty, you better believe it's time to get up. And not just time for one or two to get up, but a good half of them. How do I know it's half of them? Well aside from counting them off as they walk by my room, I can hear well over a dozen different voices yelling in the corridor. I can only assume that they're friends with people at the other end of the car, and moving to talk to them is just nonsense – much better to yell.

The longer this goes on, the more people join the party. Some pull out cell phones, which is fun because now the yelling is punctuated by high pitched ringing.

Oh and good, the children are at it now. Normally parents try to silence their children when they shout and scream in the early hours. But not here – no, my friends, here it is encouraged! It is to be thought of as the ultimate. If your child, and I'm only guessing here, can be heard above the ringing voices of the adults – well that is something to be most proud of!

Scream on little Billy, scream on!

The toilet is clogged. This must have happened some time in the night. It's – well it's terrible. it was only ever a squat toilet with a small hole onto the tracks, but now that hole won't open and its... it's just horrible.

That's it. Pillow over head, it's time to sleep some more.

Nine thirty. That's it, there is no more sleep. Not for me. The conversations have lessened, but not gone away completely. Ahh, good, you think. They're being quiet. It must be better now. What type of fool are you? Nothing will get better on this journey, quite so far as silence is concerned. No. They're not talking, because they've all plugged in their computers, and dvd players, and all sorts of other tech toys so they can watch movies.

But shouldn't that be better, you ask?

My friends – only if they used head sets. But earphones clearly would cramp their style, better to just listen through speakers. And if the movie can't be heard over the talking, well that's what the volume control is for.

Guh. Look – for seventy bucks to get from Hong Kong to Beijing, I will put up with nearly anything – and the beds are quite nice, and it's really not so bad as I'm selling it (you get used to it) it's just that we've come to a stop – and it's one of those “you just got your butt delayed” stops, I fear (the announcements are all in Mandarin) so... ohh look! An unused plug down the hall. Time to watch me some Ghostbusters Two!

Well we've been delayed two hours now – apparently Ghostbsters Two really is just Statue of Liberty + Painting, so there you go.

Somehow I don't see us rolling into Beijing West in forty minutes like we were supposed to. Good ol' train delays. On the plus side, no one knows what's going on because even the chinese announcements have stopped. So, even playing field and all.

We've started up again. I guess we get there when we get there? Who can say.

It strikes me that some people would see making it to China as a great and wonderful goat. Me? Thing to do. These same people probably wouldn't view eating Combo C at Yan's Cook as a life altering moment either, though. Just goes to show you – you can't live someone elses dream.

If Yan's Cook closes while I'm away, I expect to be notified. And then I will cry. And cry. Unless it comes back as its original form, Yan's Wok. That would be ok too.

The train finally pulls into the station four and a half hours late. As I disembark I wonder if she who was to be waiting for me will still be there. After walking around in the dark, with not a single person who can speak English, I give up and decide no – four and a half hours is too long to expect someone to wait when your train comes in late.

Now I need to figure out how to call her and ask her what I should do to get from point A to point B. Expecting to meet up, I didn't look into any contingency plans. I had a toll free number, but when I finally came across a bank of phones, the number wouldn't go through.

With twenty kilograms of gear on my back, I made my way back inside the station trying to find someone – anyone – who could help. No one speaks English here. It's not that they don't like to, or they speak little – they don't speak English, at all. From the gift shop a girl heard me talking to the security guard, she said, “hello,” and waved me over. I thought – perhaps – she spoke the language. The security guard seemed to think so as well, that or he was just happy to get me off his back.

I asked the girl how to make a toll free call. She started speaking Chinese (I know, I know – it's not a language. Whatever. You know what I mean. Well it is. You know what, forget all of this. She started to speak Chinese – move on.) Once more, there was no help. Thirty minutes had passed by the time I discovered I'd need to buy a phone card. Toll-free, hah! That's what the guy said, I'm sure. So I needed a phone card. But I had no money. None. Nothing. Luckily there were ATMs and one of them used the Plus system which allowed me to grab some cash. I don't know what I would have done were said ATM to have not existed. With that money I could buy a phone card, and call up the person I'd be crashing with.

She told me to grab a taxi, and have it take me to a Holiday Inn near her area, and she'd meet me there. Fine, great, how much should the taxi cost? 70RMB (12 bucks.) Ugh. I cringed. Outside, forty five minutes after arriving, the rain still coming down, I made my way to a taxi who refused to meter. But he offered me 200RMB as fare. Oh yeah? I walked away. By continuing to walk away the fare was eventually reduced to 130. Whatever, fine, $20.00 what could I do? It was late, I couldn't speak, and I was alone – tired – in a new country. I had no choice, so into the taxi I got.

It was one of those moments where i wasn't sure if I was going to end up where I was headed, or if I was going to be mugged, and left in the middle of nowhere. When I had to get out half way through the journey and get into another taxi, I did not end up feeling better. Except for there was a baby in this car as well. Surely a man with his baby along with him wouldn't kill me? But I didn't know. And for the hour into the city, I was not in a good mood. This was transition day at its worst. To be honest, I was ready to leave China – didn't wanna come here anyway – and say screw it. I was not a happy traveller at this point.

Finally I reached the Holiday Inn, un-killed, and paid, and met up with my contact, who then got us a taxi back to her place. Which was lovely, and huge, and wonderful, and we ate delicious sweet and sour pork – almost like Combo C to be truthful – and it was great, and the world started to become a better place. Not completely, because I was still exhausted, and somewhat wound up by the fact that I had to figure out this city without any prior knowledge. It could have gone much much worse.

I just want to throw down right now – if I say I'm going to meet someone, I will meet them. If they missed their flight, or train, or bus, well then they might be on their own – because I'll never know if they're coming in – but if their vehicle is delayed, I will grab a book, find a seat, and wait and wait and wait until it comes in. I will not put anyone through the fun filled adventure of making their way through a slightly terrifying dark city where they don't know a single word. Again, I understand why you would leave after a two hour delay – I think that's the normal thing to do. You tried, and they have your phone number, so they can contact you pretty easy, right? Well, kinda – but I will not leave. So it is written, so shall it be. Now other people with real lives – well, it's not that easy. And say I had a family or something – well, say I did – this would be like a free justifiable break from that, wouldn't it? Like a – what's it called these days? Business trip.

The rest of the night was me crashing, and then making phone calls using a magic free-long-distance line (I've come across a few of these in my travels. It's a good bonus, and worth the extra taxi fare.)

What will tomorrow hold? I hear there's a city around here. And just like the bridge, it's... FORBIDDEN!

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