Because reliable internet and VPN (around the censorship that blocks blogger) are a luxury I do not have, I have been ignoring you! But I'm back! (who knows for how long...waaaa). It has been really bad weather lately, think: 40 degrees and freezing rain, for the last few days and whenever it rains (which is all of winter) our internet connection in the teacher apartment building gets a little tricky.
But anyways. whoohoooo for internet. yay. It just makes me that much more thankful for it when I have it!
The past 2 weeks have been insanity in my life. But yet, every day here is an adventure in itself, so that shouldn't be a surprise. I have decided that living overseas suits me because I need adrenaline, I find comfort in chaos, and become downcast when life moves slowly. So, here I am.
The recap of my so called life:
For Halloween I went to Shenzhen, at the border of Hong Kong (about the distance from Tampa to DC). My traveling partners and dearest classmates live there so I decided to jaunt on down for the Halloween celebration. Well, because i have like no money whatsoever because Chin.ese money is like monopoly money, I decided to save funds and instead of flying both ways, I would train down on Thursday and fly back on Sunday night.
Well, Chin.a's train system is rudimentary. You cannot buy tickets online, you must go to a train ticket depot, stand in line, and hope there are tickets left. There is a ticket counter place near my house and the same woman has worked there since I moved here. And she scares the crap out of me. She is one of the few people in this town who has the ability to make me cry out of helplessness. I have left her window dejected and confused more times than I can count.
So, when I went to buy my train ticket to Shenzhen I was expecting the worst. I took my patience pill (a new favorite saying of mine to get through the days) and put on my game face, ready to face the train ticket beast. Well, true to form, she was not willing to slow down her horribly fast and muffled Mandarin for me, the obvious foreigner, and not willing to look at the paper I wrote out with the train number on it for her to easily reference. She's a piece of work. She was not willing to sell me a ticket and I had no idea why because she was not using the regular words for "do not have a seat, oh well, sucker." Finally I made out that she was saying there were no beds, and no something else. I told her in Chinese, that it didn't matter if there were no beds, I just really needed to get to Shenzhen, finally she shook her head and sold me a ticket. I thought I had bought a hard seat ticket for the 17 hour journey. I was wrong.
I bought a standing ticket.
So I got to the train station and purchased a small plastic seat (like a child's seat thing) that people use to sit on in the aisles and I walked onboard the train like I owned the place. Of course people were shocked to see me in the poorest section, and right away offered me a seat. I ended up making a lot of friends in the train car and learning a lot of Chinese. It was wonderful practice, no English for 17 hours. I stood between the hours of 3-5am because I felt bad sharing a seat, we had squeezed in 4 people on 3 seats. People were packed everywhere, smoking, spitting, sitting, standing, throwing sunflower seed kernels on the floor, etc. Normal behaviors here that are elevated in annoyance when in an uncomfortable environment and lacking sleep.
In the end, it was a cool experience. I love long, solo journeys because I always learn a lot about perseverance, controlling my attitude in hard times, and the general kindness of the Chin.ese people.
Shenzhen was a blast as expected. J and I got a hair wash, hung out at her school where I got to sit in on a class which was really cute. We karaoked and went out dancing on Halloween night. I was a cat. We rode the metro to our meeting place and the stares were awesome. It is great to be a buge redhead dressed as a cat on the Chi.nese metro. Leopard tights. frilly, short black dress, face paint. ears. J said the most perfect thing, "Today you have a free staring pass, Ch.ina". haha. I wish I had a picture of that moment on the metro. So funny.
Well, we had so much fun and I was sad to go, but Sunday night rolled around and I headed off to the airport. I was worried that I would not have enough time to make it to the airport before my 7:20pm flight because I had left a little late. Well my taxi rolled up to the airport terminal at 6:40, but by the time I had paid, and run across the terminal, deciphered the Chinese signs for the check in counter, I had missed the check in time. Crap.
I went to the bathroom to compose myself, take a few deep breaths, and think. I practiced my Chi.nese in my head as I walked towards the airline help desk. The line was disastrous and I waited forever, being cut in line more times than I could count. Finally I pushed my way to the front and spit out my rehearsed shpeel about how I had missed my flight but there was another one to Hangzhou at 10pm were there any more tickets? The girl was in shock at my blurted out paragraph and I noticed several people staring at me with their mouths open, which gave me a false sense of control in the situation because I was proud of my Chinese. haha. That didn't last long.
The girl told me to go to the check in counter. And those people told me to go back to her. So began a lovely game of running back and forth between the counters unsure of exactly they were saying and since I had spoken so well they thought I understood everything, which I didn't. Finally I got a boarding pass and realized they had held the plane for me and told me to hurry through security. It is there that I realized I had forgotten my passport. Since I didn't need it on the train, I had completely forgotten about it. Waaaaaa. THey would not let me through customs, even though I had 2 other forms of ID. And I dejectedly called J. My phone was dying (which made everything more exciting) so I plugged my phone into one of the wall outlets and sat on the floor trying not to feel defeated by the evening's events. This is a feeling I have become used to after all the travel blunders of the past year.
I headed back to J and Co. and I am so glad that I got to! Our Chin.ese friends called 411 to try to find me a way home and I called my boss to tell her I needed to cancel my 6 classes on Monday.
After dinner, our Chin.ese friends decided that we should get massages. Amazing. So we paid a ton of money to get oil massages at a nice spa and then had the honor of wearing little paper one-time-use panties in a hot spring pool thing. I was a little overwhelmed because I thought we were just getting massages, I was not mentally prepared to get naked in front of my new friends (teeny Chin.ese girls). And of course, the spa did not have the *cough* appropriate size paper underwear and bra for my figure. So I wore ill-fitting see-through paper underwear. There really was no point to it. It was worse than being naked in Korea because Koreans are bigger and being naked is better to me than being in a whacked out looking paper bra and underwear that does not fit at all.
So that ended, thank G0d. And I went back to J's for the night. The next morning I went to the bus station and bought a ticket for the 9am bus to Hangzhou. I was under the impression that the bus would be about 12 hours because busses are generally faster than trains.
Well, no. The adventure was not yet over.
As I sat on the disgusting, grossest thing I have ever been on, I asked the driver how many hours it would be. As I asked him I looked around and surveyed the scene. The drivers obviously lived on the bus, and I noted that I would not be using any of the blankets or even laying down for that matter because I would certainly contract a disease. When the driver answered, "22.5" I almost threw a fit. The fact was that there was no other way home though that I could afford money wise or time wise, I had a ticket, and I was riding that bus.
What began as a seemingly torturous experience (I wish you could see that bus) ended up not being half bad. The 3 rotating bus drivers invited me to have lunch with them (the bus stopped for lunch and dinner since there was no bathroom onboard). We chit chatted in Chin.ese and when I didn't eat dinner because my stomach felt weird from lunch and I was scared of diarrhea, one of the drivers brought me hard boiled eggs. One of them even noticed I would not use a blanket and unzipped one of the blankets and gave me the inner lining - which was clean.
What was strange was that people on the bus (and on the train a few days later) all kept asking me, "Pa bu Pa?" Which means, "are you scared?" or "do you have fear?" I always was like, "no, why? Should I be scared? What is there to be afraid of?" I never understood why the people thought I should be scared. I did, though, not take any pictures during any of this travel when I was alone because I also had my laptop and didn't want to flaunt electronics.
The next morning at 7:30am I arrived in Hangzhou, taxied home from the side of the interstate, changed my clothes, and jumped on the next bus to Xiasha (an hour away) where I work. I got to my classroom, exhausted but feeling triumphant only to find that the campus secretary had canceled the wrong classes. My 8am class had shown up, and my afternoon classes had been canceled. So I sat and read and waited for my co-workers classes to be over so I could go home and shower away the dirt and exhaustion of an insane travel weekend.
After all of that insanity and obstacles based on cultural differences, different ideas about time, cleanliness, and my own personal dumbness (passport), it was all worth it to spend the weekend in Shenzhen with J and her friends. And now I have this super long story to tell about how crazy it is to travel alone in Chin.a. And if the worst thing that happens to me is that I have to be uncomfortable for a long period of time, then that is doing pretty good.
More updates and photos to come. Check facebook for updated photos!
I miss you all. Cheers.