Jessica would be returning to South Korea in a few days and I still wasn't quite sure where I was going next. I eventually decided that I would go to the city of Xi'an. Due to my previous experiences purchasing a train ticket in China, I felt that it would be best to purchase the ticket immediately in order to secure a seat for the date I wanted. Because I was just going to quickly race over to the railway station and back, Jessica and I decided to meet back at the hostel in a few hours. I should've known - especially now, in China, more than ever - that plans never ACTUALLY go according to plan. And what was suppose to be a simple task such as reaching the railway station, turned out to be anything BUT simple.
I changed my mind at the last moment and decided to take the bus instead of the subway to the railway station, as I had met a couple of young English lads who said the bus was more convenient and cheaper. Sounded great! Of course, being "convenient and cheaper" only applied if I had a Chinese translator with me - which the English gents did, and I did NOT - and, presumptuously, if had boarded the bus bound for the train station. Which I also . . . [ahem] . . . did not.
It was right around the time that it began to rain cats and dogs that I discovered that I'd taken the proper bus, but in the WRONG direction. I starred out the window and into my reflection, shaking my head in disbelief. There was no way I was going to step outside into the monsoon showers to transfer buses, either. So I stayed put and waited for the bus to reach its final stop (in the wrong direction). I sat in my seat as everyone exited. The bus driver hollered at me. I couldn't understand him, but if he was speaking in English I'm sure he would've been saying, "This is the last stop, you fool! Get out, get out!" I simply smiled and sarcastically said, "Oh, don't mind me. I'm just enjoying your glorious tour of the city." And I handed him the bus fare for the second go around.
The English lads had told me that I couldn't miss the train station, and that I would notice it once I reached it. However, according to my map, I shouldn't seen it by now. I began to get worried. "Hmmm . . . ?" So with my map in hand, I stood up and approached the driver.
"Um, excuse me? Train station? Is the train station nearby?" And I pointed to the map where it said 'train station', disregarding that it was in English, hoping that, maybe, the icon for train station which was displayed next to the name could be translated universally.
"Ching-Chong, Ting-Tong! Ching-Chong, Ting Tong!" he shouted. Again, as I've mentioned before, the Chinese always sound so angry when they speak. And he didn't look as if he understood what I was saying.
"Train station?'' I repeated. "You know . . . [now gesturing as a train conductor] . . . chew-chew! I think I can, I think I can! Chew-chew!"
He pointed up the road, presumably hinting that it was near. "The train station is the next stop?" I asked. He nodded his head and continued pointing up the road. And at the next stop he began hollering and gesturing for me to get off.
"Here? Get off here? And I hesitantly stepped off the bus, because I distinctly remembered the English gents saying to me that I would notice the station once I saw it - and I wasn't noticing anything. Not a good sign.
"But where? Where is the train station?" I repeated to the driver, as I stood outside looking into the bus.
"Ching-Chong, Ting-Tong! Ching-Chong, Ting-Tong!" And he pointed up the street, doing one of those "swerving" numbers with his hand.
"Across the street? The train station is across the street?" The driver gave me a nod and a grunt. You gotta love the nod 'n grunt.
"But--" And he abruptly closed the door and drove off. I stood there with a deadpanned expression on my face as the exhaust from the bus dissipated in front of me. Still raining, I walked onto the sidewalk and under an awning just large enough to shield me and a middle-aged Chinese man from the rain. I slowly looked at him from the corner of my eyes. I knew he wouldn't be able to speak English, but I thought it was worth a shot. And plus, it brought comic relief to myself.
Quietly and discretely, I said to the him "Train station . . . ? You know . . . [again gesturing as a train conductor] . . . chew-chew?"
" . . . No?" He then looked at me as if to say, "I know you're not speaking to me in English, right?"
" . . . Okay. Fair enough." So I darted across the street and began searching for someone who could speak English. Eventually I found woman, an employee of a jewelry store, who spoke decent enough English. Finally!
Unfortunately, she directed me to the . . . subway. Oy vey.
The ticket office at Shanghai's train station was a zoo. I stood motionless upon arrival - in awestruck, really - and starred at the sheer mayhem which ensued before me. I randomly chose one of the many lines to stand in, as they all appeared to be the same in length.
"This is going to be interesting," I thought, as everything was in Chinese. I finally made it to the ticket counter after waiting in line for eternity.
"One ticket for Xi'an, please." The woman quickly wrote something on a piece of scrap paper and slid it underneath the plexiglas. It read, "English ----->"
It just so happened that, the English speaking counter which indeed read "English speaking counter," was the one counter hidden behind a massive pillar obstructing my view. Dammit.
In the end, I booked a hard seat ticket for Sunday, the day after Jessica leaves for South Korea.
Phew! What an ordeal.
Once I made it back to the hostel, Jessica and I grabbed some lunch. "So, how did it go?" Jessica asked. "Oh, I'll definitely be blogging about it," I said. And after I told her what I went through to obtain my train ticket, and how everything that afternoon just seemed to have been 'lost in translation', our waitress handed me a dish that I clearly didn't order.
Next: Shanghai, Part 3