Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cyclone, Typhoon, Monsoon Rain…

… I survived a hurricane.

Early text message: Gary informing me of the incoming typhoon. He was still in Shanghai. It hit there first, battering its way up the coast. I was as worried about him as he was about me. We stayed in constant touch via text message during that whole ordeal, till my phone ran out of money.

Last day in Qing Dao. Under leaden skies, waves at high tide pound the beach angrily. Women sweep wind whipped hair from their face while holding their flowing skirts down. Natives batten down the hatches. Few vendors set up their carts. More established concerns cover their outdoor displays. No festive umbrellas deployed, no leisurely pace. People scurry about purposefully. Buses are nearly empty.

The typhoon is coming.

Qing Dao, up the coast from Shanghai, would see its fallout much later in the day: somewhere around 6PM. I was due to board my train at 3PM for a departure thirty minutes later. I should be safe but I did worry what the punishing rains would do to travel time.

In the meantime, the heralding winds and grey sky made a fitting backdrop to my last few hours in the city. With roughly 5 hours to kill before the train I decided to visit the May 4th Memorial.

The May Fourth Movement was a student cultural and political event that took a strong anti-imperialist outlook. The entire movement was spurred to life by the weak stance of the Chinese government at the time of the infamous Treaty of Versailles (1919). Under treaty stipulations German-occupied land in Shandong province, where Qing Dao is located, was to be handed over to Japan rather than back to China. This stirred strong nationalist feelings amongst Chinese students that led to protests erupting nationwide. The square was constructed in order to commemorate the protests of the students. The most iconic part of the square is Wuyue Feng (pronounced Woo You-a Fong), literally ‘May Wind’, a sculpture dedicated to the event.    

I didn’t visit in May but it sure was windy. Still not quite over my breathing woes, and carrying my loaded bag to boot, I only walked up to the square to get a picture of the sculpture. I figured I could read about it online. Walking into the wind back to the bus stop was an ordeal. I was grateful to get a seat on that near-empty bus in spite of the fact that I was going to have to sit on the train for twenty one hours.

That’s right: 21 hours. Longer than the flight from China to America. And I would sit the whole time because there were no berths available. School will be starting soon and all the students are migrating, some with parents and others without. I was lucky to get a ticket at all. 

Having already checked out of my hotel, and not anticipating passing by it again, I was carrying my bags on this last sightseeing jaunt instead of leaving them with the concierge. During that trek from Wu Yue Feng sculpture back to the bus stop, bending into the wind I finally acknowledged that I’m soon going to have an emotional parting of ways.

My faithful travel companion, that black leather shoulder bag that has been all over the world with me, that I had to rescue from a malevolent mold attack last year (see Death of a Companion, posted July 2011), whose leather skin I clean and maintain lovingly… that traveling companion is injuring me.

It being a shoulder bag does not allow me to center its weight on my frame. I bear its load one sided, to the detriment of my posture and spine. The problem is exacerbated if, as is often the case, I acquire more things to carry. Walking into the wind on that blustery day, bent forward and trying to keep the bag positioned on my hip, I finally conceded I will have to buy a backpack. One that will snug closely to my frame, keep the load centered and not pendulum on one side or the other and disturb my sense of balance.

I’m not getting rid of my faithful bag. I’m just retiring it from service. I’ll still use it as a carry-on or personal item on flights, or on trips where I don’t anticipate hiking. I’ll still oil it every month to preserve its leather. One day it will be something I pass down to someone dear to me: perhaps my beloved nephew Matthew, to inspire his journey through life. Or maybe my little Ben? I haven’t decided yet.

Back at the train station now and only one hour to kill before boarding time. Just enough time for a quick bite to eat, a nod farewell to this beautiful, intriguing city, and its back to Wuhan for me.

As presumed, the train was full of students. I resumed my ‘I don’t speak English’ act. Gary sent me one last frantic text message that I was unable to reply to, my phone now being completely out of money.

Just as the train pulled out of the station, rain pelted down.    

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