Monday, August 4, 2014

A String of Near Misses

With my mind properly made up, the house cleaned and the laundry done, I had nothing left to do but wake up at the insanely early hour of 5AM to  be at the train station at 7:30, claim the ticket Sam secured for me online and hie myself off the Shanghai. Didn't quite work that way.

Although I had set my phone's alarm I didn't notice it was set to 'vibrate' and thus did not hear it vibrating until 5:50. I had also neglected to set the time properly, so it was 20 minutes off... not in my favor. The actual time of waking was 6:10. Not good! I had to be out the door by 6:30, and was not completely packed. Also, I had to gather up the trash and take it out, otherwise the ants would have a field day! They threatened already.

I hope I have not given you the impression that my house is full of trash. My trash cans are about the size you'd find in a hotel room. One day's refuse will yield a full can. I have one bin each in my living room, bathroom and kitchen. When I say 'gather up the trash', I mean collecting from those three locations.

After a mad dash around the house and getting dressed/ready to go, I'm only 10 minutes off schedule but make it up easily because the bus pulls up just as I get to the stop. I arrive at the train station about 20 minutes early and take my place in line to claim my ticket. That was good. I didn't have a confirmation number for my online purchase, so the clerk could not retrieve my transaction and print my ticket. That was bad.

It is now 7:40. My train is due out at 8:13. I have no choice but to call Sam at that ungodly hour so he can wrangle with the ticket teller. I left her window at 7:52 only a little bit frustrated. But, I figured I had time to run downstairs and get a 'to go' box of duck for Zhanny because, for some reason I thought my train was supposed to take off at 8:26.

Why that all-important box of blackened duck? Because: the first winter break I was here, Zhanny came back to school with just such a treat for me, saying it was a local specialty. She hung on my lower lip, waiting for my opinion of this... I can't find an adequate word to describe what I thought might just be the most disgusting fare that has passed my lips besides stinky tofu. I remember her kindness in removing that meat I believe a dog would not find fit to eat. I was under the impression she loved blackened duck, a food indigenous to Wuhan, that she might not have eaten since leaving there. Little did I know that, as soon as I got to the train station in Shanghai I would wait for her in front of a Zhou Hei Ya (Zhou's Black Duck) store.

With 50Yuan worth of disgusting duck in my bag I ambled on to the waiting area, only to see that my train was boarding that very minute. I ran through the train station after the mandatory albeit minimal security check, and then down the platform to my assigned car/seat. I made it with 5 minutes to spare.

I sat between a grandmother cradling a 4-month old baby and a sleepy young woman. I hate middle row seats! To make it worse, there were 4 small children and 2 women behind me, and the kids kept kicking my seat. In front of me, due to loud wailing a young mother gave her seat up to her daughter, who then proceeded to play with the seat's 'recline' function, repeatedly jamming the tray into my lap.

Six unrestful hours later I prepared to see my Zhanny again. While standing in front of the duck store, its fragrance wafting unpleasantly I sent her a message: “Where are you?”. She was still on her way to the train station but, if I could make my way to the second level, door 10 she would soon be there to pick me up in the company car.

She meant the second sub-basement parking area. I didn't know that. I went to the second floor, door 10 and waited for her. And waited. And waited.

Several phone calls and a few text messages later, there she was! Running, long hair flying, sassy skirt swishing with each step: My Zhanny! What a doll! What a treasure! We could barely stand to let go of one another. I'll admit I shed a few tears.

And then I nearly shed a few more. The driver had forgotten where he parked the car! We had traipsed back through the train station,  down below the 'arrivals' level to the parking garage, and then we spent about 30 minutes searching. I asked what color the car was: white. So, I cast about for a white car, most likely a sedan. It turned out to be a silver mini van. All's well that ended well and soon we were on our way.

Zhanny had arranged for a nice hotel near where she lives, across town. I admit I was pretty eager to get there! All of this frustration on top of waking up early had done me in, even though I was excited to be there. In spite of the fact that this was my real first look at Shanghai, instead of looking out the window Zhanny and I chatted like magpies. There will always be time to see the city.

Somehow it seems Shanghai and I don't get along. The last time I came through was a disaster and, Zhanny excluded, this time doesn't seem to be much better.

Today was my first full day here. Zhanny and I agreed to meet on the corner, halfway between her dorm and my hotel. I thought we had decided on 8AM so that we could breakfast together before heading out. Apparently the meeting time was an hour later, and Zhanny showed up even later than that. The good news is that she got a lot of sleep. After a breakfast of steamed buns and bean curd we set out.

Zhanny wanted to do what I wanted to do. I suggested that we act according to the weather: if it were to rain as predicted we could go to Ikea. If we weren't bound to get wet, we should visit around outside. She opted for the former, so we set out for that fabled store with her roommate Lindsay in tow. There we would meet Lucky, another former student who also lives in Shanghai.

My plan was simple: make a mad dash through, pick up a nice housewarming gift for Lucky, who had  just moved into a new apartment, and then go enjoy some sights. You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, right?

I couldn't get the girls out of the store. They loved it! They'd never seen anything like it! They lingered over every display, took pictures of everything and vowed to do their homes à la Ikea when they got married. When they got tired they rested on the comfy chairs. They wanted to eat lunch in the cafeteria. In short, we spent nearly all day at Ikea. I've definitely gotten my fix.  

I have come to realize I have more stamina than my young friends do. I had forgotten that the ideal day out for Chinese is to go somewhere, sit and eat, and then go somewhere else and sit and eat. I had prowled the store twice through while my friends lounged in the furniture area. Nevertheless they looked worn out and their feet were hurting.

I went home with Lucky to see her new apartment while Zhanny and Lindsay shuffled around the shopping area. Realizing that Lucky was dead on her feet I suggested she call it a day: she had moved yesterday, run around all day today and had to work tomorrow. Perhaps she should stay home and rest? My, that child was grateful! She put me in a cab and sent me back to Zhanny.

By this time it had started to rain. Lindsay was not feeling well and Zhanny too had to work tomorrow. We decided to head home and have a quiet evening. Back in our neighborhood, we ate at a local restaurant that Zhanny favors: large bowls of noodles and some dumplings. While we were eating the heavens really opened up. We watched the downpour from inside the restaurant.

I've yet to see anything tourist-y. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain all day, much like it is this evening. And, I'll be on my own, all of my friends having to work. Zhanny and Lindsay made sure to tell me how to get to The Bund and the Orient Pearl, two of Shanghai's famous attractions. Maybe the rain will let up.



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