Sunday, August 14, 2016

On To Germany

It's been a while since I've traveled abroad other than my yearly pilgrimage to America. You might remember that, last summer, a busted pin kept me home – no traveling possible. This year, that same pin is offering up its best aches and agony but I've decided to go all out: leave China. Not for the purpose of visiting family, which is the reason for the annual pilgrimage.

In Germany I will reconnect with my friend Olaf, with whom I traveled to Chengdu the first year I was in China, who now lives in a small town outside Stuttgart with his beloved, Xiao Ai (she-ow eye – meaning, literally: Little Love... and indeed, she is). I will also revisit my stomping old grounds, Berlin, where I grew up, graduated high school and married. In fact, this trip signifies the first time in more than thirty years that I'll step foot on German soil where, incidentally, my mother is buried.

With such a history and itinerary, you'd think I'd be over hyper-excited about this trip, wouldn't you?

I admit to more than just a bit of reluctance. For one, I haven't gotten my full salary from my school, meaning this will be a budget trip, and the Euro exchange rate is not exactly in my favor. For two, I've gotten quite comfortable in my little home, in my litle neck of Wuhan – I'll expound on that idea in a bit. For three, there's a great possibility that I won't be able to fulfill my desire of tramping around Germany because of my stupid leg. Finally... there's this random fear I have that things will turn out less than stellar. That fear is all new, and nearly paralyzing. I don't like it.    

Thus, I am grateful for Olaf's invitation and and my unthinking acceptance thereof, not giving that fear a chance to get in the way of having fun, revisiting Germany and seeing my mother's grave.

Before going on: a bit about being comfortable (in my little neck of Wuhan). I've never really understood all those people who say they don't see any need to leave home because everything they ever need or want is there. “Lunacy!” I used to think. With the whole world to see and experience, how can one be content to stay forever in one place? Well, now I get it, and apologize to all of those I might have sneered at through the years. The flipside of that coin is the marvel that I have finally found a place I'm reluctant to leave. How much of that has to do with this growing fear that things won't play out well, I have no idea (and don't care to. I'm doing my level best to fight it.).

Nevertheless, leave I did, ruing my decision and expecting things to go wrong.

Departure day: I had planned to ride to the bus stop, towing my suitcase. My bike would be safe in the bike racks, and I would have a guaranteed ride home upon return. The rain, unpredicted, put the kibosh on that. I had to leave earlier and walk across campus to the bus stop. That was more walking than I reckoned on from the outset, and in the rain... welcome leg ache!

See how prepared I was to mutter and complain, this whole trip?

I got a seat on the subway! That's nearly unheard of. And I got to the train station in time. And I got an aisle seat on the train! Oh, dear! I guess I'd better put away the grumpy face; things are going well.

I was all smiles pulling into Beijing, and even negotiated the purchase of a subway ticket to where I would catch the airport express subway the next morning. My plan was to find a hotel near that station and wake up early to catch the first train. (Why, oh why did I book such an early flight??? - that would be me, complaining again.)

here is where I met with difficulty: I couldn't find a room anywhere near that station! I walked for almost 3 hours, from hotel to hotel. Finally, around 8PM, with rain now falling and stopping everyone who looked even vaguely foreign to ask if they knew of a hotel nearby, I stumbled into the lobby of a super fancy hotel.

I didn't care. I was hungry, sweaty – the rain did nothing to abate the humidity, and exhausted. My leg was about to give out. I had to get somewhere! Reluctantly I handed my bank card over for a 900 Yuan a night room. I would have winced but I was too tired.

And hungry! Why didn't I stop to eat anything while meandering all over Beijing? Because my first priority was to find a room. Unfortunately it took so long to find a room, and once I got to my room I was too tired to leave it. Fortunately I had packed some sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. After switching the air conditioner on, I wolfed down the last of my food. A bath afterwards,  and I almost felt like a new woman!

After 7 hours of sleep, I did feel like a new woman. All those stairs in the Beijing subway were no longer disheartening. The rain was another issue altogether but, thanks to the surprise rain in Wuhan as I was leaving the house yesterday, I was prepared for it. Still dubious of my good fortune, I nevertheless made it to the airport on time.

The only glitch was when my little utility scissors were discovered. I've previously been able to pack them in my carry-on but it seems that Chinese security had doubts about them (and the pin in my leg that kept setting off the metal detectors). Rather than permitting me to show them how to unfold this mini multi-tool, the checker forced it open... and broke it. Fortunately it is a Gerber and will be replaced. Even more fortunately, they did not confiscate it.    

The next time we talk will be from Germany. Until then, I hope you bear the weather well.


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