After a long break in which I forgot to maintain this blog I'm finally back. I've realized it's worthless to keep a blog and not use it. I'm cheating for my first entry – you get a paper I wrote for my English class to describe my first adventure this trip in China. Enjoy it, and keep your eyes peeled for more to come soon!
True story from China. I wrote this for my English class.
What was it that possessed me to take the train? Why did I honestly think I could manage it alone? Will I even survive this? Heh. If I do manage to survive this it will be the coolest story ever, and no one will believe it! My thoughts were moving at a million miles an hour. I’d been an overconfident idiot, and like most overconfident idiots had fallen in way over my head. I was on the back of a small motorcycle with a stranger I couldn’t even effectively communicate with, my two suitcases in tow: one strapped to the back and the smaller one being suspended on the handlebars. We must have looked utterly ridiculous. The chilling wind of the early spring night cut through my hands and legs, but I couldn’t feel it anymore – they’d long since become numb.
I had no idea at all where we were. I was completely at the mercy of this stranger I’d been clinging to for the last hour, and I was hoping and praying that he at least knew where we were going. To make matters worse, my cell phone hadn’t worked since leaving the train station!
Back in the States I’d told my father and Joy that I would be able to take the train, no problem! I’d taken it once before, and figured I’d be able to do it again. I had forgotten however that my father had been with me that time and we’d been traveling the other direction. I sat in my seat on the train, my eyelids sagging in the warm, lulling atmosphere. I heard my stop announced, so I shook the sleep from my eyes and got my luggage ready to disembark, but I had forgotten the chief rule of rail travel: Always be at the exit before the train stops! I struggled to the door just in time to watch it close with a hiss inches from my face, as though mocking me. I shrunk back in disbelief, not knowing how to react. The next forty-five minutes were a blur as I sat in shock and despair on my luggage next to the evil door which had so heartlessly denied my exit.
I got off at the next stop. The canned intercom voice said we were in Wenling. Where in the universe was Wenling? The station was crowded, everyone in a hurry to reach the exit: I had arrived on the last train. The tan concrete walls felt cold, almost like a prison. I managed to call my contacts at Yotrio, the company I’d come to China to work for, and explained my situation. They told me to stay put and wait for the driver they’d sent, and to not let anyone walk off with my stuff or con me into leaving. I followed the orders like a soldier, dutifully bucking offers from friendly people for a ride or help finding a hotel (at least, that’s what I think they were offering. I barely understood anything that was happening). I refused to agree to anything I couldn’t understand, knowing how much the Chinese like to rip off foreigners. I’d already been ripped off twice earlier that day in Shanghai, and didn’t want a repeat experience.
After about an hour and a half my phone rang. “The driver we sent for you went to Taizhou instead of Wenling, Steven. He’s three hours away from you now. You’ll need to find a taxi,” Selina said, and explained what I’d need to tell the driver.
I wish I’d known this a half-hour ago! I thought, remembering the sight of the last taxi languidly pulling away from the station like a specter into the night. I looked around frantically. The only transportation I could find was a nice local man I’d been struggling to talk with for the past few minutes. He had a motorcycle, an actual gas powered little red motorcycle. I gave him the phone and Selina explained to him what to do. I got on the bike without even thinking to negotiate the price, an unforgivable mistake in China. That thought didn’t even register as we pulled away from the darkened train station to vanish into the night’s icy embrace.
How do I get out of this mess? My thoughts returned to the present. My mind was as numb as my frozen body; fatigue had cut my capacity to reason into ribbons, a mere shadow of my once functional brain. When was it that I’d last slept? Forty hours ago? Forty-five? I couldn’t remember anymore, it was all such a blur. I just want to sleep…
I looked up to see a road sign indicating that we needed to turn. My driver pulled over to the side of the road and motioned that we were getting off.
I dismounted and looked at him, my mind only dully comprehending our surroundings. My driver said something unintelligible to get my attention, then gestured at the sign. “Linhai… one hundred dollars” he said in heavily accented and badly broken English.
What choice do I have? It’s better than being lost, I guess. I meekly agreed to the price, relieved that at least we were heading in the right direction. He smiled broadly and we climbed back on the bike. Wait a minute – isn’t one hundred dollars almost one month’s pay for most people here?! Ah well, it’s too late to do anything about it.
An hour later I saw the comforting lights of downtown Linhai. It looked wonderful, like the gates of heaven themselves opening to receive me! My heart started to race, and I was almost crying with relief, so happy to know where I was. We pulled up to the Juntai Hotel and dismounted, then untied my heavy bags from the bike.
There was nobody around – it was about 1:00 AM by this time. I withdrew my wallet and pulled out the hundred dollars I’d promised to give him earlier, so happy to be safely at my destination that I didn’t even care about how badly I’d been ripped off. He took it immediately, then a gleam came to his eye and he looked back at me. “Bu go” he said (not enough, in Chinese), and held out his hand. I stared in disbelief. I’d just given this man a month’s salary and he was asking for more?! My wallet was nearly empty, and I’d just given him all my American currency. I pulled out my phone to call my Chinese friends and try to figure out what to do, but the worthless thing still wasn’t working. My mind scrambled for a solution, and finally I sputtered “Wo… wo meiyou qian!” (I don’t have any money) in my pidgin Chinese.
He wasn’t going to have it. He indicated that he wanted five hundred yuan: about seventy dollars in American currency. I didn’t have that much, and even if I had I didn’t think the motorcycle ride was worth that much money! I could barely even justify the hundred dollars I’d given him! We argued for about thirty minutes, and he somehow managed to wring most of the money out of me. He was still arguing for more when a police officer meandered over.
A remarkable change instantly came over the man and he let go of my suitcases, shook my hand, said goodbye to the officer and me with a smile and rode away. I later learned that the man had committed extortion: a fair rate was less than one-third the amount I gave him.
Perplexed by his actions but extremely grateful to be alive and free I checked into the hotel and somehow staggered to my room. I closed the door, and then almost immediately the malfunctioning lump of plastic I’d been carrying around all day rang. Joy, the woman responsible for my welfare in China, had finally managed to get through! She was crying. My heart sank. She calmed down very quickly when she realized I was safe, and we made plans to meet the next day so she could show me around the city.
A feeling of sweet relief coursed through my body as I went to bed, thankful to be safe and almost giddy with happiness. I’d had a brush with utter ruin and had come away from it mostly unscathed, and felt almost totally at peace for the first time that day as I lay in bed, though I was still a little uneasy about how much I’d spent. Just before finally drifting off I comforted myself with the thought Well, it was only money after all. I can always make more.
~S. A. Collins