I should be in Beijing right now. I should be touring the regal Forbidden Palace, browsing through aged pottery at the antique market, perusing brilliant silks and shimmering pearls. Instead I am still in my room in Xiasha. Because this week I attempted to go to Beijing twice. And twice I failed.
This week is Jinrong’s Sports Meeting (basically a 3-day track competition), and since all the freshmen are required to go, everyone is excused from class for those days. Sweet! With a 5-day weekend in my sights, I decided to take up Tammy’s offer of traveling to Beijing with her where she would be visiting her sister. Since Tammy’s sister had already purchased a plane ticket for her, I opted to take the train on my own, leaving a day earlier but arriving close to the same time.
Attempt number one included getting on a bus at 4 in the afternoon and heading to the train station in downtown. I thought I could take the B1 bus, connect to the B2 bus and ride to the end of the line and end up at the station. But, in fact, it is the B2X bus that does that. So unaware of that small detail I sat on the B2 for over an hour (this was after already being on the B1 for about an hour), and finally ended up at a deserted bus depot. Realizing I had obviously made a mistake somewhere, I got back on the B2 in the direction I just came from. I somehow managed to make it to the train station around 7:15pm, only to learn the last train to Beijing left at 7:30pm and I would have no time to make it through security and to my gate on time. I left the station feeling disappointed, but determined to leave earlier the next day and get on a train. However, once again, this was not to be.
The next day I left with friends Izzy, Lark, and Little Lark to the station around 1pm. We made it there with plenty of time to spare, but I started to worry when every ticket window was accessorized with a mob of people. Surely, not this many people would be traveling on a Wednesday afternoon on a non-holiday weekend? I assured myself they were all just buying their Spring Festival tickets in advance. How naive of me. (I later learned there is a congress meeting in Beijing this weekend, which explains the mass exodus.)
With Lark translating, the annoyed clerk was able to inform me that my only options for getting to Beijing were to a) pay 600 RMB one way, because all the 200 RMB seats were sold out, b) leave the following day, or c) take a train that would travel for almost 24 hours when the regular travel time should be 12 hours. I decided against all these, and dejectedly got on the bus back home.
I made a pit stop at Hangzhou tower (a huge mall full of over-priced western stores) and self-soothed with a seasonal cranberry white chocolate mocha from Starbucks (with real cow’s milk because I don’t know how to say “soy” in Chinese), spending about half my allotted daily food budget on a single drink (no shame). And then I used the handicapped restroom because they always have western toilets and I was in no mood to squat.
And just when I was beginning to feel a little better, I walked outside and realized I didn’t know which direction I needed to go in order to get home. I stared at a map for a while and decided I should keep going in the direction I had been earlier, only I would be taking a different bus. I sat on the bus for about 4 stops and ended up at the end-of-the-line bus station. -_-
With the confidence that at least now there was no way I could mess this up anymore, I started walking across the lot. But because I wasn’t walking on the sidewalk the guard at the gate beckoned for me to come to him. Just as I was deciding whether I should attempt Chinese, only speak English, or simply cry, a bus passed between us and I seized the opportunity to flee in the opposite direction.
I made it back home and made different plans. And while I’m disappointed I couldn’t make it up north this weekend, it’s still only Thursday and I’m looking forward to having free time and a few days in Shanghai with friends! As is often the case since being in China– many lessons learned.