These last couple days have been extremely hectic and stressful. I finally turned in my capstone, thank god. It turned out better than I expected, which is good for all of the computer trouble I’ve had lately. I am currently sitting on a 26 hour train ride to Chongqing with a screaming baby, no voice and a missing $65, but I’m skipping ahead.
These last two days I have spent all of my waking hours either writing my capstone or packing “my life”. Apparently a semester is a lot more time to accumulate a bunch of random stuff than I imagined. The plan was to pack the majority of my stuff into my large suitcase, and use my big backpack for traveling. Yesterday afternoon, after finishing my capstone, I somehow managed to cram everything I own into one suitcase to ship to Xi’an. We had already asked about the size and weight at the post office on our campus and they had told me it would be less than 100 kuai for my luggage which was amazing- less than $15 for around 50lbs?! I guess I wouldn’t be throwing much away after all. All we had to do was bring our stuff to the China Post off campus.
Yesterday afternoon, Nate and I lugged our stuff all the way to China post, a good four blocks away from our dorm. We were drenched in sweat arriving at the post office, but happy to finally be rid of our suitcases. The guy behind the counter had us fill out forms as to where to ship our things. After a giant, sweaty struggle trying to figure out what we were supposed to write where, we finally deciphered the characters enough to fill out the forms. We then went back to the counter to ship our bags. The guy behind the counter decided that NOW would be a good time to tell us that they couldn’t ship our things if they were in our suitcases. He told us everything had to be in a box, and they didn’t have big enough boxes for our suitcases. He then opened Nate’s suitcase and started unloading his clothing into a box. “NONONONONO!” he screamed, taking back his clothes from the man behind the counter. He then went to call Marketus while I proceeded to argue with the man in Chinese. Isn’t luggage a self-contained item? Why does it have to be in a box? I pointed at women with giant sacks and said “their bags are just as big as our suitcases!!” –nope it’s China and nothing here ever makes sense.
Nate was eventually able to get ahold of Yuan Yuan who told him that we might have to bring our suitcases with us to a train station, where we could pay to put our stuff on a train to Shanghai and Xi’an and our program directors would have to pick it up at the train station. GREAT. Joe will hate me even before the program even starts. As we were walking back with roughly 80 lbs of luggage each in 90 degree weather, I was near tears and Nate was pissed. We were about half way back when Yuan Yuan called Nate and told him that the Friendship Store on campus might be able to send suitcases express mail. It was going to be a little more expensive because it was express, 3 days rather than 10 days, but at least our stuff was getting there. After finally ridding ourselves of 80lbs of luggage (35 kg for me to be exact), I felt so light walking back to the dorm. Although it may partially be because I was light headed, seeing as it was 3:30pm and I hadn’t eaten anything all day except for the last little bit of my instant mashed potatoes and two cups of instant coffee. HEALTHY. So I bought an orange to tide me over until dinner and stole some leftover baozi from Will.
That night I was doing some last minute organizing and realized I had a big problem: I couldn’t find my train ticket ANYWHERE. I must’ve thrown it out when I was cleaning out my drawers! Windsor and I dug through the trash can but it was nowhere to be found. I searched through every crevice of my purse and my backpack but it was gone. After everything that had happened over the last month with my computer breaking 500 times, having to buy a new computer that’s in Chinese (I still can’t figure anything out), my luggage, buying the wrong train ticket etc. etc. I am now physically incapable of “freaking out”. I sat there calmly on my bed while Windsor ran around the room digging through the trash can for a third time and I said, “So worst case scenario I have to buy another ticket and I just go on a different day”. This last month I have been used to dealing with worst-case-scenarios. I decided to call Marketus, even though it was pretty late. He told me that they can’t give away my seat because I bought a bed, and since I used my passport to buy the ticket I can prove that it was me (for once having to use your passport for EVERYTHING in China comes in handy). He said worst case scenario I have to buy a new ticket, but I should just have to pay a lost ticket fee, and they’ll print me a new ticket. Thank God! I guess Nate and I are even on the whole screwing up with train tickets front.
The next day I woke up at the crack of dawn to leave for the train station. Pretty much everyone on our program woke up to say goodbye. A couple people were really sad when we were leaving but it was hard for me to feel sad because I was so stressed about the train ticket situation and making sure I didn’t forget anything. It didn’t feel like I was leaving! I wasn’t going home, I was about to leave on a two week trip. Plus I was exhausted because my mind was racing the night before- tickets, trip things- making it impossible to sleep. I said my goodbyes to everyone, and Nate and I made our way to find a cab. We were supposed to return our phones on our way out…. But Nate and I decided to steal ours. Best decision I have ever made. Hey, we’ll give them to our Alliance program advisors when we get to Xi’an/Shanghai! If not, how expensive can they be right? Sorry I’m not sorry.
When we hopped in the cab I thought it might be a good time to tell Nate about my ticket situation. I was expecting a lot of “I CAN’T TRUST YOU WITH AYTHING”’s- karma. But apparently Nate refused to “stoop to my level”, and besides, I had everything under control right? Maybe.
We were a little worried we wouldn’t get to the train station a full hour ahead of time because the traffic was awful. We eventually made it, an hour before our train was supposed to depart, but it was the largest struggle of our lives trying to figure out where to go to get my new ticket. Also, my luggage situation was a huge pain in the butt. I have my giant Rick Steve’s travel backpack as well as a small Jansport backpack with all the heavy things like guide books and computers. The two backpack thing is actually the worst. After wandering around for forever we eventually found the place where you buy tickets. I was wearing flip flops at the time and they had just washed the stone ground outside so I almost wiped out a few times, but I made it. After standing in line for a while, we were directed to another counter… who directed us to another counter (even though the second counter had no line and was not doing anything). The third counter line took forever and we were starting to get a little worried. Eventually I made my way up to the front of the line and explained my problem. Instead of making me pay a fee, she made me pay for my whole ticket all over again! That’s $65!!! I had to borrow money from Nate since I didn’t have enough on me at the time because the atm near campus ran out of money (typical China). I was freaking out that I had to pay that much money again, but the woman said I could talk with the conductors on the train and try and get my money back. GREAT. At least it wasn’t worst-case-scenario- I was on the train.
As we boarded the train I told the conductors about my ticket situation, and they told me they’d come find me and we’d work it out. Thank god. Nate and I made our way to our beds. It turns out we were in different rooms next to each other, but the rooms don’t have doors so it wasn’t that awkward. We also both had bottom bunks too, which was nice. I thought the hard sleeper would be horrible and crowded but my room only had two people in it! Each bunk had a lot of space too, with the high ceiling. Most people slept the entire time. I spent the whole train ride working on my internship paper, which, minus a few work documents and my bibliography, I finished on the train. I had to write the last few pages on Nate’s computer though because mine died and there were no working outlets on the entire train… I asked. Eventually more people came, but most just chilled/slept in their beds or sat in the seats in the little hallway. It was pretty nice and a lot less awkward than a soft sleeper room might have been with two random people.
The 26 hours actually wasn’t that bad. I had a giant paper to keep me occupied and I didn’t even need to read any of the magazines I brought with me. There were a few times throughout the night that I thought the train was going to derail, but we were still in one piece.
That morning Nate and I sat together drinking some instant coffee I brought with me. The scenery outside was so beautiful! There were mountains with terrace farms and everything was surrounded by swirling mist. Eventually the conductors came and told us to bring our stuff and head through the train to car 12. We were in car 3. It was probably one of the biggest struggles ever to get to car 12 from where we were. Since it was morning, everyone was up and about, sitting in the seats in the aisle, so it was impossible to get through. The train also threw us all over the place as we attempted to squeeze our way through the little aisle with a lot of “buhaoyisi”’s as we smacked people with our luggage.
FINALLY we made it to car 12 where they had us sit at a table. The car was full of train employees who were speaking at an unbearable volume. That is one thing I will never get about China- WHY does everyone feel the need to scream if they are sitting right next to someone?? Eventually the train reached Chongqing and we, along with three other people who had also lost their tickets, were given a receipt that we were to take to the place where you buy tickets. There, we would get our refunds. After trekking through the entire train station, we finally made it to the counter to get our refunds. But there was one problem. Nate and I had given our train tickets to the ticket collector exiting the train station. We thought we had to! Everyone gave them tickets as they were exiting, and we thought everything was on the receipt. We were told by the woman that without my ticket, I wouldn’t get a refund. I asked if she could use my passport to look it up? No. So much for not freaking out- after all of that effort to lose almost $70?! I almost broke down in tears, however, the nicest man in the world who had also lost his ticket went downstairs with Nate to find our tickets while I waited with everyone’s stuff. Eventually, they were able to locate our ticket and I got my refund, losing a total of TWO KUAI aka 30 cents. REALLY?!
I still don’t understand why they couldn’t just make me pay the 2 kuai in Beijing, saving EVERYONE tons of time… I would even be willing to pay way more than 2 kuai to have them take care of it in Beijing! But no, China makes literally no sense ever so I don’t see why lost train tickets would be any different. Not only did paying over $65 without reassurance that I would get it back stress me out, this lost ticket business must be so annoying for the conductors to deal with, seeing as they had to ask me for my information 5 times and make sure I got my receipt etc, etc. Way more work for everyone involved.
Even though these last few days have been the biggest struggle of my entire life, I was in Chongqing, minus 2 kuai. That’s sort of been a theme with me lately. Things go really, really wrong and then after an immense struggle, it all works out.
Truely a life lesson…Even when things go really wrong, if you live through it, it’s all good. And you young woman, are definately a survivor! On top of that, you are turning into a really interesting writer. What fun we are having reading about your journey. We are loving your adventures and I, for one, am glad that you are the one experiencing it. I’m way too old for all your “fun”. I’ll stick to experiencing it vicariously. I can chuckle that way. Thanks Richelle for sharing!