September 30th, 2010
Location: Carriage on Line 2 Metro
Time: 6:40 p.m.
(Disclaimer: this one is long folks.)
Sometimes writing a post is like pulling teeth – either I’m pulling material out of nothing or I’ve got a lot of material but no inclination to make something of it. I’ve got stories - like about that time I didn’t go to Hangzhou, or the time I discovered that when on Cloud Nine, don’t ever take the stairs - but those are stories for another time. Because, in case you didn’t notice I am currently sitting on the metro, filled to bursting with a story that is begging to come spilling out.
If all had gone to “plan” I wouldn’t be in Shanghai sitting on a train. I would be on a plane Shenzhen bound with Hong Kong just a bus ride away. But I’m not.
And it’s kind-of awesome.
It all started about a week ago when Francesca and I found ourselves trapped in an endless maze of MDF furniture and mass-produced art, yellow and blue bags digging into our shoulders and the smell of Swedish meatballs wafting through the air – that place that has twice now almost destroyed my will to live. With entrapment on the mind, we began to discuss possible outlets of freedom, not from Ikea (although that was a pressing concern) but from Shanghai, in general. This week marks yet another Chinese holiday extravaganza that, though I still have no idea what it’s in celebration of, gives me an entire week off from work. With 7 days of an empty calendar ahead of us, we began to plot. Korea? That’d be awesome? Chengdu to hold pandas? I’m game. Qingdao just because? Nanjing? The options were seemingly endless – until we looked up flight prices to Korea. Cross that one off for now. Eventually, a plan (I’ll admit, not of my own; kind-of was dead weight in that category this go-round) was mapped, flights were booked, hotels reserved, and facebook statuses were updated.
Hong Kong and Singapore were waiting.
Fast-forward to today. Woke-up to a blazing ball of promise. Woke-up at around 6:30 to pack and get ready for my Asian adventure. Woke-up to an unfortunate email. My bank’s name was in the title and it was from my mom. Bu hao. Some bum hacked my account and, irony of all ironies, decided to buy roughly $350 worth of WoW crap. If you know me at all, you know my stance on this game (and people’s decision to use real dollars to buy virtual commodities. Let’s just say, I don’t agree and leave it at that.) Apparently, my bank knows said stance because they automatically shut it down. Bam. Done. No money coming in and ain’t no money coming out.
Bad timing. About to leave the country without a means to cash unless willing to waste my afternoon in a bank for currency exchange? That sucks. So, despite waking up to a golden orange sun that just glowed with opportunity and good fortune, the day wasn’t off to a good start. Oh, me of little faith.
Back to the meat of it: the trip and why I’ve been detoured:
Bad planning is really at the heart of it. I get off of work at 4 and I booked a flight for 6:30 – a flight on a plane departing from an airport on the exact opposite side of town from where I work. Gold star for me. But, hope against hope, fingers crossed, and possible bribery involved I would be on that flight.
Originally, I was just going to hail a taxi and scoot on over to Longyang Station to zip over to Pudong International on the Maglev. But I was advised against a taxi in Shanghai traffic on a day that everyone and their mother would be out on the road going to wherever it is that people go on a seven day holiday – not to mention during rush-hour traffic. So, I opted for the metro. There are 18 stops between Longbai Xincun and Longyang Station, including a transfer at East Nanjing. Sitting on that purple metro, I was biting my fingers as I looked from my clock to the map and back to my clock. I was cutting it close, but I was pretty sure I could make it. Pretty sure, that is, until my metro kept right on going past my darkened interchange.
Improvise Plan B.
Off the metro I went at the next stop, hoisted my bag up multiple flights of stairs, and emerged onto a cart-crammed sidewalk with wares lined-up end to end. Street food at its finest and me with no appetite of any kind. In fact, I kind-of wanted to throw-up. It was 5:15 and I was a good 5 metro stops away from the Maglev. And vendors weren’t the only ones out in full-force. Travelers with luggage, travelers without, babies, and mothers, and sequined, stilettoed waifs. People and people and people. And every one of them awaiting a free cab. Oh, and lots of white and blue police cars and ambulances with lights a-flashing. Could possibly explain the madness. Maybe not. This Is China, after all.
This is about when no-holds barred Kirsti kicks in, the one my momma didn’t raise – she wouldn’t have survived a day in this country. There was not an empty cab to be found and with everyone clamoring for one, odds weren’t looking good. Finally, magically, one pulled up to let out a fare and I, *cough – stole- cough* swooped-in and climbed inside. I’d had the wherewithal a few minutes earlier to have a Chinese friend text me the station I wanted to go to, so time was not lost attempting to explain in my lack of tone (and thus utterly useless) Chinese where I wanted to go. And off we went.
And, holy crap, did we go. Ride of my life. Almost died, or at least had my face broken into 5,000 pieces at least 4 times. Almost killed pedestrians 3 times – no lie, people literally dove out of the way. Came within centimeters, slivers of centimeters of side-swiping and/or rear-ending busses, SUVs, bikes, other taxis, and other cars. Man was driving like Satan was on his tail and he wasn’t yet ready to face the music. My heart was kicking into full gear. It was like a roller coaster rush but longer and more exciting because without the weighty assurance of a safety harness, the threat of real danger was eminent and potent. I loved every second. Later, as I was waiting for my fate to be confirmed, I texted Francesca: “Whatever happens, cab ride was TOTALLY worth it.”
And the whatever did happen.
After an 8-minute, 304km an hour train ride, I arrived at Pudong International Airport at the unfortunate time of 5:55 pm. By the time I got through the check-in line my flight had closed. The man at the counter told me to go around the corner to the ticketing counter to see if I could reschedule. I wasn’t holding out much hope because earlier Francesca had called to inform me that she’d had to buy new tickets for a later flight, and supposedly those were the last available seats to Shenzhen both for that day and the next. Also, the new tickets came at a dear price.
I trudged around the corner with a heavy heart, consigned to a week in the city and the loss of both the adventure and the money I spent on tickets. I stepped up to the counter with my reservation confirmation and passport, crossed my fingers, and asked with dejection if there were possibly any flights out to Shenzhen that night because I had missed mine. The man informed me that there was in fact one more at 9:30 that night - first class and it would cost me about 1600 quai. I was surprised because that’s less than 300 USD. I told him I’d take it, but when he went to book it, it was gone. Smarmy people next to me must have snagged it right out from underneath me. Okay, how about tomorrow? Yes, in fact, there are some available seats: 7:35, first class. And how much will that cost? “No fee “ he replied. I looked at him – “no fee?” “No, no fee.”
I took it.
And so, here I sit tapping away on a metro saying a million thank yous to my awesome miracle worker. I have never before heard of being able to transfer tickets without a fee if you’ve booked through one of those discount companies. It’s always the customers fault and you pay for it. Either I am extremely blessed or this airline has a great policy. I’m not going to question it.
I still get my big 7-day adventure and I’ll treat this as an added bonus.