Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Third time's a charm?

Ok, I am giving this blog one final go, after two failed attempts.  I have always liked the idea of keeping a blog, but just never found the time while I was taking advantage of Beijing's nightlife or gallivanting around SE Asia as a tour leader.  Now I have LOTS of time on my hands, because I live in the small, rural city of Tonjiang in Sichuan province, China, hundreds of miles from any other foreigners or English speakers.

The journey to get out here was a long one: 30 hours by train from Beijing to the provincial capital of Chengdu, followed by a 7-hour car ride to Tongjiang.  Or so I was expecting.  Obviously there were delays, starting with the SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS I spent sitting in the Beijing train station waiting for my 11:20am train to depart at 7pm.  I split the time poring over GMAT test-prep books, inducing a neck cramp through awkward sleeping positions, thinking about the fact that this delay was going to cause me to arrive in Chengdu at 1am, and trying to alleviate the lingering effects of the previous night's shenanigans with some McDonalds.  Have you ever been to that website "F My Life?"  Well, I felt like a potential candidate for it. 

The inside of the station in the morning and a bit of the sunset as we were boarding:

Once on the train, things improved drastically: I had my bed and my dinner, and the one other foreigner on the whole train was in the same car as me.  Because I certainly didn't come to China to talk to Chinese peple.  As it turned out, I had a couple hilarious local characters sharing the same berth as me--my favorite being this dude who, at 60 years old, told me the secret to staying healthy into old age was to drink beer every day.  He looked pretty sprightly for 60, plus he shared some of his homemade food with me.  Bonus points for awesomeness.

Fortunately (unfortunately?) the train ended up taking 35 hours instead of 30, which means I rolled into Chengdu at the slightly more sane hour of 6am.  Desperate for a shower before beginning the long car ride out to Tongjiang, I scooted over to the nearest hotel where you can rent rooms by the hour.  "Do you have your Chinese state-issued ID card?" the attendant asked me.  "What??  I have a passport," I told them, "How can I have Chinese ID card?  I'm (umm, obviously) not Chinese."  Of course this meant they were not authorized to let foreigners stay at their hotel, so I went around the corner in search of another option.  Same deal at the next one.  And four more after that.  Thank you, Chinese Communist Party.  I had been really concerned about being so sedentary for 35 hours on the train, so the hour I spent lugging all my belongings for the next 5 months around in the rain to every hotel within a quarter-mile radius of the train station was really a welcome bit of exercise.  Particularly at 6am.  I finally gave up, had some breakfast, and called to meet up with my fellow carpoolers for the drive to Tonjiang.  And just because I hadn't suffered enough that morning, I was made to ride bitch the whole way.  AWEsome.

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