The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Spring Festivus for the Rest of Us, Part I

It's been a long time coming, but here it is: the tale of my magical 6-week odyssey across China and around the globe. In chapters. Give me a break; I've got 6 weeks' worth of material to work with here. Pretend it's The OC and get excited for the next episode. Though by "OC" of course I mean "Odd China."

My travelling companion, Emma, and I departed Tongliao on the evening of January 13, shortly after learning that Courtney and Jacob, who would accompany us as far as Beijing, would not be returning to Tongliao. Thrown for a loop yet again, we all headed for the train station with the knowledge that we'd return a still more-reduced group of foreigners. What exactly is my motivation again?

Our good (Chinese) friend, English-named Tibet, oversaw the ordeal of getting the 4 of us on the train to Beijing, enthusiastically attempting to mow down hordes of Chinese people so that we could get on the train as quickly as possible. Though we had only managed to get tickets for hard seats on the overnight train to Beijing, I didn't understand then what the big fat rush is to get on the train - we all have ticketed seats, so it's not like everyone's trying to get good seats. Well, after boarding the train from the tail-end of the queue, I realized what the chaos was about. Turns out the seats are reserved, but baggage space is not, which is a crying shame indeed when one has baggage enough for 6 weeks in tow. Luckily I packed light (for the first time in my life) and had only a backpack and "personal item" to deal with. Obviously, it was quite a different story for Courtney and Jacob, who were moving their entire lives. We were braced for the worst night of our lives when we found that their king-size suitcases would fit nowhere but in the aisle and that Jacob would have to lift them out of the way every time some person or the snack cart wanted to get by (which was all but constantly since all the space not occupied by seats was taken up by standing bodies). Our sardine-ish misery was short-lived, however, for the divine angel known as the bupiao lady came by and sold us upgrades to hard-sleepers, at which point we bulldozed our way 8 cars down to the sleeping cars and stretched out for the rest of the night. Praise be to Confucius.

We arrived in Beijing the next morning not too much worse for wear and hailed a couple of taxis straight to the airport, Emma and I bound for Kunming, Courtney and Jacob bound for, well...not Kunming. We enjoyed the last of our time together having breakfast in The Lucky Shamrock, Beijing Airport's answer to an Irish somethingorother. Emma and I eventually decided we ought to check in for our flight, so we headed for the counters, worked our way to the front of the line, and presented the ticket agent with our tickets, at which point she re-presented them right back to us and said, "I'm sorry but this flight is delayed." Dangit. "Well, what time will it be leaving?" says I. "No," says she. Shenme? I asked again, hoping she'd misunderstood, but the answer once again was, "no."

"You mean they haven't scheduled a departure time yet?"

"Yes."

I must have Mao's Curse. "So what should we do?"

I was answered with a brief blank stare, after which she attempted unsuccessfully to appear busy. Emma and I looked at each other, at the girl behind the desk, and back at each other. We figured patience was pretty much our only choice at that point, and we were loathe to give up our position at the front of this line, having heard over the loud speakers that all flights were in fact delayed due to heavy smog (which is of course the most laughable part of this entire situation, because if you know anything about Beijing, you know that it basically IS smog) and that they would start checking people in as soon as they had rescheduled the departure times. So we decided to wait a few minutes, basically staring at the ticket agent the entire time. An hour later we were still staring at her, when we began to detect movement among the ranks behind the check-in counters, and she asked for our tickets. FINALLY. And it was only another couple of hours before we were actually on a plane headed to Kunming.

Stay tuned for Part II, in which our heroine encounters heroin and other strange substances...

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