In 2007, Tim and I spent six weeks in China, freewheeling, with nothing more than a guidebook and a sense of adventure. Of course, not every day could be perfect. In fact, we had one that was pretty rotten.
We’d just spent a week going over the mountains in western China, including the towns of Xiahe, Langmusi and Songpan and we’d had some interesting and wonderful experiences. Then it was time to come down off the mountain and head for Chengdu.
We got to the bus okay, but partway into the ride, we hit a massive traffic jam. It was so stopped up that people, including our bus driver, were getting out of their vehicles. He left the bus running, which we realized later was so the air conditioning would work, not because he expected to leave any time soon. We were just far enough down the mountain for the heat and humidity of the lowlands to be oppressive.
What we didn’t know, what we couldn’t have imagined, and what we didn’t have enough language knowledge to understand, is that there was construction going on and the only road down off the mountain was being run as a one way street. For two hours traffic could only come up, then for the next two hours, traffic could only go down.
We finally get down the mountain and into Chengdu, but this bus only went to the station on the outskirts of town and we needed to get to the other side. And it’s late enough in the day that it doesn’t look like there’s another bus to get us over there.
A horde of taxi drivers descends on us. All talking, making promises, telling us how they were the only ones that could help and various other things. They wouldn’t give us time to think and that made us inclined not to believe any of them. We finally got away, but we were tired and felt harassed.
Then a nice young woman offered her taxi services. She wasn’t pushy and it was a reasonable price and just the relief we needed. We agreed.
The taxi was a minivan. Great, nice and comfortable. But then, this thick, middle-aged guy wearing a sleeveless undershirt gets in the back seat with Tim, (I was in the front). He was kind of thug-looking and Tim and I both got a little… concerned. Turned out that he was protection for the young lady and was a reasonably friendly fellow.
All is good. Finally.
We’re driving down a big main road, with a tall hedge as the center divider. Suddenly, a bicyclist comes flying through a break in the hedge, right in front of our taxi.
Of course, everything stops.
The cops show up. The ambulance shows up. The guy escaped amazingly, with just a broken leg. But the cop process is lengthy. Eventually, the not-so-thug helps us get out of the taxi, across the busy road and to the sidewalk, telling us that he’ll get us another cab.
So another long, and now miserable wait goes by and we realize that the guy is too busy with the cops to actually help us get a cab. So we go to the curb and try to hail one ourselves.
No taxis will stop for us. We keep trying, it’s rush hour and there are plenty of cabs, but none would stop.
Then, a young man, college age, going by the name of Frank, comes up to us and explains that taxis only stop on corners. Sure enough, at the end of the block, there was a taxi stand. But Frank asks where we’re going and I tell him the name of the budget hotel and he says it’s not far off and offers to walk with us. He’s happy to do it just so he can practice his English.
By the way, when someone in China tells you it’s ‘just a little way’ – triple what you think they mean.
So after some pleasant conversation, we get to the pedestrian street/alley where the hotel is and he points us in the right direction. It’s ‘just a little way down’. We thank him and head for the hotel. Well, this trip was very low tech and we weren’t making reservations ahead. The only room they had was one of their fancy ones. We looked at it, and honestly, it wasn’t worth the price they were asking. Oh, I so wanted to rest, but I didn’t want to get ripped off, either.
Ah, but they have a sister hotel that is cheaper, and ‘walking distance’. They call over and secure a room for us. I’m appreciative, but by this point, I am frayed beyond belief.
Tim says that the rain never touched me, it just evaporated off the aura of heat, anger and frustration I was emitting.
Then, we’re crossing the street, with the light, in the crosswalk, and this guy in a little car pulls up fast, crowding us. I know pedestrians don’t have a lot of clout in China, but I turned and stared him down, eyes glowing red – and he stopped cold. Tim describes the driver as having a look of terror, wilting under my gaze.
Having averted an accident with that look, we continued on.
We finally reach what we now refer to as the brick hotel. The young women at the front desk are expecting us. When they see how sweaty and exhausted we are, before doing anything regarding checking in, they tell us to sit on the big cushy couch, fanned us themselves, and brought us cold drinks. Oh, sweet heaven.
When we do check in, the young ladies take our luggage, bounding up three flights of stairs to our room. We followed at a somewhat slower pace.
That night I slept the sleep of the dead. A huge thunder and lightning storm was going on outside and I never noticed. Tim got up and watched it for a bit. I gave him a hard time about not waking me up, but he had tried. I might remember that.
That’s how our worst day in China ended.
The next day, we decided to take it easy and just go to a local park, the People’s Park. But that turned into a bizarre adventure in itself, and a story for another time.