Tuesday, 30 October 2012 – I was four hours early for my train from Qufu to Kaifeng this afternoon, so I sat around the station and people-watched. Everything was quite ordinary until this arrived:It made me leap to my feet and ask, “Je shr shemma???” What is it??? The Chinese are not bashful about asking the most personal questions upon meeting you, such as “How old are you? Are you married? What is your salary?” etc. So I figured I could ask them what this thing was.
The guy told me, but it wasn’t in my vocabulary, so I just nodded my head. He quickly uncovered it so that I could get a better look and take as many pictures as I wanted. Then he left it that way so that everyone could come by and admire it.
I still couldn’t figure it out. It was very puzzling.
After a while of staring and puzzling, I nearly missed the train that I’d been waiting for all afternoon!
I made a run for it, and lucky for me, I hopped on the train just as it was about to pull out of the station! Yikes!
Worse, everyone else was already settled in their seats. How did that happen?
This is what it looked like on the train when I got on:I didn’t buy dinner. She didn’t even ask me if I wanted to buy anything. So this was my dinner:If it weren’t for my dear cousin Lisa who had sent me off from Beijing two days ago with homemade muffins, I’d have starved to death on a 3 1/2 hour train ride! Sniff. Sniff. Thank you, Lisa!!!
Sometimes people seem to know I’m CC — Chinese Challenged — and ignore me. But I’ll have you know that I’ve already been twice mistaken for someone who speaks no English. Once was when the Chinese-speaking guard at Lisa’s apartment called her to say that a woman had arrived claiming to be her cousin; when she asked if I spoke English, he said no, she speaks no English at all. I felt like dancing! I may be Chinese Challenged, but I’m determined to speak NO English unless I’m with someone who wants to practice English with me. So there.
It was very late by the time I arrived in Kaifeng. As soon as I stepped into the night, I was besieged by illegal taxi drivers offering rides. When traveling in China, you must avoid them. They charge flat rates that are much higher than if you pay a metered rate. Plus, they can pretend not to be able to find your hotel and take you to one where they will receive a portion of the exorbitant sum that you will be charged.
I kept my head down and said “bu yau” — don’t want — to all of them. I headed straight for a legal cab and asked the driver if he could take me to the Kaifeng International Youth Hostel, and I showed him the address. He said he didn’t know where it was. Another guy with a metered cab said he didn’t know either, but he’d take me anyway, hop in.
Did I have a choice? It was too late for any of the public buses to be running. It was either this metered cab, or the louts who were still shouting at me to go with one of them.
I hopped in.
We drove around. It was past 11 p.m. Kaifeng is beautiful at night. The large historic buildings are outlined in different colored lights. But all the stores were closed. All the streets were deserted. No was around.
There was no such number on the street.
My driver stopped at a dimly lit storefront to ask.
Then he stopped again at a dimly lit hotel to ask.
No one knew where it was.
But I said it must be here, I found it on the internet!
We drove on and he said he’ll drop me at the nearest hotel, why don’t I just stay there?
“Bu yau,” I said, don’t want. I already paid for a room, I explained.
He stopped the car in front of a brightly lit hotel entrance decorated with worn red carpet and gold Chinese characters, and told me I’d better stay there.
“Bu yau,” I said again. I insisted that he find the address I gave him. So then we had a little argument — my first in Chinese! He obviously didn’t want to make more money driving me around, but I obviously wasn’t going to be taken to a hotel that was certain to gouge me, so I said TAKE ME TO THE POLICE! THE POLICE WOULD KNOW WHERE THE ADDRESS IS!
I had no idea I had POLICE in my vocabulary. Actually, I had only half of it — Jing — the cab driver gave me the other half — cha — as I was being bossy and demanding and freaking out.
So he took me to the nearest police station, which didn’t look like a police station at all:It was completely dark and scary until I knocked and asked if anyone was inside. Then a light bulb went on but it was still scary. This man shuffled out and said some words I didn’t understand. He didn’t look like a police officer at all. Worse, he said he had no idea where the address was, then he said a bunch of things to the cab driver that I didn’t understand. I think it was Henan hua (we were in Henan now, not Shandong), and I was, I was beginning to freak out.
After that we drove up the street a little ways and stopped in front of an alley as black as the bottom of the bottom of the ocean. The driver told me to “xia che” get out of the car. What??? He disappeared into the dark alley. But I stood by the car. Suddenly he darted back out of the alley like a cockroach out of a corner and said a bunch of angry words at me and motioned for me to follow. Are you kidding??? He was ready to KILL me in there for pestering him to drive all over town in the middle of the night in search of an address that doesn’t exist, and no one would know it! When you’re an author, you know these things can happen, and not just in books! Now I was completely freaked out. I stood motionless by the car.
Then somehow I understood that we had arrived at a second police station — and that the first police officer had said that the police here would know where the address is. My Chinese was improving from sheer terror!
How we found our way in the blackest alley and up several flights of stairs in the dark, I’ll never know. But we did. Then we found this guy on a top floor.To my great relief, he looked like a police officer. He spoke no English, but he was very smart. He couldn’t read Kaifeng International Youth Hostel, but he took each word, from right to left, and translated it, then put them back together in Chinese, like a puzzle. Then he said the name of the road in Chinese and told the cab driver how to get there. It was very close by. He gave the driver the eye. Then he wrote down his phone number and told the driver to call when he had safely delivered me to my destination. Of course, my driver didn’t call. The hostel turned out to be just a block up the street. It was brightly lit and obvious. How a cab driver in this not-so-big city could not know where it was, I have no idea. My driver screeched to a stop in front of it, dumped me and fled.
And that was how I got to Kaifeng.