Shanghai, mi amor
The more I thought about it, I had to admit that it was pretty strange being back in Beijing. Not all the time – usually it was normal. But stuff like doing things I used to do while living there, like visiting an old restaurant, or visiting the market, really were pretty surreal. It just kind of transforms you back to that time. When I took Nancy to the same hostel I stayed at when I first arrived at Beijing, I had to take a subway line I hadn’t taken since I first arrived in Beijing and all these memories of newness and anxiousness flooded back. I remember living out of the hostel and going to work for the first time to do something completely new. It’s very rare that you get these feelings in life, I’ve found. We go through our lives repeating a thousand daily things and we forget that at one time, when we were younger or at least at some time in the past, all this stuff was new and exciting. You answer your cell phone without thinking about it, but when you first got one, you were probably all excited about how cool it was. I took the subway every day in Beijing and it was nothing, but it was something new and exciting when I first arrived. I was glad I was able to recapture a bit of that feeling.
So, yeah, I eventually left Beijing. Nancy and I bid our farewells (something strange after two weeks of traveling together) and I headed off on my super cheap train ticket. Let me tell you, that train ride was the worst train experience of my life. It was horrible. I couldn’t even fit in the train until 30 seconds before it left because it was so full and when I finally squeezed in, I was greeted by sweltering heat and PEOPLE. Tons and tons of people. Hundreds of people. This train car had people sitting in the seats, under and on top of the tables, lying in the aisles, standing over the people lying and sitting, people crammed in the little area connecting the two cars, in the bathroom, piled up in little storage compartments and anywhere else you could imagine. It took me 5 minutes to plow through the seething mass and sit at my assigned seat (which was taken, but was given up to me when I got there). And everyone was staring at ME. Everyone. The farmers interrogated me (this car was only for farmers because it was cheap) and because of their accents, I couldn’t understand a thing. Luckily there was a girl who knew a little bit of English that could help me. I answered all sorts of questions that night as I was smashed in my little seat. The windows were open but all the cigarette ashes flew by my face and on my clothes as they zoomed out with the wind. Men spit out the window and the phlegm would fly back and land on my arm. I really wanted to cry. But I persevered. I joked around with them. They were fascinated with my mp3 player and offered to trade their AM radio for it. When I refused, they added in two apples. I told them they would also have to buy me a thousand beers. They laughed when I chained my backpack to the table and spent the evening trying to crack the combination on my master lock. I told them I would give them 10 yuan if they could do it, but if they couldn’t they would have to pay me. It was pretty funny. And although they were all good guys, I had to get out. I had to get to some place I could breathe so I headed to the dining car. But it was 4 cars ahead and I had to swim through the people for 20 minutes to get to it. Picking through a mass of people like that on this train required me to be in top physical shape. I had to leap over people, grasp bars high above my head and pull myself over the people, step with great precision and accuracy, and of course apologize when I smashed someones skull with my foot. And when I finally arrived, I figured out that I had to pay a really high price for a meal but it entitled me to stay in the dining car until 10:00PM, at which point I would have to buy another meal which allowed me to stay until 5:00AM at which point I had to buy another. I would watch as the farmers came in and looked at the menu and would ask for just some rice (which was expensive in its own right) because they couldn’t afford the rest and were asked to leave (they just wanted to sit in the car. There was plenty of cheap food to be had elsewhere on the train). I met a girl who worked for a fashion agency doing choreography and we chatted for a long time and then after a few beers I tried to get some sleep on the table. At 3:00am they woke me up and said I could upgrade my ticket for 50 yuan to a sleeper which I gladly did. And after 22 hours, I arrived in Shanghai. My God…what an experience…
So I’ve spent a few days in Shanghai now. I really really like it. I can tell you this much: it certainly doesn’t feel much like China. It feels more like Buenos Aires or maybe even Hong Kong. It’s crazy. It’s so modern and colorful. The people are friendly and the food at the street stalls is still pretty cheap. There is an old French district with French architecture and lots of little old town pockets to explore by the river amidst the modern outcrops of skyscrapers and the like everywhere you go. People don’t spit nearly as much here (I’ve heard it maybe 3 times in 3 days, unlike Beijing which is more like 3 times a minute) and it’s really really nice just to stroll around the city. This place is incredible. I was going to go visit some other city some place close, but I think I’ll just stay here for the next few days and hang out. The hostel is really nice and I’ve made lots of friends and we’ve been going out together and that makes it a lot of fun too. Today I’ll buy my train ticket to Hong Kong. It should be a sleeper ticket so I hopefully I won’t be doing any crying.