Sooo I have relatively little work tonight and I’ve been bitten by the blog bug (say that five times fast) but be warned- I’m not feeling particularly profound or together; I just want to word vomit. No spell check, no editing (okay, no editing within reason). Let’s do this.
Where to start? I could blather about how excited I am about the bajillion good movies coming out in the next few months (Total Recall! Dark Shadows! Brave! 21 Jump Street! The Lucky Ones! Rock of Ages! Prometheus! Snow White and the Huntsman!) or the great one I just saw (Yep. The Hunger Games. Gary Ross, you killed it. What a phenomenal book-to-screen adaptation. P.S. Jennifer Lawrence, thank you), but that’s kind of a snooze, it’s my default anyway, and y’all probably aren’t reading this to hear about my movie preferences.
I could also discuss the big old 独立报告，(or, as I like to call it, the Sword of Damocles), a paper on a pertinent Chinese subject that had to be composed in Chinese, and how as of this afternoon the whole thing is turned in and done. I may have squawked about it all semester, but truly, the thought of that thing sitting pretty on my teacher’s desk does make me smile. In all its 2500 character glory, it’s a tangible testament to marked language improvement.
There was the weekend trip to the site marking Eric Liddell’s grave in Weifang, a small city a little south of Beijing. It was there in the Weishien Internment Camp where he and other Chinese and foreign prisoners were kept during World War Two, and there that he died from a brain aneurysm in 1942. I’ve mentioned him before in my writings for this blog, and if you know me well, you probably know how his work in China, his Olympic achievements, and most importantly, his Christ-centered character have made a significant impact on my life (and my running!). Understandably, therefore, it was an incredibly moving experience to be so close to such a hero of the faith and a brother in the Lord. I hope to dedicate a post to that day’s adventures when I have more time! (You can read more about Eric here. )
What else. Pandas? Saw them (thank you Chengdu!), and got a pretty great hat in the process. Water Park in the Water Cube (’08 Olympic pool), a staple on “to do before I die!” boards on Pinterest? Well, eat your heart out, Pinners-been there, done that, and, well, I just wish that upkeep was a priority at that place. It was really fun (Really fun. There’s this one slide where you stand up and the floor drops and you just fall and…ok.), and a lovely way to spend an afternoon post-test.
Perhaps the biggest and best story I have right now is that of a recent hiking trip during my week-long ACC sojourn to the capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu.
I climbed Emei Shan. It was an experience. It felt like I was in the Himyalyas, with prayer flags and temples and freaky weather; not-as-cute-as-the-pictures-monkeys were crawling every which way, stealing stuff, baring their FANGS, making me nervous, and otherwise looking very much like vertically-challenged Yetis. As a girl who likes a good hike, it was an (relatively) enjoyable climb- although I could have dealt without the North Pole vibe near the top or being left to find my own way back to Chengdu, where the main group was staying (for the record, the teachers told us when the bus would be leaving, but our party just didn’t make it to the designated spot in time due to unforeseen difficulties.).
And this is where it gets good.
Well. As stated previously, I enjoy the outdoors, I camp, I can get dirty, I like it all, nooo problem. This doesn’t mean, however, that I can all laissez-faire like waltz into a wilderness experience; it takes some self pep-talking and a bit of mental preparation for the activities ahead.
The plan was this- to get to the top in the allotted time, see the sights, and hike back in time to return with the teachers to Chengdu. We had the option of staying on the mountain for the night and returning sans-ACC arraigned transport to the city, but unlike a large portion of my classmates, I was in no way thrilled by that choice. I climbed Emei knowing that after a good day of exercise, I was getting an absurdly long shower, a quiet meal, and some alone time in a hotel room with (hopefully!) a Western movie on. Bring on civilization, because this girl was on her way.
OOOOOOhhhh, when I found out we had missed the bus and it was dirty, cold, mountaintop living for me, when my dream of shampoo and PJs was TAKEN from me-watch.out. Needless to say, I was having no one of it. My luggage was on that bus. I was tired and teary, and the introvert in me was less-than-thrilled about the kum-ba-yah (sp?) hostel experience I knew was coming if I stayed. I knew that I wanted to go back to Chengdu right then.
I immediately started assessing. The problems? So many. My phone was refusing to accept payment for minutes, therefore rendering it useless; the sheet with important phone numbers and the address for the hotel was in my other bag-on the bus (I didn’t think I’d need it!); I didn’t know when the last train was running from Emei to Chengdu; I only had 200 kuai on me ($40, roughly) and I had no idea how much returning home would require, and finally, there was an issue of getting from the mountain’s base to the downtown area, where cabs could take me to the train station.
The pluses? The mountain shuttle driver told a friend-promised, rather-that he’d help get me to Chengdu, and I, for whatever reason, had my passport- a requirement for hotel reservations and buying train tickets. Hope began to glimmer, and I started towards the bus.
My head was screaming NO NO NO NO WRONG WRONG WRONG, but I had this moment where I could kind of just see Belle twirling in some provincial field whining about the lack of adventure in her life, and I just thought, “Wow, Belle, you’re so right. YOLO. Carpe diem. Get on that shuttle, Courtney. Get that shower. Get back to Chengdu.” (P.S. I’m referencing this moment here.)
So I did. Luckily, I have very generous friends; one let me borrow her phone (with barely any battery, but it was better than nothing!), while another lent me 100 kuai and the number/address sheet. Tokens in hand, I nervously nestled into a window seat, trying to ignore the fact that my sneakers were soaked from the mounds of snow I spent the latter part of my day wading through and my overwhelming hunger (“Oreos! Oreos!”).
It’s then that the mental onslaught began. “Stupid, Courtney, stupid stupid stupid!” At this point, it didn’t matter that little children, sweet old ladies, and young mothers were joining me in this van. I knew, deep down in my heart, that this bus driver was a predator and I was going to die by his hand. The shuttle started with a burst, weaving with abandon down the mountain, but I was too distracted by a) the fact this ride was supposedly two hours (wrong, BTW) and all my good reading material was currently en route to Chengdu, and b) the knowledge that this was how the next Dateline NBC was to begin, featuring me, still taken in China somewhere, to feel nervous about his careless maneuvering. My fears were not assuaged when the driver took out his phone, made a call, and started laughing-I kept thinking I heard “waiguoren” (“foreigner”), and then it’s at that point that I realized he must be telling his unsavory associates that he had a hostage. It’s only after we arrived in the downtown area where my classmates and I stayed the night before did I start to relax; at a stop, I handed him the 50 kuai, my nails smarting from all the abuse.
Peace, however, was temporary, as sketch driver pulled the van into an even sketchier shuttle parking lot and told me to get out and “wait right there” while he parked. “Park the shuttle?” I thought. “So, wait, how am I getting to Chengdu, or to the train station, or whatever? His private car? Ohhhhhhh no. No no no no no.” The nerves started pumping afresh as the childhood admonitions of not accepting rides from strangers crowded my consciousness. I began to weigh running away, just booking it out of the parking lot, and figuring out what to do on my own. My logic was as follows:
“Staying put: might be kidnapped, already paid 50 kuai. Leaving: I saw cabs that could take me to the train station, I know where I am, I saw an ATM that might not eat my card, and I could grab last the hotel from last night’s address, just in case I missed the last train to Chengdu and need a place to stay. I mean, I can make the clothes I have work for one more day, the place is clean, has a TV, shower, toiletries, and I could even take another spin in the hot springs!” (a story for another time)
Leaving won, so I flew to the ATM I saw earlier. My paranoia had reached such levels that I even changed hats just in case the guy, angry that his hostage had fled on his watch, started looking for me. At this point, I was crossing my fingers that this bank’s ATM wouldn’t eat my card (we had been cautioned that the ATMs in Sichuan’s rural banks were infamous for digesting cards; fortunatley, I was familiar with this company), because if it did, the bank was closed, so I would have no one to help me until morning; I wouldn’t have been able to afford a night in the hotel with the money I had on me, and I wouldn’t have had a phone without enough battery to alert anyone of my predicament. I’d be an urchin, Aladdin-style, stealing bread and living forevermore on the streets of Emei. No thanks.
The card worked, and I took out an exorbitant amount of kuai, just to be safe. Lesson learned- never.again. will I be stranded without sufficient funds. I stashed it and dashed across the street to grab the hotel’s address, on the off chance I’d need to spend the night. Right as I was on my way out, a cab pulled up to the front door, a result, I’m convinced, of it being Moms in Touch Tuesday, during which I was being prayed for. I was relieved to find the cabbie and his sassy apprentice extremely obliging, exceedingly fun to talk to, and incredibly efficient; they brought me to the train station without a problem.
Great. Now, the next hurdle- the ticket.
In typical Chinese fashion, I elbowed my way up to the counter, where I mistakenly overheard the bored-senseless attendant tell the fellow in front of me that there were no Chengdu tickets left. I told myself not to panic, that it wasn’t over yet- and found out that it was indeed I the paranoia talking once more; I ended up gotting a 78 kuai ticket on a sleeper, no problem, and when she asked for my passport, I, for the 10000 time that afternoon (now evening), was beyond thankful that I had a “well, you never know!” moment when I had prepped my bag that morning.
After grabbing a quick snack, I was able to have some time to breathe before the train came. My ticket info was weird and confusing, and this nearly caused me another heart attack (I would go through all this just to miss my ride!) but thankfully a kind Chinese woman helped me sort myself out. I remember pacing pack in forth on the platform, singing show tunes (ha!) as I waited for the late train (luckily it was a beautiful night!); the whole time, I’m thinking, “Gertrude Chandler Warner sure did not make the Boxcar child lifestyle seem this difficult.”
When the train finally came, I passed out in my bottom bunk with the assurance from a sweet mom-ish woman across the way that she’d wake me in an hour or so when we arrived in Chengdu. Her kind gesture ended up being unnecessary, as I woke up just in time to hop of the train and begin worrying about the next leg of the trip- finding a taxi driver who could locate my hotel. This had been a problem before, but I had been with map-wielding friends who had fully-charged cell phones. No such luck tonight.
To my delight, I found a guy right away who knew where I need to go. He drastically overcharged me for a cab, but I was way past exhaustion and have never wanted my bed so badly; it was a mistake I’m able to live with. 🙂
Finally, the hotel. The doors opened, hobo-esque Courtney entered and fortunately the perky-for-midnight receptionists didn’t blink an eye. The last part of the journey-check-in-was flawless. There was a room for me (I was afraid there wouldn’t be), they believed that I was who I said I was, and at long last, the hard-won room key was placed in my hand. I arrived just before my surprise teacher roommate, who had bolted the door, was going to hop into bed; if I had shown up ten minutes later, I would have come all the way home only to be locked out.
Needless to say, the shower and subsequent night’s sleep were the stuff that dreams are made of. Yes, it was all slightly anticlimactic, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Phew. And with that, my friends, I’ve got to go study.
P.S. 19 days and I’m U.S. bound! I’ll be vacation in Charleston with the family for a bit, then visiting my sister Gretchen at Furman where she is a student, and then rounding out the Great American re-entry tour with a stint at Davidson for Frolics and hanging out. Then home home home for family, seafood, reading overload, and the dogs!
P.P.S. Just in case you missed it, the whole “shuttle driver wanted to kill me” thing was a product of an over-active imagination. I am sure that he is a very nice man who loves his wife and children and helps people regularly.