Saturday, April 21, 2012

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been - Part 1

Some of my Fulbright colleagues told me that going on lecture trips is one of the best parts of the Fulbright program. I’m not sure I’d agree at the moment, given that I’m sitting on a rock hard bed, in a sweltering hotel room with a Chinese woman name Frannie, who is in her underwear and snoring but who mercifully speaks English. But maybe I should start from the beginning of this train wreck of a trip before I get to where I am now.

This all started when I accepted an offer to give two lectures at Jinan University in Guangzhou (in order to receive funding for the trip, I’m required to give two lectures – this detail will become important later). The plan was for me to fly in Thursday, give one lecture that night, followed by a lecture on Friday and a late night flight home. Right off the bat, though, things didn’t go as planned. My flight into Guangzhou was delayed by nearly an hour and a half due to bad weather. That meant I got to Jinan, tossed down my bags, scarfed down dinner and gave my lecture. 
I should have taken it as a bad omen when my host suggested at dinner that maybe I was too tired to give a lecture on Friday? Or maybe I could give a lecture on a different topic? Clearly, they had no plan as to what was going on the next day – I should have seen that coming from a mile way. But with no game plan for the next day and potentially a talk on something I hadn’t prepared for, I spent some time Thursday night in the hotel polishing up an old presentation I had and hoped for the best. Of course, come Friday morning, it turns out that everyone was "very busy” at the end of the semester, so I didn’t actually need to fix up those old slides as I wouldn’t be doing anything. Great. I’d like to say that didn’t matter and that I had a great time in Guangzhou, but the combination of Stormageddon (which prevented me from leaving my hotel room all morning) and many consecutive meals at the university Cantonese restaurant (not my favorite kind of food) didn’t help much. I did manage to get out and about with two students who visited Chen’s Ancestral Hall and Folk Museum with me (the highlight of my trip), but by the time I headed off to the airport, I was relieved to be on my way back home.

Or so I thought until I walked into the airport and saw the flight board lit up like a Christmas tree – and not in a good way. Turns out Stormageddon was not just confined to Guangzhou; no – it managed to mess up the flight system on the entire eastern Chinese seaboard. Joy. So, like a good girl, I headed down to the gate to wait for further information. Further information came in the form of a man walking around the gate area (numerous gates share the same waiting area in many Chinese airports) – but the only words I caught were Shanghai Hongqiao (our airport) as the rest was all (obviously) in Chinese. I showed him my ticket; he nodded but didn’t speak English – only hotel and not cancelled. Hmm – what does that mean? Everyone was walking away after him though, so I followed – having no f*in’ clue as to where I was going. As I boarded the bus and took the only open seat next to a woman, I called Doug and almost lost it. Luckily, Frannie overheard me and let me know that apparently, our plane was still in Shanghai. They had no idea when it would get to Guangzhou, so they were taking us to a hotel for “a little rest” (Frannie’s words).

So, that’s how I ended up here – in a strange hotel room in the middle of nowhere Guangzhou (well not really the middle of nowhere as the sounds of airplanes taking off and the market outside the open window make it virtually impossible to sleep – unless of course you’re Chinese in which case it doesn’t matter as you have the ability to sleep virtually anywhere). And really – it could be worse. The airline didn’t have to give us a hotel; can you imagine a U.S. airline voluntarily taking a plane full of people to a hotel before the official departure time had even passed? I could have not lucked out and sat next to Frannie on the bus, and I could be stuck with some random old man (as the rooms have two twin beds, everyone has been partnered up – an event that did not phase my fellow Chinese passengers at all – see above about being able to sleep anywhere). But then again, things could also be better. There could be a bathroom door in our room (yes – that’s right. I’m sharing a hotel room with a woman I don’t even know and THERE IS NO BATHROOM DOOR), and there could be a lot less mold on the wall (I won’t even begin to describe how horrifying it is). 
Right now, all I can think of is the famous line from the Rolling Stones (I know - not entirely appropriate as the title of the post references the Grateful Dead) – you can’t always get what you want. But I tell you– what I really need right now is to get on a plane and head home. At this point though, who knows when that will happen. I’m hoping sooner rather than later as Berkley started crying tonight on the phone when I told him that I might not be able to make it to hear him read his prize-winning essay at Earth Day. I’ll sign off now as I attempt to channel my inner Chinese person and take a little rest at 9:00 at night as who knows what time they’ll come to wake me up to start on my next leg of this God-forsaken adventure.


  1. I kept thinking this post would end with you safely back in Shanghai and was shocked that it didn't. Thinking of you lost somewhere in China is upsetting. But your resourcefulness and inner strength will get you through . This had better well count as your 2 lectures! Thank goodness for Frannie. A random English speaking Chinese lady sounds like a stroke of good luck in the whole mess!

  2. Wow. Can't say as Jan & I much cared for the busy, rushed, ultra-urban Guangzhou Metropolis, but we were at a nice hotel (The Garden, where the U.S. Consulate is) and every round-table, lecture, and academic visit was first rate in terms of planning, audience prep/participation, and friendliness. Guangzhou felt like NYC though, where everyone you deal with at a hotel or restaurant or store etc tries to chisel a little extra money out of you. The city art museum was excellent--check out the work of political cartoonist Liao Bing-Xiong if you get a chance. [Oh yeah, nearly forgot: a China Bank ATM ate our card and we were told we could only get it back tomorrow if we went to the bank there--a day after we left. TIC.]