Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Train Wreck of A Day Trip

It all started to go bad when I went to visit my waiban (my handler in the International Exchange Office - IEO) to wrap a few things up. I mentioned that I needed to mail things on Thursday as on Friday, we were planning on taking a day trip out to Hangzhou. Most tourists, when they do a longer stay in Shanghai, usually head out to one of the outlying tourist towns; Hangzhou is probably the most visited of these towns. The chief attraction is West Lake, a famous picturesque site and the inspiration for the Summer Palace in Beijing. While we weren’t really all that gung-ho about going, we feel like we’ve seen pretty much everything we wanted to see in Shanghai and that we ought to take at least one of those side trips, so the plan was made. When I mentioned this, my waiban told me that they were bringing a group of American law students there for the weekend, and we were welcome to tag along for a ride.

Sensing an opportunity to save some money and thinking it would not be that much more time than taking the fast train, we agreed to go along. We showed up at the appointed time, but we didn’t leave on schedule this time (we left on the dot when the IEO did a similar tour to Ningbo for faculty), probably because these were a group of young students who are new to Shanghai, not really early risers. Things got worse from there. We were told it would take about 2 hours with no traffic; we hit a little traffic, but when we stopped for a rest break at approximately the 2 hour mark, we knew it wasn’t a good sign. We might have been able to go with the flow if it weren’t for the fact that there was some know-it-all law student sitting a row behind us, educating her row mate about all sorts of topics. For two hours, the one-sided “conversation” continued. I nearly lost it – now approximately three hours into the two hour drive – when she started giving a really simple history of WWII. At that point though, I wasn’t sure which was worse – the fact that she was giving this lecture or the fact that her seatmate seemed to be asking a few questions to indicate that this was all new to her.

We were finally able to bail and catch a cab when the group stopped at the hotel to check in. We arrived at the lake, hours later than planned, famished and already completely overheated. The temperature situation would get worse, as it was well into the 90s and there was little breeze or shade, and the food situation wouldn’t stabilize until after a bit of bickering (between Doug and me, not the boys) and several rounds of snacks.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The sights of Hangzhou were lovely, as you can see below.

Had this trip been completed after just two weeks in China, we would have been amazed. But I think the thing is – we’re just tired of touring China. We’ve seen many beautiful things here, so we’re getting a big jaded: it takes a lot to wow us. It’s not China – it’s us. We’re really just ready for a more normal life. So we packed up a bit early (and with a rare bit of good luck for the day managed to find an excellent pasta restaurant that served us the best pesto we’ve had all year) and hit the train station (after an exasperating exchange with a cabbie who steadfastly refused to accept our pronunciations of either train station or street names), where we were greeted with slowly moving lines 40 deep throughout the ticket hall. Good luck once again came to a screeching halt – or so we thought. I queued up with the locals, while Doug regrouped and scouted the station. Our luck returned in the form of a foreign guests ticket window, with less than 5 people in line. Tickets secured, we sprinted to catch our train, leaving less than 5 minutes to spare after we settled into our seats. As our fast train left Hangzhou in the distance, there were no mixed emotions - only relief that our relentless march through China was coming to a close. I’m sure in a few months, I’ll remember this day more fondly, but for now, I am glad to be back in our own apartment, preparing to head off to Vietnam and Cambodia and then HOME.

1 comment:

  1. And so are we. It's been a long time and we miss you all so. Dad and Judy