Personal Note: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China. It costs too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Steve, usa, March 28, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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Since my first stop would be Fuzhou city, I talked to David, now working for a civil engineering firm in Fuzhou, asking him to take me to visit my relatives again, after an absence of about seven years. David seemed very eager about this and suggested we could rent a car, and he would drive me there himself. During my seven years in China, there was no communication between my relatives and I, after my first visit in 2008, because I had difficulty speaking the Fuqing dialect. I hope my cousin brother still lives in the same house. Though I had learned to converse in simple every-day Putonghua after seven years in China, I still need David to be my official translator. I will be in China for the Chunjie holidays from January 14 to February 29, 2016. I told him Fuzhou would be my first city to visit from Xiamen in my itinerary. I had also asked David to find me a hotel near the train station in Fuzhou because a friend, Cody, from northern Fujian Province would like to visit with me. Cody had asked me to bring him a copy of a thick book about Deng Xiaoping, a second-hand copy that I could easily procure from Amazon in USA. And David assured me he could find me a hotel, that there are a few to choose from near the train station, and that I should not worry. There are a few right near the train station. He repeated. This is China. I trusted his words because he is always dependable, trustworthy and a loyal friend.
After a few days staying in Dream Hotel near the campus, it was time for me to travel to Fuzhou, my first stop. Youli, completing his PhD in Xiangan campus, promised he would drive his new car to Dream Hotel, and together he would take me to the central train station in Xiamen. Youli must love his new car and driving, because he took a long time driving me to Xiamen, using a longer route. For many in China, a car is a big toy for them, and they would play with it like children with their new toys. He avoided a shorter route. I enjoyed the ride because we started early in the morning to allow us plenty of time to reach the train station. Both of us remembered vividly how we missed the train during the 2015 WuYi holidays.
Youli had no problem driving me right to the front of the train station, following other cars and taxis. I arrived on time to join a huge crowd all waiting anxiously for the main door to open, so we could enter the main building. What bothered me the most were the officials, despite the presence of many passengers at the train station, who waited for the last minute to open the door, a narrow one. Hundreds rushed and pushed through the door with their bulky personal belongings, to the luggage machines for scrutiny, then the body-physical checks, then to the departure gates, located along both sides of the waiting hall to various destinations. Departure time was 1:05 PM and I thought I was two hours early, but all the seats in the huge waiting
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hall were taken by people, many were workers going home for the most important holiday—the Chinese New Year. Today was January 23, still early for the people to return home for the February 8 New Year. Those now waiting in the hall were surprisingly orderly and well behaved, and patient with the trains and each other. Not so if you waited until a week before February 8, the official day of the Chinese New Year, when crowds would he big and unruly, that you would think a fucking dam had broken somewhere; or inhabitants trying to flee from the wrath of a destructive volcanic eruption. So bad that you would wish you did not have to return home for the big family reunions all across China. The masses are on the move across China, the same news repeated year after year in China, and across the world. They call it “mass migration”, like the great annual wildlife migration of wildebeests in Africa.
The train ticket has everything you need to know: what city to what city, the train number, departure date, time of departure, the carriage number, the seat number, the price of the ticket, and your name in English. And if you are not sure, confused or perplexed by the sheer crowd of anonymous faces, just show your ticket to a Chinese and he will direct you to the right departure gate. That simple. You do not need to speak a word of Putonghua or use some kind of sign language. Just show your train ticket. It had happened to me before, at different stations.
In almost every major train station, passengers would enter the departure gate with your train ticket using a scanner, then go down an escalator to the waiting train, with the number of your carriage marked on the ground, if you have to wait for the train to arrive. If the train is already at the station, you look for the number of the carriage where you would find your seat. Most people, because of their bulky and heavy luggage would avoid the stairway or staircase and would choose to use the escalator. But not every train station has escalators for the public to use. China is notorious with stairways. A few times a strong man would volunteer to carry my luggage if there is no escalator available. Yes, there are stairways in many places in China. This is China. For example, you have to climb many steps if you plan to visit a government office. This is true with any important building, government or non-government, throughout China. It seems the importance of a person or office is measured by the number of steps you have to climb before you reach his office. China might have to reconsider this with the rapidly aging population…and it is not easy to climb the many steps.
Everything about the new high-speed train is different. All passengers were in their assigned seats. Once the train was moving, a few loitered in the open space or the area between the carriages. There was a middle-aged couple there, too, who had brought their own low plastic stools to sit on. Young male parents would bring their kids to use the toilets. A few young passengers would lean against the walls with their eyes
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half closed. One or two restless children broke loose from their mothers. I was lucky to be given a front row seat with ample leg room to have my luggage there, without having to lift it up and place it on luggage spaces or racks above the seats. In addition to my luggage, which has everything I might need during my forty-five-day stay in China, I have a computer bag, and an open bag to carry gifts that were given to me.
I knew my hosts and friends would shower me with gifts, and I had decided to give them away before I returned home to USA, at the end of the trip. In fact, not too long ago, I gave away almost everything that once filled every niche of my apartment after seven years in China, including four bottles of expensive Moutai, many elegantly packaged expensive Chinese tea, hand-made crafts of various kinds, kitchen appliances, my desktop computer, and a new plasma TV, a new king-size bed, and my upright piano. Basic things are essential to a comfortable life, but after a while I became tired of things, things, things. I prefer an uncluttered existence, often feeling the need to be free like a bird and see the world with a bird’s eye view from a distance with clearness and some objectivity, something I must do and have if I want to continue to be an effective writer.
David had to work at 3:30 PM on a Thursday afternoon, the time I arrived at Fuzhou train station. Upon arrival, I was confident to find a few hotels David had told me and so, though new to Fuzhou, I followed the crowd, ignoring all other exits at the train station. I should have learned this in early 2015 when Jake and I visited Shenzhen, a four-hour-speed-train away from Xiamen. Carlos Xie, a former student and now living and working in Shenzhen, told us which exit to take when we arrived in Shenzhen train station. Because in his words, the hotel you wanted is right in front of you when you come out of the exit. All train stations have four major exits: east, west, north, south. So knowing the right exit will save you unnecessary anxiety when you arrive in a new town. Yes, the hotel was there waiting for us in Shenzhen, next to the exit. I forgot all about this when I talked to David from America. I failed to ask him about which exit I should take at Fuzhou station. So without thinking, like a stupid sheep, I just followed the crowd. It did not dawn on me to call David about the exit when I arrived at the station. Not many passengers got off the train at the station. What I saw outside the train station was a large number of buses, maybe I was looking at a bus terminal. I followed again the crowd, the direction where most people and passengers were moving. Somehow I felt I could be following the wrong people and that the place didn’t look right to me. I slowed down my steps. I did see one big board up in a building, quite a distance from where I was walking, with the name of a hotel on it. But the more I walked away from the train station, the more I felt I was going in the wrong direction. Just a feeling, but it got worse with each step. The road was bad. The shops along it reminded me of a small village town somewhere in China,
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not Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian Province I heard about. Seeing a young couple behind me, I stopped to ask if they knew of any hotels in that area or its vicinity. We were moving in the same direction. They were very kind to me and turned and pointed to the opposite direction, back to the train station and go north. I was going south, away from the hotels to the north of the station. They seemed to know the area well. I was going south. Going north means going to downtown Fuzhou. Though exhausted by now having to drag my luggage, computer bag and a bag of gifts, I felt a sense of relief, knowing I could now change direction and find the hotels I was looking for.
Here was an error, or was it? I learned a simple bitter lesson: following a crowd is not always the right choice to take. Now I had to try very hard to pursue and persuade a taxi, any taxi, to take me to the north and that would mean taking me to the other side, the north side, of the station. In China, most taxis would avoid you, like you have a contagious disease, if you are not using the taxi for a long or longer distance. This is China. Longer distance means more income for the hungry taxi-drivers. In the past in Xiamen, I had learned to get in a taxi quickly and then tell him where you want to go. Avoid telling him where you want to go standing outside the car door. But once you are inside the car, they are more likely to drive you there, grudgingly. They do not want to do business with you if you are only going for a short distance. And here in Fuzhou, it happened again. I was disappointed because no one wanted to take me to the north. The distance was not worth the drive or the money, using the meter. I tried two tactics. Can you take me to a hotel? I pointed to the north direction. Or, here is my 10 or 20 yuan, would you take me to a hotel in the north? Again, I pointed to the direction I wanted to go. Forget the meter and dangling your cash in front of their eyes. With 20 yuan, a sacrifice I had to make, they took the bait and I was on the way to the hotel.
And here is something else I learned from David and others in China: “It is a walking distance.” It is a walking distance from the station, I remember David’s instruction. In America, it means a short distance, between two points. In China, it means a long, long way to go and never in a straight line from point A to point B. It was a Thursday and I arrived at around 3:30 PM and David was still at work. The taxi was very cooperative after I paid him 20 yuan (maybe less if we were to use the meter) and it was, to me, not a walking distance from the train station. And he dropped me at the door of the first hotel he saw. I called David to tell him where I was, that I would be waiting for him.
This is China.