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Down Under from Up Over

As always, the second you state something publicly, Fate will laugh. About a day ago I wrote a long rant about how I like long journeys, don’t mind getting tired, blah blah blah, la di dah. So of course, of course, just a few hours later I had to prove that I can be true to my words. Here’s what happened.

My flight from Melbourne was scheduled to land in Shanghai about 8 pm, which would have left me roughly 75 minutes to ride the whole length of the green metro line from the Pudong Airport to Hongqiao Railway Station and get on the last train from Shanghai to Hangzhou. Risky, but should have been doable.

The problem is, the flight was delayed and my window got even narrower. Humph. What to do? I tried calling E. to ask if she’d got my email and if I could crash at her place for the night. Uh-oh. My Chinese SIM card, which was perfectly all right before I went to Australia and switched it to the old Polish one, suddenly went on strike and claimed it’s out of credit. Convenience store, quickly! There’s a Family Mart, hooray! …Or is it? Turned out that out of all convenience stores in China that one was, shockingly, the only one that didn’t sell China Mobile recharge cards. What? How, why? I located a phone booth. I don’t know what it was that they said in it  (in Chinese AND English), because they were whispering, but I assumed I couldn’t use the phone. Next I was told by some security guys that there was another convenience store down the hallway, so I ran there and was told they sold out all the China Mobiles cards. How probable is that?

So basically I was left with two choices: 1. wing it. Get on the metro, get to E.’s station, try to remember the way to her flat and hope that the guards will remember the number, that she’s at home and that she’s got space for me to sleep. 2. get straight to the railway station and just wait.

And in my state of mind, which at this point called for the shortest way from A to B, I chose the latter. After all, how hard can it be? The station is nice (yes, Mum, it’s much cleaner and nicer than all Warsaw railway stations put together! No hobos, no drug dealers, no perverts!), it was the eve of Chinese New Year so the crowds of Chinese migrating home for holiday should be gone (and if not it’s better to get a head start anyway), there’s a toilet, there are seats. Perfect!

It turns out I forgot about one crucial detail. It’s January. It’s 0 degrees. Unlike at the airport, there’s draughts. In short: I was COLD.

After an hour I relocated from the bench (it was one of those metal thingies that never get warm, no matter how long you sit on them) to the floor and sat on my backpack, hoping I’m not crushing or squeezing all the wrong things. I tried to occupy myself with my computer and spent half an hour wandering around in search of a working socket to plug it in. Unsuccessfully. I made repeated trips to the loo just to put on some extra layers of clothing (remember I was on the way back from Australia – I didn’t have a lot of winter clothing with me!) and finally had a brilliant idea to use my sleeping bag (for the first time on this trip) and wrap myself in it; head, arms and feet included. After that it was just a matter of stretching your back once in a while to avoid asphyxiation (curling up is much more dangerous than people think!) and getting used to the nearby escalator yelling every time anyone got within two meters from it: “Watch out and hold the handrail! Thank you for your cooperation!”.

Anyway, about 5 am the escalator finally started going up again, to the departures floor. After that it was plain sailing. An hour on the 6.15 train and a 45-minute walk home. The last thing I noticed before I stumbled into my flat and fell asleep, though: the city on the Chinese New Year is spooky. It’s like in one of those movies, where a lonely traveller arrives in town and everything is empty and you can hear sounds of celebrations from afar but there’s no one around and you know something’s brewing… I mean, there weren’t even any taxis around! Everywhere around me there was a smell of sulphur and a sound of fireworks (yes, at 7 am and still going on a day later), but no people whatsoever and all you could see on the streets were the torn red carcasses of firecrackers. See? Spooky.

And now nothing’s open, and I’ve got nothing to eat at home. I’m hungry. Feed me, anyone?

What I found on the door of a broken cubicle at the railway station...