This all happened on the afternoon of Halloween, so later that night I couldn’t eat any candy and had to just sit around watching my friends eating their candy. (This, by the way, would make for a totally effective torture method should you, say, be looking for a totally effective torture method. You know, in case you need to get secrets out of Russian spies or your mom or something. “Okay, okay, I’ll tell you. Just give me a Reese’s cup already!”)
I still consider that whole tooth incident my very own personal message from the Universe.
Don’t be a show-off.Frankly, with all due respect to the Universe, I don’t believe this was really a life lesson I needed to learn, as I have shockingly few talents that are capable of being shown off – at least in public. I can’t dance or do cartwheels. I can’t sing very well or play musical instruments. (And the one and only time I did attempt to play a musical instrument in public I was reminded, tragically, of this fact.) I can’t sew or cross-stitch. I don’t juggle or do magic tricks or understand algebra. Heck, I can’t even be trusted to walk in a straight line most days.
The few things that I am good at are better kept behind closed doors. I can eat potato chips at what I’m pretty sure is a world record rate. I can watch the DVD box set of an entire eight-season television series in less time than it takes most people to give birth. I can spend days eating nothing but microwave popcorn and peanut butter straight from the jar if it means I can avoid leaving my apartment.
Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll be getting any calls from reality television producers anytime soon, unless they’re casting for “America’s Next Top Shut-in” or “So You Think You Can Talk to Cats.”
Lesson learned, Universe.
I shouldn’t show off.
Or you’ll break my teeth.
(True story: a few years ago, I was going on a first date with this super hot guy, who was, like, so hot you couldn’t even look at him directly or you’d burn your retinas and probably scar your face. The same day as our date, I chipped the cap off my front tooth and had to beg off of work and run to the dentist’s office to get it fixed because I didn’t want to show up to my date looking like mountain folk. I’m sure this was the Universe’s way of getting back at me for bragging about my hot date with the super hot guy to all my friends. But it shouldn’t count as showing off if none of your friends actually believe you, should it?)Despite having learned my lesson again and again about braggery and show-offery, it’s possible I did get a little bit boastful in my last post.
Remember the other week when I was all like, “Living in China is totally easy even if you don’t speak much Chinese! The locals love it when you point and grunt! They totally get that”?
And then a few of you were like, “I don’t know about that, Sally. I was in China and it was pretty difficult.”
And I was like, “Wow. I must be some kind of super genius traveler person because this stuff is totally no problem for me.” (Okay, so I didn’t actually say that out loud to any of you because that would be rude and would probably make you feel really bad about yourself. But maybe I thought it a few times. And wrote it down in my journal. And used it as my Facebook status update.)Well, the very next morning after I wrote that post, the Universe schooled me.
You see, that morning, I was leaving for my trip to Xi’an. I hadn’t been able to get a plane ticket directly from Wuxi, so, instead, I bought a ticket from the Shanghai Pudong airport to Xi’an. This would require me to catch the two-hour airport shuttle bus to Pudong from the downtown Wuxi bus station. I had already purchased my airport shuttle bus ticket a few days before my trip; all I needed to do on the day of my flight was grab a taxi to the bus station and then hop on the bus to the airport.
Of course, I smugly reasoned, this would be especially easy for a super genius traveler person like myself who can survive in China on little more than ten words of vocabulary and a series of questionable hand gestures.
No problem. I owned this trip.
I should probably mention here that my limited word bank of Mandarin does not include the word “bus station.” But, I figured this didn’t matter as I possessed a bus ticket, so I could just show that to the taxi driver rather than having to give him explicit instructions. I wasn’t able to actually read the bus ticket as it was in Chinese, but I was pretty sure somewhere on that ticket it said, “Bus ticket” or “Use this ticket to get on a bus” and maybe “Hey, taxi driver, buses leave from bus stations.” Or, you know, something to that effect.
After leaving my apartment and exiting the gate of the campus where I live, I discovered a lone taxi sitting there.
As if he knew I would be coming.
Like the Universe TOLD HIM TO DO THAT.
I showed the driver my ticket. He squinted at it and asked me some questions in Chinese, which I couldn’t comprehend, so I just stood there and grinned like an idiot, which is how I respond to pretty much all questions asked me in Chinese.
I didn’t need to say anything.
I’d just let the ticket do all the talking.
After the driver seemed to understand where we were going, I hopped in the car and settled in for what is usually a thirty-minute ride into town. I had an hour before my bus was scheduled to depart, so this wasn’t going to be a problem.
Even when the taxi driver pulled up to a gas station to buy gas and a pack of cigarettes and spend some quality time chatting to the gas pump girl, I wasn’t stressed. We had time to kill. Who wants to be at the bus station early? Only anxious, inexperienced newbie travelers do that kind of thing, right? I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t a newbie. I owned this trip, remember?
And then the taxi started going off in some crazy direction I didn’t recognize. And the thirty-minute trip turned into a forty-five-minute trip. And I started to wonder if maybe instead of a bus ticket, I’d actually purchased a ticket to, say, a factory tour in some farflung city or possibly hell.Finally, with only ten minutes to spare, we arrived at a large, glass-covered building I didn’t recognize. The driver smiled at me triumphantly, grabbed my money and ushered me out of his cab.
The building didn’t look like the downtown bus station at all, but maybe it was just a side of the station I’d never seen. I had only been there once; it wasn’t like I was an expert on the place.
Or maybe the airport shuttle left from a different bus station – a bus station that looked unsettlingly like a train station. Because this building looked a lot like a train station, to be honest — especially with the big sign over the door that said, ahem, “Train Station.”
But, you know, I’ve lived in Asia a long time. You can’t just go around trusting every little thing you see in English on this continent. That would just be a newbie mistake. Just the other week, the seat cover on a mini-van told me that it loved me, but you don’t see me planning to move in with the thing. (Not without a ring on my finger, Mr. Seat Cover. Not without a ring.)
Marching myself into the building, I headed directly to the information desk, where I handed the woman behind the counter my bus ticket and asked her where I should go to catch my shuttle.
She just stared at me.
She must not speak any English, I thought to myself. No problem. I’d just use my handy-dandy hand gestures – the very same hand gestures I’d bragged to all of you about on my blog. You know, the ones that have made my past five months in China such a breeze. The ones that only someone of my caliber of traveling know-how could possibly possess.
I launched into a full-body performance – one in which I played both the part of the bus as well as the bus driver. There was even a moment there in the middle where I was pretty sure I was able to express the torment the bus felt in regards to its carbon emissions. A crowd formed. I briefly wondered if they gave out Oscar’s for Hand Gestures because I, obviously, deserved one.And, then the woman at the information desk spoke.
“This is a bus ticket,” she said. “You are at the train station.”
That certainly explained a few things – like, you know, the whole sign over the door thing.
“Okay,” I said. “How do I get to the bus station? I can just walk there, right?”
I mistakenly thought I was at the downtown train station, which is conveniently located across the street from the bus station. While the building I was in certainly didn’t look like the downtown train station, maybe it was just a side of the station I’d never seen before. You know, because I’m no expert on the place.
“Well, how did you get here now?” she asked.
(I can only imagine that judging from the look on her face, she was fully prepared to hear me respond, “By space ship.”)
When I told her that I had taken a taxi there, she informed me I’d need to catch another taxi to the bus station. “It’s far away,” she said, “Very far.” (From the look in her eyes, I think she was about to say, “But not as far away as that planet you just came from today.” But she held back. Probably because she was worried I could shoot laser beams from my fingertips or something.)I headed out of the building and found a new taxi driver – this time one that seemed to understand the concept of bus tickets and, you know, the fact that buses can usually be found at bus stations and not, say, train stations.
The bus station was, indeed, very far away. By the time we got there, I had missed my shuttle, but was able to get a ticket for the next one, which would arrive at the airport exactly one hour before my departure. That is if there wasn’t any traffic along the way.
You see where I’m going with this, right?
I mean, this is China we’re talking about. There’s pretty much always traffic – there’s even traffic where you wouldn’t expect it, like on the sidewalk.The bus pulled up at the airport thirty minutes before my flight. I had just enough time to run full-tilt to the special check-in counter, check my luggage, grab my boarding pass, and sprint through security. I got to my departure gate in time to hear them tell me over the PA system that I should really be on the plane already. I squeezed on to the flight right as they were closing the gate… and right as I was having what was most likely my third heart attack.
I should probably mention here that when I get really nervous or upset or, say, suffer three heart attacks in a row, I break out in hives. So when I boarded the plane my entire chest, face and upper arms were covered in this bright red, angry rash. Oh, and I happened to be wearing a tank top that day, which really helped show off my scary, new skin condition.I did not look like a super genius traveler person at that point.
I looked like a mess – a potentially contagious mess.
I also did not feel like a super genius traveler person. I felt like an idiot. I felt like an idiot for not knowing the word for bus station in Chinese. I felt like an idiot for walking into a train station thinking that it was a bus station.
I felt like an idiot for being, well, an idiot.
I also felt like an idiot for bragging about how easy China has been for me. Sure, China’s easy when you don’t leave your apartment. But, it turns out, China’s not such a breeze when you actually want to go somewhere – like outside of your apartment.I’d love to say that the rest of my trip went off without so much of a hiccup, but I’d be lying. There were a few hiccups. And there was a little burp when we went to reserve our overnight train tickets back to Shanghai. And, well, I got a pretty nasty case of food poisoning at the end of my trip. (I’m sure this was just the Universe’s punishment for my bragging about my “digestive tract made of steel” on my About page.)
Not that it was a bad trip – it was a really great trip and I got to see a lot of great things and hang out with some really great people.
But it wasn’t always an easy trip.
Even for a super genius traveler person like myself.
(Ha, ha, just kidding, Universe. I promise, no more bragging or showing off. Just, uh, don’t break my teeth. Because I hear they don’t exactly use much Novocain in China, and I’m so not ready for that.)