Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Rolling Suitcases

When we emerged out of the train station at Shanhaiguan, thankful for the opportunity to stretch after our seatless ride to the coast, we knew we were about to confront two problems. One, we needed to walk around town, luggage in tow, to find a place to call home for the weekend. Two, we needed to run the gauntlet of drivers who would invariably want to help us find this new home, at great personal expense to ourselves. And, of course, the second problem would only be compounded by the first, in that the only thing better than a group of newly arrived waiguoren is a newly arrived group of waiguoren who don't actually know where they want to go.

Enter the most persistent hawker we have ever encountered. Most drivers, as usual, took bu yao to mean bu yao, and they pretty quickly left us alone to roll along in the direction where we expected to find hotel option number one. One driver, however, would not take no for an answer.

As we rolled down the street, away from the station, this driver rolled his car slowly along side of us, getting more and more desperate in his quest for our business. "Listen," he said in Chinese, "I'm about to head home for lunch. I will take you wherever you need to go for free. It is my gift to you." Now, this line, of course, only served to make us more suspicious of his motives in following us away from the tracks and the crowds of fellow drivers.

So we kept walking, shadowed wherever we went by our blue taxi companion.

We crossed over the street, hoping to ditch him by going down the opposite lane of traffic. No problem. He just crossed the road himself, and tailed us in the pedestrian/motorcycle/bicycle lane.

We crossed under the south gate of Shanhaiguan's old city wall, figuring he couldn't make it through. Wrong again. There he was, a minute later, back at our side.

We kept walking. We stopped at a roadside stand, and bought some bingtanghulu, figuring he might get bored as we bantered with the other locals. No such luck.

Finally, we turned down into this old, crumbling alleyway. As you can imagine, this was a lot of fun with suitcases in tow. But it finally did the trick. Our driver friend pleaded with us not to go down the alley. "Bu hao kan," he said. It's really ugly. It's not the kind of place you would want to go to. "Hen you yisi de," Desi replied. This is just the kind of place we find really interesting. And, to Desi's credit, that's not a lie at all.

So we killed two birds with one stone. We finally had Shanhaiguan to ourselves and we found ourselves in the middle of this awesome little street market, where there were good breads to eat and cheap products to buy. Desi, in fact, scored by picking up, at long last, a peasant's bowl, a small metal pot that ordinary people on the go often use to carry their food.

We still, however, had no hotel. So we emerged back out of the market area, looked up and down the street to make sure the coast was clear, and set out to finally locate the place where we were hoping to stay. The only problem? The hotel no longer exists. We actually walked back and forth a couple of times past the alley where the hotel used to be, before realizing the error in our ways. Once we finally figured this out, we reached the building, maybe fifty yards down the alley, where we reasoned the hotel had to be. Except that the person who came out and greeted us was not a bellhop, but a guy who works in the motorcycle repair shop, or whatever the company is that is currently using the property.

We then resorted to more desperate measures. We started asking people on the street if there were any hotels nearby. This actually didn't get us very far. Well, actually, by this time, we had walked so far that we decided that Desi and the kids should hang out with all of our stuff in this nearby public plaza, and I would jet around the neighborhood at high speed in a last ditch effort to find a room.

For a while, it was a definite no go. I spotted a place that advertised itself as a hotel, in English no less. Jackpot, I thought. Until, that is, I asked the guy at the front desk if there were rooms. "Yes," he said, "but you can't stay here." I had read that some hotels in Shanhaiguan might not take foreigners, and here was my first-hand confirmation of that fact. "But I'm a Beijing resident," I reasoned...to no avail.

Somehow, after all of this nonsense, I ended up back near the train station, where it had all started. And sure enough, there it was. A high-rise building. A hotel...that actually takes waiguoren.

Phew! Our Shanhaiguan adventure could now begin in earnest...



At 3:33 AM, Blogger Richard said...

Isn't it amazing that after 6 months in China such tenacity is more amusing and interesting (and perhaps annoying) than threatening. Well done! We miss intersecting at BISS. Let's get together when you get back.
Mc-Reillys (-:)

At 7:19 AM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

Hey Rick! We're back...and trying to catch up on all the work we didn't do while we were gone! We'll be in touch. And we'll also be putting up pictures of where the wall meets the sea...you never know...they might be lead you all to your own adventure out there!



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