Sunday, February 24, 2008

Entry Two: Getting to Jinhua

I brought my luggage downstairs with what I thought was 2 hours to spare, hoping to catch breakfast before my long train ride to Jinhua. Unfortunately, I had set my watch wrong, and was unknowingly running late. I saw the clock on the wall, quickly checked out and rushed into a taxi.

Twice on the ride my driver traveled opposite of the sign that had a train station logo on it. I was nervous, but thankfully he got me there. The train station in Shanghai felt much larger than even Union Station in D.C., and much more difficult to navigate.

Two men in blue uniforms unloaded my luggage from the taxi and took me to a booth. They insisted I pay 300 yuan, or about 43 dollars, as a fee to carry my luggage to the train. I thought that was a bit expensive and tried to refuse, but then the man in the booth pointed and said something very matter-of-factly. The only word he said that I understood was howchur, or train, and he was using directional words as well. I think his point was that I didn’t have a clue where my train was and I had better cough up the money. So I did, and I am glad. My train was N429, and no signs for my train existed until I got to the train itself. We ran up and down stairs, around corners; I was glad they were leading me, despite the price.

Finally I found myself in a train seat, sitting next to someone roughly my age and who was sleeping. The train ride was over 4 hours long, almost 5. By hour 3 I was really hungry, having missed breakfast, and then a man with a cart rolled by selling things. I successfully purchased a bowl of noodles and some water, all in Chinese. That was a relief on a few different levels.

The scenery was interesting, but it all seemed to blend together. Everywhere there was housing, but also there was agriculture stuffed in every inch that did not have a house on it. I saw cabbage patches planted under overpasses, and other vegetables growing next to dumpsters. In some locations the farmers took greater care to have clean crops, with terraces of planted items along hillsides. Construction was also everywhere to be seen, and I think I counted at least 15 coal fired plants within view of the railway.

When I arrived in Jinhua, people rushed onto the train as I was trying to pull me and my massive luggage off. Despite my desperate expression, people were not letting me by. Yet, they did not seem rude, as all were smiling at me and saying “hello.” What I would usually consider impolite was clearly a cultural difference, the first of many in the same vein that I would experience here. I began to push my way against the crowd, and finally a train security guard told people to let the foreigner through. Exhausted, I was off the train. Helen, who is basically my boss, picked me up, and off we went.

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