In my previous post I was talking about how China Eastern Airlines sold me a flight where according to them an “aircraft” is a train. I was at Ningbo Railway Station swimming in the rivers of people of China. Hoping. To get to spend the week in Taiwan with my friend. When they announced our train number, passengers piled in uneven lines like little iron spheres attracted by a magnet.
I boarded the train pushed by a giant wave, located a seat, stood trying to lift my carry-on to place it on the overhead compartment. The Chinese guy who was sitting there stood up, and for a minute I recovered my faith in humanity, thinking, he was going to help me. Instead, he moved to the adjacent row, laughing with the other passengers who in turn moved their luggage from my side to their side of the aisle. A voice behind me brought me back from this burning hurt. “Let me help you,” said an expat lifting my bag as he gave me a sympathetic look. I sat down still hearing them laughing, still seeing them pointing at me with the corner of my eye.
Were they laughing at my darkness, or they were laughing because I’m taller than them. I had to make a conscious decision to ignore ignorance. I prepared to enjoy the view and relax, now that I was finally going somewhere.
The landscape was passing in front of my eyes in fast motion. Lots and lots of rice fields and little houses, mountains, abandoned buildings, buildings in construction, old factories, garbage, temples, houses like castles, rivers, ships, tall bridges. In order to not fall asleep I started to pay attention to the names of the stations, Hangzhoudi, Hainingxi, Jianxingnan, and finally Shanghai Hongqiao.
Shanghai Hongqiao Station welcomed me with many more people than Ningbo Railway. I knew the drill though, find the ticket window, show my confirmation flight, get a ticket and get inside another “aircraft-train” to Nanjing. The people from customer service kept sending me in circles, and my backpack started to feel like “Monster”, that’s how author Cheryl Strayed called her backpack as she completed her hike throughout the Pacific Crest Trail. Monster was making itself heavy, as my dog when he didn’t want me to move him from my bed. I walked the whole 1st floor four times until I saw an arrow that directed me to the second floor. That window ticket was closed, but there was a sign saying to go to another one a few steps ahead. Again, long line, and when I arrived the woman sent me to the first window. I told her that one was closed, she ignored me as another passenger was asking for his ticket. A Middle Eastern woman stopped me to help me find my way “I speak Chinese,” she said, and let me pass in front of her as she explained my situation to the attendant, who sent me to a window, downstairs… downstairs… once again. Monster acquired its own personality and started giving me a sharp pain on my lower back. My carry-on had the palms of my hands in pain, too. Luckily I found the window and I had to push and threaten (in English) the ones who tried to pass before me. I had to defend my territory! If they tried to interrupt my transaction I yelled “Wait!” They didn’t understand because they kept talking, but I thought my body language spoke by itself.
I got my train ticket and went to “celebrate” with dinner at KFC. I ordered the 2-piece chicken combo, but they gave me a shrimp sandwich instead. What the freak!? Resignation. No more worries. I was only about 12 hours away from Taiwan.
Getting onto the second “aircraft-train” seemed a bit smoother as I already knew what to do. Push, get in, and… find my seat? The ticket was all in Chinese and I wasn’t willing to travel two hours on my feet, so though people seemed unfriendly I started to ask,”Nǐ shuō yīngwén ma.” Do you speak English? The first person responded, “A little.” So I pointed at my ticket, “Seat number?” “You have go train 6, this is 4. Find seat number 5F.” “Thank you.” I smiled at her kindness and walked through the train doors with Monster and my carry-on. I asked the Chinese guy sitting in that row if he would help me and he said yes, immediately putting my carry-on on the overhead compartment. He had placed his huge 4 wheeled spinner between him and me so several times it bumped into my leg, but what could I have done? This man had been one of the few who had helped me. I asked him if he knew where the Nanjing Airport was, and very slowly he answered that it was about 45 minutes away from the train station. A taxi should charge about 70 yuan.
At the exit of the Nanjing Train Station a man asked if I needed a taxi so I managed to tell him to take me to the airport by mimicking a flight with a plain ascending hand. He took my carry-on and I was so relief it wasn’t in my hands anymore. But this man wasn’t a taxi driver. I followed him through the parking lot until he found his car. I didn’t care. I was exhausted. I did ask him how I would know how much I had to pay, when he showed me the meter I thought, “Oh well, I don’t think God wants me to die cut into pieces in Nanjing when I’m just trying to take a vacation.” It was later than 11 pm and I couldn’t fight the urge to sleep this time. When I woke up we were about 10 minutes from the airport and once there he showed me the meter again. Total 230 yuan. What? I told him this ride wasn’t worth more than 100 yuan. But there was no point. He didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Chinese. And I was glad I was alive and in the right place.
Monster, Carry-on, and I found the airport hotel, paid the U$85 charge , and rode the elevator to the 9th floor where we found the most beautiful, plushy bed I’d ever seen in the past two months. What a pity I was going to be in it for only 5 hours.
The next day, after I showered I walked to China Eastern where people were already piling up not respecting the stop here sign at the check-in. They weren’t talking, but screaming, and for a misophonic like me, this was torture. After checking in, they put us on a small bus, all of us. I was glad Carry-on was sitting comfortably underneath the plane, but now Monster had to defend me from all these people’s proximity. When we stopped in front of the aircraft (wow, now the word aircraft made sense!) people pushed , bumped, and ran up the stairs of the airplane with their luggage and children. I was just thinking, what’s the point? All the seats have been assigned way before hand. But the pushing continued even inside the plane. I sat; then a couple sat next to me. Another fellow stood in front of our row talking to the fellow next to me. He was showing him his ticket and I understood that he was saying the seats were numbered A, B, C and he was B. The one next to me kept talking in a loud voice finally sending the other fellow to another seat. Had I understood the situation clearly though…?
I closed my eyes while they were showing the safety video, but the flight attendant pocked me about ten minutes later to ask me what I wanted to eat. I opened my little box of food and was about to start when my whole body trembled. All the people on the airplane were open-mouth chomping, and slurping, and hawking, and spitting… Did I mentioned I am a misophonic? The guy next to me was so loud I put my left index in my left ear and continued eating with my right hand. The torture lasted for about 30 minutes after which I closed my eyes again, but when I was about to relax the guy next to me pocked me and started leaving the row without giving time to give him space. He was taking a while in the restroom, but when I finally saw him coming back I stood for him to have enough space this time. However, he passed me by to occupy a different seat 3 rows in front of me.
The lady from the window seat also went to the restroom and when she came back she started talking to me, even though I told her, “Tīng bù dǒng” (I don’t understand.)
Before the plane landed everybody stood up and took their carry-on. I had to do the same since the window lady seemed to be in a hurry as well. She stood behind me so close I could smell her fish breath, then she brushed my sweater with her hand twice, pulled it down, and patted my lower back indicating that it was uncovered. I looked at her trying to speak with my eyes. “Do-not-touch-me-please.” Luckily the line started to move and people -as usual- started bumping into each other. We were put on a bus again. The wait seems eternal when one can’t stand strong smells, sounds, and crowds. Nevertheless we arrived, and everyone ran to the conveyor belt. I took my suitcase not without having to jostle some people. When I left the baggage claim area and saw the happy familiar face of my friend I promised myself to change the return flight even if I had to pay extra. My friend asked me if I needed to use the restroom, but I told her I’d rather wait till we got to her apartment for I hated to go on “squatters“. When she said that restrooms at the Taichung airport were “normal” I couldn’t hide my emotion.
Welcome to Taiwan!