I have often written about Murphy's Law and how it follows me everywhere I go. Well recently it struck again. After years of living in China, I finally got around to organizing a trip to Tibet. I was due to pay for the trip at the End of June and I was to go in October during the Chinese National Holiday. If you have been wondering why the Chinese Government put a ban on foreigners going to Tibet, then now you know the reason. It was to stop me!
|Outside a nightclub in Xitang town Zhejiang province Friday 22nd June 2012|
I was to have gone to Tibet with Mingxing, a person whose name appears in a number of my articles, since not only did he live with me for a year in Hong Hu, but we have travelled around together a little too. He currently works in Chengdu and in May he pointed out that I had not done any sightseeing for awhile and suggested that I go visit him. When I mentioned that I was planning on going to Tibet he got really excited because he and his brother were also planning on going there in October.
Well wasn't that fortuitous! I decided to just pay him the money and let him organize everything for me. Since he was coming to Shanghai for a conference at the end of June, I suggested that I should give him the money at that time rather than holding on to it, but before he arrived, Tibet was taken out of my reach.
Mingxing - or Mike Zhang to those who know him in the business world - decided to take some extra time off work and do some sightseeing while he was in Shanghai, and he organized for his brother and me to join him. Our travels were divided into several time periods according to our various commitments, but it all came together with our mutually agreed upon meeting place - the Shanghai Railway station at noon on June 22nd. And didn't Murphy have fun with that!
I had finished teaching on Tuesday June 19th and on Friday 22nd I set off quite early for Shanghai. There is nothing like the high speed trains from Suzhou to Shanghai - just a 33 minute trip.
I left quite early in the morning because I wanted to travel out to HongQiao airport, just to familiarize myself with the location and the transport because I was flying out from there to Australia on June 29th. All was set. It was decided that Mingxing (after flying in to Pudong Airport) and his brother who was already visiting someone in Shanghai, would meet me at HongQiao.
Mingxing's brother was on his way to the Shanghai railway station, and I was killing time at HongQiao when Mingxing called to say that his flight was delayed, and so he asked if I would return to the railway station and meet his brother. Well that was a comedy of errors for numerous reasons not the least of which was that the brother didn't really speak English and couldn't understand where I was telling him that I was.
|Waterways, Bridges and Tourists - This is at the Beizha Street Sign|
I grabbed a passerby and explained that my friend didn't know where I was and asked if this kind gentleman could tell him. He opened up his mouth and said exactly what I had been saying and 'brother' was still clueless. Turns out that neither of these Chinese men could really understand the other's Chinese accent.
The bottom line is that 'brother' and I did finally meet up and then travelled out to HongQiao Train Station where we spent a total of 4 hours together talking in Chinese before Mingxing turned up.
|Sanitation Worker on the river|
I gotta say here that I only ever spent one semester learning Mandarin and that was after 2 years of learning local dialect. I still can't read and write Chinese and my Chinese Accent is usually CHINESE and my dialect is mixed. On top of this, I rarely need to talk in Chinese for very long, and so, after 4 hours of talking, MY BRAIN WAS FRIED.
During the time Mingxing was waiting for his flight and again between arrival at Pudong and arrival at HongQiao, we had numerous discussions as to what to actually do and where we were going to stay. When he arrived, we bought train tickets to some town whose name I have now forgotten and then took a local - not legal - taxi into Xitang.
Xitang is a tourist water town and you actually have to pay to go in there. Our taxi driver charged us an extra 50 rmb ENTRANCE FEE (I think we got ripped off), and pointed us in the direction of a local boarding house.
The three of us shared 2 beds in a room not big enough to swing a Panda, but we did have screens on the window to keep out the mosquitoes, a TV, air conditioning, and a shared shower and toilet down the hall. And it only cost 180rmb per night for the room compared with 600rmb+ for local hotels. As we live and work in China and get paid in Chinese money, we couldn't afford those pricey tourist hotels.
The boss lady told us that if we go through the entrances to the sightseeing place before 7.45am and after 7pm that we wouldn't have to pay to get in, and so naturally we dropped everything and did a night tour while it was free. Next morning Mingxing's brother left to take a train back to Wuhan and we did the 'daytime' tour. What a difference!
There are so many bars and nightclubs there that where we entered at night time, we had to shout to be heard. Once we cleared the bars it quieted down. Now this is where I point out why the title of this article has 'Clown' in it, and why there is a picture of a clown at the beginning of this article.
|Nightclub district in the daytime|
We saw this clown outside one of the nightclubs, and so I stopped to take a picture. As I proceeded on my way I glanced in the nightclub door beside which the clown was standing, and I nearly had a heart attack. There was this girl - almost completely naked - with just tassels on the top and g-string down below. Never did I ever imagine seeing such a thing in China.
My friends started laughing and I began clutching at my chest breathing hard saying: 'I am too told to see this! I am too old!' and the Chinese young folk walking beside us cracked up laughing. It was a good stir.
We stayed a couple of hours in the district taking photographs, looking in the shops and just talking. It also provided me with an opportunity to add some knickknacks to my little stock of presents for my grandkids back home. Next morning (Saturday 23rd) Mingxing and I took a leisurely stroll around the area again, stopping to listen to some performers on a stage above a 'water gate' and on one occasion stopping for some really expensive but delicious cappuccino.
|Really old places - narrow streets - this is right by Beizha Street near the 'Me and Town' Restaurant.|
The first thing we did that day was have breakfast at the 'Me and Town' restaurant in the laneway by the Bridge where there is a sign that says: 'Beizha Street'.
The restaurant looked really wonderful and had a sign out front advertising Bacon, Eggs and Coffee for breakfast. What a Luxury! Of course I am always skeptical in China so I made Mingxing question the shopkeeper thoroughly as to how the Bacon and Eggs were prepared and what sort of coffee was on offer and made him double check to ensure that I got a black coffee.
|Old buildings and bridges|
Well, as it turns out, the bacon and eggs are fried AND chopped up and mixed with fried rice. My black coffee was instant sache coffee - milk and sugar included. That's life in China.
As we explored, we kept coming across different entrances-exits to this scenic area and we made sure not to exit lest we found ourselves needing to later re-enter in order to find our way back to our little room. Mingxing kept telling me that such was not likely, but I, knowing full well how Murphy's Law operates, knew better than to press my luck.
Eventually we left the way we came in, had a rest, went for lunch, and then took a walk to find the bus station because the plan was that next day we would travel to Jiaxing so that I could keep an appointment. On the way to finding the bus station, we saw the big ornate stone Chinese archways that indicate an important city entrance, and we casually strolled out through it past the guards. At all times we were in plain view of the guards but when we tried to re-enter, the guards demanded our tickets.
|This town is very old and back then the buildings were built very close together|
As we didn't have tickets Mingxing showed some photos on his phone to prove that we had just come out to find the bus station. The guard directed us toward the bus station, where we achieved our objective of finding the necessary information for the next day's travel.
Next morning (Sunday 24th) we caught the local bus to Jiaxing and after my appointment, took a train to Hangzhou. We stayed in Hangzhou Sunday and Monday nights and on Tuesday Mingxing went off to Shanghai to prepare for his conference, and I headed back to Suzhou.
As I continue this story, you will once again see how Murphy's Law follows me wherever I go, and in the process I will share not only photos of West Lake taken both in 2007 (about which I never wrote) and on this trip, but also of a wonderful little place called the 'Southern Song Dynasty Royal Road'.
Because of the sheer volume of photographs taken on this trip, most of the photographs appearing in the Magic City Morning Star News Version of this story do not appear in the KingCalendar Version, in which photographs are much larger.
|Scenic Xitang town Zhejiang Province - right by Shanghai, Nantong and Suzhou. Easy to get to.|
R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at Kingscalendar.com. An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls.