Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Passage to Nanjing

We're on the van to Nanjing
Aboard the Shanghai Express
We’ll hit the stops along the way
We only stop for the best…

Click to hear tune

I recorded this really bad rendition of Rush’s “A Passage to Bangkok” before leaving NY in anticipation of taking the bullet train from Shanghai to Nanjing. However, our travel plans changed a bit. I was able to stay an extra day in Shanghai to celebrate my birthday and the Lantern Festival, but the tradeoff was not taking the train to Nanjing. But, that’s OK, as we plan to make occasional trips to Shanghai during the semester, and there will be other opportunities to take the bullet train.

On Friday morning (February 22), NUPT sent a van to pick up the NYIT China campus dean and another professor at the Pudong Airport, and then they came to my hotel and picked me up. After a quick dumpling, bun, and tea for breakfast, we piled into a van or minibus and headed off to Nanjing. On the way out, we stopped at the China office of Pearson Longman Publishers to check on our book orders for the upcoming semester. (Oh yeah, I’m here to teach…so I guess some official work is in order. Ha ha.) We met some very nice book representatives, and after making a slight mistake in accepting business cards, I learned the proper way: accept the card with two hands and hold onto it instead of stuffing it in the wallet (which is customary in the West but which communicates disrespect in the East). Thankfully, these book reps are used to dealing with “barbarians” from the West, and they didn’t think twice about it.

Piling back onto the minibus, we were off for Nanjing. The one professor, Chris, was wiped from the flight, and he was nodding off, but Jim, the dean, was wide awake. So, we chatted for about two hours about China, its development, and things to expect on campus. At around noon, we pulled into a truck stop along the highway and ate lunch. We went into a typical cafeteria that looked like something from Soviet Russia. It was a large room with tables and benches bolted to the floor. On one side of the room there was a small line to purchase a meal ticket. We then took our ticket to another wall counter and then picked three meats and three vegetables that were put on our stainless steel trays. Rice and soup were included. Typically, the Chinese do not have a drink with their meal. They may have tea beforehand, have a clear broth or soup sometime during the meal (which serves as a drink), and then may end the meal with tea. We were out in the country, somewhere between Shanghai and Nanjing, and we were clearly an oddity for most people in the cafeteria. There were a few stares from curious folks wondering why these “barbarians” were eating in this institutional cafeteria. A quick wave or a nod and a “ni hao” usually brought a smile or sometimes a shy turning away of the eyes.

With our bellies full, the minibus took us on to Nanjing. We finally arrived at our campus apartments and unloaded our luggage. Our luggage was ridiculously heavy, as we had to bring a lot of books with us. Our apartments were on the fourth and fifth floors. We “girded our loins” to carry our luggage up, and suddenly a worker showed up to help. He was a little man with some years on him, as his deeply wrinkled face revealed. He bent over and in a quick flip hoisted the heaviest suitcase up onto his shoulder, and up he went! I couldn’t believe it—this was the strongest little man I’ve ever seen. (OK, maybe the little man in Saudi Arabia I saw carrying a refrigerator on his back in the marketplace has this guy beat, but not by much….)

After an hour or so, I was mostly unpacked and settled into the apartment. Jim recommended we get our cell phones that same day. Chris was too tired from the trip, so Jim and I headed to Nanjing city in search of phones. There are no landlines in our apartments, and few people use landline phones here anyway. A cell phone is a must. I was introduced to the gypsy cabs. These are small (really small) unregistered taxis that run from campus to town (about a 20 minute ride). You know, the kind of cab you negotiate the fare before you get in. We got a good rate and off we went.

It was starting to get dark as we arrived in town. Jim showed me how to use the subway (which is brand new, clean, and very efficient), and he took me on a quick tour of the main “centers” of Nanjing. We couldn’t find any cell phone stores, so we tried to get directions from a young student in a videogame store. That didn’t go very well, but we all smiled and nodded and off we went. We finally found a huge bookstore, which Jim was trying to find anyway, because cell phones are often sold in bookstores here. Dunno why, but there it is. After some pointing through class counters, I finally bought a simple Nokia for real cheap. Next was to get the internal chip with my assigned Chinese cell number. That was in another department. I took a number and waited for a clerk. After some more hand gestures, they figured out what we needed and started a strange process of getting a number. They listed a ton of numbers that I could choose from (for some reason, some numbers were cheaper than others, but we didn’t know why). I finally got a number, and then they made copies of my passport (you need your passport always here). Hopefully, no one steals my phone and commits a crime with it, because the cops will come after me… . Unfortunately, Jim’s old phone wasn’t compatible with the card he bought, and by the time we figured that out, the phone counter was closed. At least I had a phone that he could use in the meantime.

It was after 9pm by this time. We found a great little Japanese restaurant and had dome awesome noodles for dinner. Jim was really tired by this time (remember, he had just arrived that morning after a 15 hour flight, did some business in Shanghai, rode to Nanjing, and walked all over downtown). It was time to go back to campus. Well, it was after 11pm, and the busses and subway were closed. Taxis were our only recourse. But it was the same recourse for everyone else…. It took forever to get a taxi. The Chinese are far more aggressive, and we lost so many cabs. We even tried to stand on opposite sides of the street to optimize our chances of getting a cab. Nope. We walked around to find a hotel so we could hail a cab there. Nope. Poor Jim was so exhausted, he actually sat down on the street, leaned against a pole, and fell asleep. I finally got us a cab, and home we went. It was after midnight by the time we got to the campus apartments and crashed. Whoa, what a day—welcome to Nanjing.

1 comment:

sopho said...

The Chinese are more aggressive about cabs than New Yorkers?! Wow. Can't even imagine that.