Monday, September 22, 2008

My foot in Chongqing.

So on our last night in Shanghai, Richard Yin from PACCAR, also a former SU MBA student and a very classy individual, recommended we all head out to a bar called the MUSE. He said it was popular with the upper-class local population and really an exciting place. He turned out to be right.

I think about half of the group went. I passed out cards with the name of the place and the address written in Chinese for people to show to the cab drivers and then went on a side expidition with a couple of classmates before heading over to the club.

The club was huge, and mostly populated by Shanghai's affluent. This was evidenced by the number of Porsches, Ferarris and Jaguars parked in special spots right in front of the club. There were a few different dance floors and a room where a professional from Camaroon sang numbers by Seal and other western pop stars.

Towards the end of the night, as I was heading over to the group to say goodnight in preparation for my trip to Chongqing, I stuck my hand back to my rear pocket as I habitually do every five minutes when travelling to discover that this time my wallet was not there. In walking through the throngs of people over the previous five minutes, someone had managed to get their hand into my pocket and walk away with my debit card and about $140. I was annoyed, but didn't get frustrated until I realized that my flight to Chongqing to see friends I had not laid eyes on in eight years might be in jeopardy due to my plane ticket being in my wallet. Without thinking I kicked a wall as hard as I could.

I often kick walls when I'm extremely annoyed, but usually when I do this I am wearing thick-soled boots that have impact-cushioning soles in them. This time I was wearing thin-soled feaux-designer shoes I had bought at Ross, a discount store in Seattle. By the time I got back to the hotel to call Bank of America and cancel my debit card, I could barely put weight on my right foot.

I resolved to go to the airport the next morning anyway, to see if I could either rescue my old ticket or buy a new one, but I had not slept the entire night due to the pain and had to hop all the way from my room to the elevator and then ride a luggage cart to the receptionist to check out. All I wanted to do at this point was get to Chongqing, where I would be able to find a hospital and get my foot looked at to see if it was broken.

I arrived in the lobby at 5:15am and was met by a lot of surprised faces, as a contingent of students that planned to travel with Dr. Rao to Xi'an was leaving for the airport at the same time. When they heard what had happened they all came to me with medicine and offers of help, which made me very greatful. You really learn about the true nature of people when something bad happens, and everyone on this trip, right down to the last person, rally cares about the Jesuit principals of education. I myself, had it been a close friend to self-injure themselves in such a foolish way, would have been thoughtful but full of wisecracks at the same time.

Megan Tormey, a former SU graduate who came with us on the trip, was travelling to Chongqing as well, so I knew I would have someone else to help me out if things got really tough. We got into the cab and I told the driver to take us to the airport in Pudong.

What followed was one of the most amazing drives of my life. This 45-year-old female cab driver had obviously missed her calling as a Formula 1 pilot, and was trying to make up for it by competing with all the traffic on the Shanghai - Pudong airport road. As she flew through traffic in a 10-year-old volkswagon Santana with no suspension and a loose steering wheel (Volkeswagon Santana: Think Volkeswagon Fox from the mid 80s, but way way lower quality), she constantly chatted away with me as if we were in the back seat of a New York horse carraige, getting a slow tour of central park in the early evening. I couldn't turn around to see how Megan was doing in the back seat, but she did mention that her trip to see a foundry the day before had been less frightening because they were at least in a BMW that was in perfect condition. The speed limit was 80 or 90 KMH, but at one point I think we were doing about 140.

When we got to the exit for the airport, I saw another privately-owned Volkeswagon Santana trying to back up the freeway to the exit that they had just missed. The cabbie mentioned something about the driver's life expectancy for trying to pull something so stupid off in fairly heavy traffic (just heavy enough to go nearly twice the speed limit without having to wait much), and I couldn't help but laugh. She was impressed by this, and asked me how I could laugh in so much pain. I explained to her that at this point, I really only had two options: laugh or cry. She seemed to think this was pretty funny. Mostly I was just looking forward to getting on the plane and on my way to Chongqing and a hospital.

The Shanghai airlines representatives were very understanding and helped out all they could to make me comfortable. Megan also found a first-aid station and bought me a couple of ice packs. We were able to resolve my ticket issues without much trouble, and even got put in first class, since it was closer to the entrance and I could keep my foot elevated.

When we arrived in Chongqing, we were greeted by Jon and Gianni, two foundry employees that were meeting Megan and I that turned out to be former Sichuan Foreign Languages Institute students at the same time that I had been there teaching English. I swear I recognized Gianni, but he said he didn't know who I was.

The ride into Chongqing from the airport was just as stunning as every other part of China I had visited. It had expanded exponentially. The airport trip used to be a 45-minute drive through farmland, and now we were on the outskirts of the city. There were high rises all the way in.

The driver for Megan's company contact took us to lunch, explained that the hospital didn't open until 2pm, and then took me to a hotel right next to the hospital. I had them help me drop my bags off at the front desk to bring upstairs later, got my room key and got back in the minivan for a 50 meter trip up the street to the Chongqing Municipal Hospital.

I was dropped off at the foot of the front steps, where two Bang Bangrs (Chongqing laborers who carry bamboo sticks, or "bangs" too help, or "bangr" people carry things up steep inclines) offered to help carry me up the 15 stairs to the entrance of the emergency room for about $7 US. I immediately agreed to the consternation of Jon, who wanted to bargain a little more, but I explained to him that at this point they could just refuse to carry me and leave me out on the steps. Plus, I grew very quickly weary of them using my weight as a bargaining tool: "You want us to carry this fat guy up the steps for 10RMB apiece?? He's even fatter than Buddha!"

Once I got to the emergency room, I spoke with the doctor and told him what happened. He also thought it was pretty amusing that I had hurt myself in such a way. He sent me over to another building (in a wheelchair, thankfully, with an old guy who I would later pay some money to in gratitude for his help) where I got my foot x-rayed. The total cost of finding out that my foot was not broken but merely an "impact sprain", buying crutches, paying off a wheelchair-pushing retiree and two bang-bagrs: about $50 USD. The service was also excellent, and the equipment they used for the x-ray pretty high-tech, from what I could tell.

As I was waiting for the x-ray results to come out, a Chinese guy came up close to me and tried to stick his hand into my pocket to take my cash. I looked up in utter surprise because nobody in China is this forward saw the face of my old friend Tong ZhiHong. I don't think I've been so happy in years. I had not seen him since 2000 shortly after my wedding and before I left Shanghai, and had only spoken to him briefly a few days before and at the Chongqing airport, where I told him what had happened to my foot.

He started right in with the jabs, like "had I been successful in stealing more money, would you have kicked another wall with your left foot?". I was so happy I immediately started babbling and didn't stop until he had given me a ride to his company, which was now twice as large and much more profitable, as evidenced by the not-so-cheap Chrysler 300 he was driving me around in while telling me he was just doing "okay" at his business.

Later that evening, we went over to 7,8,9 Hot Pot, a small, grungy hot pot restaurant we used to frequent eight years ago. Yao Wei, my longest and closest friend in Chongqing, came running up the stairs to meet me and make fun of my foot and extended midsection (When I was in China eight years ago, I couldn't pronounce the name "Tong Zhi Hong" because it is not easy to say for an American. They told me to just call him "Pang Pang", which means "Fatboy") and to say that my new Chinese name should be Pang Pang.

When we got to the bottom of the stairs, I was met by six other old friends, with more stopping by as the night progressed. One of the friends was Seng Hao, who I had not seen in 10 years. I can't discribe the pleasure it gave me to see everyone again.

Over the last three days, I have been taking it all in. I've realized that I need to come back to China to live and work, to learn the language better and finish the work I began here on developing a career eight years ago. This trip has been one of the best decisions I have made since moving from China to Seattle, and the only regrets I have are that I have to return to the states in two days and I have to wait a whole year before graduating so I can come back to China.

Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you've all enjoyed this thuroughly.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Awesome post! I really enjoyed reading, quite humorous at parts hehe. It seems like all cabbies want to be F-1 drivers! Hey i found a site that you would like a lot, baraaza.com