Monday, September 13, 2010

Another travel “adventure”

Me and all my bags
I thought I had figured this out.

As I barreled through the Shenzhen train station, with 60 pounds of baggage hanging off me, I really felt like a bull in a china shop – pushing people aside, saying “rang yi xia, rang yixia!” (“allow me a second to pass”), and nearly taking out an old women with my garment bag. It was 1:20. My train was scheduled to leave at 1:28.

After my last trip I decided to start planning more in advance. I was going to wake up at 9:00, pack my bags, eat breakfast and head out by 11:00; plenty of time to take the subway from Hong Kong to Shenzhen and go through customs, then get a quick cab to the train station. At 9:00am on September 3rd, my phone began playing a really loud and obnoxious rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I turned it off and rolled back over, then thought better and turned back to reset my alarm for 9:10…

At 11:30am I finally woke up and looked at the clock. In alarm, I jumped out of bed and rushed into the living room, where I began frantically shoving my cloths and other belongings into my two backpacks’, duffle bag and garment bag. I couldn’t figure out what had happened until I looked at the clock on my phone and noticed it was 10 minutes fast. In my semi-conscious state earlier that morning I had accidentally reset my clock instead of my alarm. I finally left the apartment at 12:05pm and ran across the street through the poring rain to the subway. I still had enough time to make my train if I hurried, and taking a cab all the way to Shenzhen would have been almost as expensive as my train ticket, so I continued with my original plan.

Getting off the subway in Shenzhen, I rushed to the customs gate. Even though Hong Kong is technically part of China now, it still functions very much like its own country. You have to pass a customs office to exit Hong Kong, followed by a Chinese customs inspection to enter China. As I waited in the line market for “foreigners,” with my four large bags, I drew some stares even from foreigners (who I would think by this time are used to seeing strange sights like me in this crazy country). Finally reaching the other side, I rushed to the road and grabbed a cab at 12:45. I threw my backpacks and duffle bag into the trunk (I’ve gotten quite efficient at this by now) and jumped into the back seat with my garment bag. Seventeen minutes later we pulled up to the Shenzhen train station where I leaped out of the cab and ran around to open the trunk. I pushed the button but it wouldn’t open. The cab driver came around with his key and turned the lock, pushing in the button, but it still wouldn’t open. He kept pushing it, banging on the hood, and jiggling the key. It wouldn’t budge. The cab driver knew I how little time I had, and he began to start getting frantic (this is not to mention how I was feeling at this point). Two men selling carts for travelers to use to bring their luggage into the train station came over to see what was going on. “What time does your train leave?” One of them asked. “about 1:30” I replied. “1:30? Oh, you’re not going to make your train!” No sh*t. Thanks for your optimism.

I climbed into the back seat of the cab to see if the seat would pull down and I could get my bags that way, but after prying down the seat, there was only one small opening, far to small to fit my bags through. Finally, after banging and jiggling for about fifteen minutes, the trunk finally came open. It was now 1:18. I threw my forty-pound backpack on my back, grabbed my other bags, and started running toward the entrance. The entrance to every train station in China has a security check point, with a metal detector and conveyer belt for luggage like in an airport. Thankfully these lines always move fast, but the speed at which they move and the chaos that ensues as people queue to go through them only reinforces their pointlessness. As I threw my bags onto the conveyer belt and began walking through the metal detector, a little girl ran between my legs, setting off the detector. The security guard didn’t even flinch however, and I quickly grabbed my bags (nearly getting knocked over in the process by people frantically trying to grab their own bags behind me) and began running toward the escalator to the platform. I arrived at the platform at 1:27 and ran toward a closed gate with a women standing on the other side. “Open the gate!” I shouted. “I can’t” she replied. “The train has already left.”

Frustrated and exhausted, I slumped down on the floor by the gate, panting. I pulled an orange out of my bag and began pealing it, hoping to retain some energy before I figured out my next move. A security guard came over and told me I had to move, but at that moment I physically couldn’t carry my bags any further. “Wo xian chi, ranhou qu.” I said rather forcefully (I’m going to eat first, then I’ll go). The guard didn’t like that, but one of the other guards seemed to take pity on me and told me I could stay for the time being. He asked me what had happened and I told him. He took my ticket and wrote something on the back, telling me to go down to the ticket office and ask them to change my ticket. Thirty minutes later, after I had regained my strength, I lugged my bags downstairs and waited in the ticket line to see what my fate would be. The lady at the counter looked at what was written on the back, and then gave me a new sleeper ticket for the next day, with no additional charge.

I found a cheap hotel and spent the night in Shenzhen. Sitting in the hotel room, I considered the fact that things could have been worse. At least I still had a bed for the 25-hour train ride the next day. I knew these kinds of things would happen when I started on this adventure, and I’m sure there will be more before the end. But someday I’ll laugh about this. For now I’m just glad to have a shower and a bed. 

1 comment:

  1. The border is weird. Once I had to wait in line over an hour to go through customs. It was 11:30PM when I got there, and the main border station was closed, so I had to go to another one that you have to take a bus to. The foreigners' line was about 50 people deep, and we only had one incompetent guy processing us all. Most of the other foreigners seemed to be Middle Eastern or South Asian businessmen who live in Shenzhen but work in Hong Kong- they all had multiple suitcases and were wearing sutis. Every so often, the line would inch forward, half the time because someone had informed a Taiwanese person that he could use the Chinese line.

    To cross between HK and Shenzhen:
    ~It is best to be a Hong Kong citizen. Then you can flash your ID card at a turnstile that automatically opens, like the entrance to a subway station.
    ~It is second best to be a Mainlander, since you have to wait in line but its a fast line.
    ~Third best is to be a foreigner, since you often have to wait in a horrendously long line.

    Once, I crossed the border three times in one day. I got eight stamps on my passport that day, since you get an extra stamp upon entering HK to remind you not to stay longer than 90 days.