Chinese New Year was a week away. The hustle and bustle was equivalent to Thanksgiving and Christmas in the States, as everyone made final preparations to visit friends and relatives back in their hometowns. For most, their journey would require taking crowded trains. For those fortunate to have seats, they'd still have to weave through people seated in the aisles, an experience expected and accepted by all. It would be my first time in a traditional Chinese village.
The sleepless journey lasted two days, an experience I didn't wish to go through again. People used my feet for a pillow; we used the train's curtains for blankets due to a malfunctioning thermostat; and the bathrooms continued to clog.
Finally we arrived, or so I thought. It was about 11:00 at night, and the temperature was below freezing. No busses were available to travel the 50 miles to her hometown until the next day, so we lugged our baggage down the street to find a taxi. A guy in a plain black sedan pulled up alongside us. There was an exchange of words in Chinese, and before I knew it, we were loading our suitcases in his trunk. Bad idea!
With a blarring siren, the police car was hot on our tail. Apparently, the police frown on people taking business away from licensed cabs. I hope you can imagine what was going through my mind. The high speed chase through stop lights, sideroads and alleys, led us to a dark alley behind an abandoned building. We paid the driver then happily vacated his car. With our suitcases in hand, we trekked through the chilly evening in search of a hotel. After struggling several blocks looking for a vacancy sign, we finally spotted one.
As my friend checked us in, two high heeled, short skirted girls paraded down the wide carpeted staircase. Their friendly smile lasted much longer than it should have, which made me think this wasn't a family hotel.
The sun rose after another sleepless night, listening to chants of moans and groans to the beatof pounding headboards. Several business cards slipped under the door during the night, displayed provocatively dressed girls. A valuable lesson for the importance of networking. We departed our brief stay from this house of ill repute and treked on, in search of a bus that would take us to the village in the country.
Idling along the narrow dirt road through the small village, was like film footage of streets in Iraq after a bombing raid. Aged buildings rose three and four stories with only inches between them, most without windows or doors. We weaved between chickens and dogs roaming aimlessly, then came to a stop in front of what would be our home for the next seven days. It was one of the nicer homes in the village, and one of the most frequented by the neighbors as I would find out later.
Days after we arrived, and not many people able to speak English, I grew a fond attachment to a little dog creatively named,
New Years morning arrived. I was rustled from my cold and dreary room and shuffled to wait my turn for the bathroom. Many people had already arrived, presenting baskets of eggs, fruit, and chickens. Yes, live chickens! It was the beginning of the constant barrage of visitors from surrounding neighbors and villages. People remained for several games of Chinese poker, and Ma Jiang, a popular board game in China. I'd say it was like a revolving door, but there were no doors. It was like a casino banquet, food prepared and served all day. This event lasted from 7:00 in the morning, until after the fireworks extravaganza in the evening.
I was reminded of a very valuable lesson that day: Never jest without being aware of the consequences. Experiencing an extended moment of boredom, I decided to give my loyal companion a name, Dinner. The chicken, I named, Lunch. No surprise to me, we had Lunch for lunch. Soon after everyone finished, I mingled amongst the guests and took photos. My friend suggested I join her inside for awhile, but was busy trying to understand someone speak English. Upon hearing her insistent tone, I excused myself and went inside. As I turned toward the entrance, I noticed a man placing my loyal companion in a small burlap bag, with another standing by with a hammer. I knew what was going on. I shuttered in shock. Moments later inside the house, I heard the high pitched yelp.
I spent the afternoon and dinner in my room, back against the wall, and draped in emotions of sadness and anger. 'How barbaric,' I kept thinking. I couldn't wait to leave.
Fast forward to our long awaited day of departure, we awoke at sunrise and waited along the roadside, surrounded by our luggage in the freezing weather. We had been informed that the bus would be early, but TIC (This is China). Catching a bus in the country is like catching a penny dropped from the Eiffel Tower. We waited and waited, and waited. Noontime rolled around, so we went back to the village for a hot meal and to thaw out. An hour later, we were back at the roadside waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Still, no bus. We went back home and had dinner, then back on the roadside until finally giving up around 8:00. Yeah, it was a productive day.
The next day, we arrived at the roadside again, but only had to wait a few hours. Upon reaching the city, we learned all the train tickets were soldout for that day. What a nightmare. Time to find a hotel again!
When we made it back to our house, I made a vow never to visit a small village in the country again. I love the countryside, but for me, the city is much easier to acclimate to.