Shanghai - an industrious butterfly in a continual state of metamorphosis.Most people arrive by regular transport in a normal state. Following is the long story of how I got there, and my return to Japan.
A long time ago in the holy? city of Lhasa, a few travel friends and I had just finished a 7 day jeep tour around Tibet. My ipod survived well over the guaranteed 3,000 metres, but not unscathed. AMS symptoms for ipods is forgetfulness: the alarm clock was fine but the chronometer reset itself during the night. Lucky for me there were plenty of noisy buggers in the alley to wake me in time to go to the airport.
Due to timing, skipping breakfast was unfortunately part of my plan. Turning the corner, several taxi drivers pounced on me before I bit back. The bus beyond patiently waited for me to emerge past the gauntlet. These taxi drivers act like pack wolves, it'd have been like watching an episode of National Geographic.
There's the regular X-ray procedure to pass through before boarding. The staff waves her magic wand up and down my body, turns me around, then gives my wallet pocket a squeeze on the scale of sexual harassment.
My window seat was occupied by a woman who insisted that I simply swap with her seat, next to Mr Elbows.
There's a train ticket desk at Xi'an airport which is great because the staff speak English. According to them there's no hard-sleepers for 10 days. Nor is there any hard-seats for 5 days. The good news is she can sell me a standing-space ticket on tomorrow's train. The bad news: it's a 16-hour journey and the standing-space costs the same as hard-seat; also I've just realized I can't afford the hard-sleeper ticket anyway. Next she tried to sell me a 3-star hotel room, and another one, only Y100... Showing her my thin, almost empty wallet was all I could do to stop her.
Next a taxi driver claimed it was cheaper to take his taxi downtown than by bus. I told him it's impossible as I showed him my bus ticket. Getting off the bus, a well dressed hotel tout accused me of not knowing how to get to the Youth Hostel, which I had visited last time. How many more numpties do I have to wade past today!
Checking in at docked me Y25 (for the bed) and another Y25 for the key deposit. That leaves me Y18 for the bus to Shanghai airport and Y1 in change. I already decided on the previous occasion that I stayed at the 7 Sages that the atmosphere was comfortable and the place quite relaxing. Seeing my financial dire straits, the manager was kind enough to give me free dinner, a massive bowl of beef and noodles in a soup.
Next morning I deliberately slept in to kill time before check-out. Having retrieved my Y25 deposit back, I called the airline to bring forward the Shanghai to Hiroshima flight date. Once again the manager kindly covered the cost of the phone call and he also offered me free lunch, this fried rice was better than all those we'd eaten in Tibet put together.
6:45pm was the scheduled departure time. It was a good idea to show up early to join in the big squeeze effect of doubling the train carriage population capacity. It seems there were more standing-room tickets sold than I expected. So much more that there wasn't even room for people to sit on the floor in the aisle. Standing-room literally means exactly that! Luckily I'd kept stock of a few goodies for the 16-hour stand: chewing gum, 1 packet of Oreo cookies, 1.5 litre bottle of water, and some peanuts. I was carefully rationing my water intake to save enough for the 21 hours wait in Shanghai's PuDong airport. About 2 hours out from Shanghai, a seat had been vacated and I took it. Less than 15 minutes later I was sound asleep. Just short of Shanghai station I woke up to the sight of the cleaners finishing their sweep and my water bottle gone!
The bus to the airport was straightforward. All I had to do then is wait... My ipod played and played until the battery went dead. Using my remaining money I bought a bowl of 2-minute noodles. When I asked the information counter for their paper cups, I received a tiny paper cone, much like a coffee filter paper, that disintegrates after the 2nd refill. Later in the night some official airport hotel tout suggested I stay in a hotel. He asked if I had 100 US$, 100 Euros, Y100, a hundred anything; then warned me that the airport closes from 2:00am to 5:30am. Shanghai PuDong airport has rack metal seats which are quite hard to sleep on. Nevertheless I discovered a few cleaning staff (along with their snoring) had joined me on adjacent benches by 3:00am.
Fred, taking a flight later. He offered to get coffee. I said I would be in Heaven if he wanted to buy me one. Knocking back my long black and chatting away, I said bye to Fred then went to check in for my Hiroshima flight. I was 100% refused entry at 8:28am because check-in closes 45minutes prior flight time! Asking about next flights: tomorrow's flight was booked out; there was no flight the following day and there were available seats the day after that! In desperation I asked about flights to other Japanese cities TODAY. The staff gave me a flight to Osaka 6pm that evening, at no extra cost (just as well). More waiting... I played mind games with the electronic flight listings board...
3:00pm check in started for this flight and I was 2nd in line. The duty free shops had no interesting booze stock at all. Flight to Osaka was good with a chat with the 2 lovely Japanese ladies in my row. Immigration gave me a hard time letting me in because I had finished my 2 working holiday visas and now I was entering on a tourist visa with only 5,000 yen. I rushed to buy a shinkansen ticket back to Hiroshima but it was too late for that. There was 1 night bus service left and it cost 7,000 yen. I ripped the extra cash out of the VISA account, paid, jumped on the first bus and then made it to the connecting bus with only a few minutes to spare. I sent an email to my friend Kate, announcing the bus arrival time of 6:10am. She asked me to loiter around and have a coffee, for her extra 2 hours sleep in. So, at the Hiroshima train station's McDonald's branch I slowly put each bite into my stomach. I took not the first but the second street-car to Tokaichi just to further delay waking up the lion.