Travels without Porpoise, the Fin-ale. Sorry for the pun.

In which the hapless adventurer finally extricates herself from the wily Chinese researchers only to suffer the peccadillos of a fellow American.
August 25
Wang and Yang accompanied me and Dave on the drive back to Wuhan. The car smelled of unwashed bodies and alcoholic beverage fumes. On route we stopped for lunch. The water for the kitchen came from a tap right next to the men’s toilet. The food tasted okay but the rumble in my stomach told me I’d been correct in my apprehnsion. I took a pill which fixed the problem but Dave spent the next 24 hours running back and forth to the bathroom in the Wuhan guesthouse.

August 26
After three hours’ sleep, our hosts insisted on taking Dave and me to see the Fish Museum. They proudly told us it’s The largest in China. The building was packed with rows and rows of glass jars–all containing dead fish: whole fish, fish guts, fish bones. In addition there were scores of larger, stuffed fish. They led us to two floor units that resembled ice cream freezers in a supermarket. But when they popped the lid, we were overwhelmed with the smell and sight of fish guts floating in formaldehyde. Somehow, I kept the mandatory straight face. Dave turned green.

After this tour, we were more than ready to fly to Shanghai. Wang presented us with gold medallions embossed with the Bai ji porpoise. We nearly missed our flight due to traffic. Wang finally lost his composure and began to curse at the other drivers in fluent English. He seemed to know plenty of English words all of a sudden. The airport was a madhouse and we knew we’d never make it if we got in line so we decided to employ the Chinese technique and pushed right into the middle of the boarding lines. The tactic worked and after security we wound up in a chaotic and jammed waiting area. The facilities were almost nonexistent. The toilet paper dispensers were outside of the bathrooms up on a pedestal rather like a parking meter. And of course, they were empty. I fondly recalled my first visit to China in 1980 when a woman, paid to sit inside the restroom, handed me one sheet of very pink, very soft toilet tissue as if it was a regal gift.

When we deplaned in Shanghai, I led a sweaty and apprehensive Dave to the baggage claim. He seemed to believe we’d be kidnapped by bandits or something. While waiting for the bags I looked up and saw the brother of the baseball player Steve Sax standing there, wearing a Texas Rangers shirt and a Rockies hat. I wanted to go over and chat but Dave was ranting and clinging. He was worried about getting safely to the most American hotel he could find without being Shanghied, but I knew we needed to confirm our flights back to the States first. Dave had some kind of an umbilical cord to the Sheraton Shanghai. He kept trying to get me to stay there and I wouldn’t. I didn’t care where he stayed. Finally, his fear of being “left” took over and he decided he could survive in a different hotel because he knew I might be able to switch his flight and apparently, I made him feel safe.

Now for the plane ticket problem. The airline counter clerk told me firmly that tomorrow’s flight on the 27th, was full and even if it wasn’t full, they charge a 50% penalty to change my ticket. When I persisted, she sent me to an office on another floor, but the door was locked. I wasn’t surprised. Then I observed a Chinese man going into another, unmarked door, so I followed the man in. A clerk sat behind a desk. I walked up like I belonged there and told her I’d like to change my flight to the 27th. She said the flight was full and asked me why I wanted the change. I told her I had an injured leg. (Well, I did have lingering effects from an old injury!) She opened a desk drawer and to my amazement, shuffled through a massive jumble of reservation slip– had to be every ticketed passenger booked on the plane. I waited and smiled when she looked back up at me. She thought a minute, shut the drawer and put me on the flight I wanted without another word. I was certain someone else had been booted off the flight to make room for me, but this is how it goes there.

Dave and I took a cab to my hotel, part of an Australian chain. It wasn’t the Sheraton but had enough stars for me. The driver tried to go the long, long way, even making a three point turn once in a side street. When we arrived at the hotel he asked for fifty-five yuan. I handed him forty-five and got out of the cab. He erupted in a stream of protest. So as not to call him an out and out crook, I said, “Enough. You got too lost.” But he followed me into the lobby and appealed to the hotel staff who declined to do anything. Eventually the driver split. Maybe he won’t try it again with tourists. Maybe.

Spent that afternoon in downtown Shanghai, mostly in a toy store; Chinese toy stores have such an variety of fun things it’s easy to spend hours there. We found a Chinese restaurant to eat, although Dave asked to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the restaruant he freaked out at the menu because he couldn’t read it and acted terrified. The waitress seemed upset. Up until this time I’d been pretty honest in my translations but being tired and hungry, I ignored Dave’s request for egg rolls and ordered noodles, dumplings, vegetables and a fish dish. The waitress entertained us by showing us the proper way to eat the stuff she served us. Dave ate a bit and then rushed to a Baskin R. and got an ice cream cone after dinner. He seemed to be needing this touch of Americana.

August 27
I met Dave for breakfast. He had gotten to the table first and was being critical of the food and so abusive toward the waitress she took it out on me. After I ordered, he left me sitting there still waiting for my food. And waiting. Finally, after asking three times, someone finally served me a stone cold hard boiled egg and one piece of bread. Goodbye and thanks for the parting kindness, Dave.

Finally, the airport! When the flight was announced, everyone in the waiting area charged toward the door leading to the ramp with no pretense of forming a line. The flight crew started to let people board–hard not to given the slow stampede–before they realized the continuing passengers from Beijing hadn’t been boarded first as they should have been. So the overwhelmed gate attendants began to shout “Beijing, Beijing!” Some people panicked thinking they were in the wrong line for a flight to Beijing instead of the flight to San Francisco. Meanwhile, the passengers transiting from Beijing tried desperately to force past all the others and get on the plane. After thirty minutes, the mini-riot got sorted out and I boarded.

I sat next to a nine year-old Chinese girl who’d been living in California for several years and had spent her summer back in China. Her grandparents were sitting down the aisle. Due to the one child policy in China, some kids are very spoiled. Every half hour her grandfather came up and woke her if she was sleeping to ask her in a loud voice if she was cold/hot/hungry, etc. He woke me up each time too, along with the woman on my other side. I pleaded with gramps to let me sleep but he ignored me so I got no sleep for the entire flight. He could have at least given me some food too, I was starving.

San Francisco at last! Home! No wait at customs, and I was greeted at the airport by my one true love who carried a paper bag containing some fresh peaches! Welcome to California!

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~ by mickeyhoffman on June 16, 2011.

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