Until I lost my right.
23.12.2012 - 07.01.2013
Beijing, December 25th 2012
The first lesson I learned that morning was that it takes time to get dress in winter. I'm counting like a factory working system. Firstly, I have to put on fourfold the usual layers I use to put on. Actually that already means four times longer. If putting on one blouse takes 5 seconds, then putting on four, takes 20 seconds. Isn't that so? But on top of that, slipping into a pair of trousers doesn't take as long as into one pair of stockings. Hence, if putting on a pair of trousers takes 3 seconds, putting on a pair of stockings and then rolling it up can take 7 seconds. But, in such a bitter cold winter, just one pair of stockings under a pair of jeans is absolutely inadequate. So?
So, you do the math. I have to run downstairs for breakfast. It's 9 o'clock already! In the dinning room I grabbed a bowl and began to fill it with whatever was left on the buffet which already looked empty. Suddenly the old man wearing an apron, standing near the kitchen, approached me.
""Err... Duìbùqǐ. Wǒ zhǐ yīdiǎr shuō hànyǔ." There came my powerful key phrase. Poor man, he looked chocked. It was like, "Oh! You are a foreigner??"
The old man waved a little piece of paper in the air. "Piào!" he said.
Ah. I know that. I should bring a coupon to get my breakfast. So I hurried to the front desk.
"I need a coupon for breakfast."
The front desk staff said nothing but glanced at her watch. Yesterday I was already told that breakfast is from 7 to 9.
"I know I'm late. I'm very sorry."
She wrote something on a piece of paper and then stamped it. I went back to the old man with my coupon. He slit a little window glass open and reached for a tray. He gave me a tray and a piece of boiled egg.
Other than steam cabbage which I hate so much, there was only white porridge and some buns left. I filled my bowl of porridge with what I thought was salty soy sauce. Yeah, it was salty. But also sour. Soy sauce and vinegar this is. Whatsoever, that's still much better than cabbage.
I returned to my room and continued with breakfast part two. Luckily I still had half a piece of hamburger from the day before. I bought two double size ones. It turned out that it was a compact hamburger. I couldn't finish it. I was about to throw the rest away when a voice in me said, "Throwing away is easy. You can do that tomorrow morning."
Surprisingly the hamburger was still good although it had some vegetables inside. Yeah, living inside a refrigerator is different.
Meanwhile, Ablajan, the driver I had hired for next destination in Turpan and Urumqi informed me through SMS that he found a travel agent who could find me a train ticket. It seemed promising. So while waiting for good news being brought to me by that travel agent, I decided to head to Tianmen.
The reason of me choosing this hotel was because according to Google Map, it's close to Tianmen, Forbidden City, etc. However, when you don't know which direction to go, nothing is near. The subway station my hotel's front desk staff told me to go to turned out to be under construction and apparently she didn't know that. I turned round and round the area to find another subway station. My toes began in my new winter boots began to ache again. But I kept on walking until finally I found the other subway station. In Dongsi there are four (or five?) subway stations. Dongsi A, Dongsi B, Dongsi C, Dongsi D...
In Tianmen, visitors weren't allowed to bring any bag into the site. Let alone a camera backpack. Worse, a sum of money was charged for keeping an item at the luggage counter. At first I didn't understand that. When I read the announcement, I thought for each item I wanted to bring with me into the site, I have to pay, and before that my bags have to go under the scanner.
What? I have to pay extra and yet I cannot take pictures? For me, a place looses its point when I cannot take picture. "No, give me back my money. I'm not going inside." I said.
At that time Ablajan had been sending me text messages asking about my train ticket. Phew. Typing with hand gloves on was too much a challenge. But being bear hands for just one minute was agony. To make make matters worse, the travel agent Ablajan had introduced me to text-messaged me that she couldn't get a ticket for me. Oh yeah, I haven't told you, this morning before leaving, I called a travel agency which I found in the internet. The agent sounded friendly and helpful, but also said the same thing: all tickets sold out. For any kind of seat. Yesterday morning there still was a hard seat left. But I thought sitting 30 hours on a hard seat would be too much an adventure. And now, even the hard seats are sold out.
Never in my traveling experience had I felt that desperate and hopeless. Beijing wasn't my intention actually. I was doing this journey for Xinjiang. And now, I cannot get to Xinjiang, but neither can I enjoy Beijing. I may not take pictures and my feet are soaring -- before I have started anything.
One thing I was lucky was I could return the entrance ticket to Tianmen with exactly the same price and with no problem at all. I headed back to the hotel. I thought I would just throw myself on the bed and cry.
But first thing I did was pulling of my boots and rubbed my toes. Ouch, ouchhh...!!
Lying on my bed, a voice inside me whispered, "Why don't you leave for Turpan on the 30th?"
"Yesterday tickets for the 29th were all sold out. So today tickets for the 30th must be all sold out," I argued.
"You haven't asked yet," replied The Voice.
"Fine, fine. I'll go to the train station again. But not with these boots."
"T69 北京 - 吐鲁番 12月30日 10时07分" I wrote again on a piece of paper.
In my Indonesian sneakers I set off to the train station. Surprisingly, my feet didn't hurt at all.
"Duìbùqǐ. Wǒ zhǐ yīdiǎr shuō hànyǔ," I began as usual, at the ticket counter.
The woman behind the glass smiled so lovingly at me like, "What is it, my daughter? Let me help you."
I shoved my piece of paper under the glass. "I want to buy a ticket for this," in my desperate Mandarin I uttered.
"Ah!" she nodded. "Let me check."
I couldn't believe it when I heard she said, "Only one hard sleeper left."
"Hard sleeper?" I asked back. I was afraid I got mixed up between the word 'hard sleeper' and 'hard seat'.
"Yes, hard sleeper."
I put both my hands on my cheek gesturing 'sleep'. "Hard sleeper?"
"Yes, hard sleeper."
"I want the lower one, please."
"No lower one. There is only one left. The middle one."
"Middle?" I wrote 中 on the paper.
That's not bad at all, I thought. After all that will safe more money, because I had budgeted for a lower soft sleeper thinking that it would be a 30 hours ride. Later in the train, I will tell you how this middle sleeper became the best choice. Had I got the lower sleeper, I would have paid more but be bothered.
The ticket lady turned her screen a bit towards me, and then pointed on the characters. "Is this right?"
"Correct. Thank you very much."
After I got the ticket, she said again, "Get on the train from Beijing West Railway Station."
I wasn't sure about that. "Errr... pardon?"
Then she pointed on the characters on my ticket. Ah, I get it! I should not leave from this station, but from the west station.
I felt like I wanted to hug her. behind the glass window, I bowed my head in front of her. "Thank you so much."
"No problem." And I could read in her loving smile: 一路平安 Yīlù píng'ān. "Have a safe trip, my dear."
I walked out the train station into the freezing cold air of Beijing. "Thank you, God. Thank you so much." My eyes were watery.
Ooops! I have to tell Ablajan that I'll be arriving in Turpan, but on the 31st. I walked back into the station, took off my hand gloves, and typed on my cellphone: I got my ticket!
Knowing that I was certain to leave for Turpan, I became relaxed, let myself enjoy Beijing, and feel at home. The Forbidden City is closed at night. But many people gathered outside and had their pictures taken.
A man approached me. "Can you take my picture, please?" He handed me his pocket camera.
"Sure, sure!" After receiving a lot of kindness from the people in this city in just two days, I was more than happy I could do something for someone else.
"Nice!" He was pleased with the result on his screen preview. "Let me take yours."
I handed him my 7D.
"Wow... it's very heavy," he murmured. "How do you operate this?"
I pointed on the shutter button, stepped away, and made a pose.
"Let me see how it looks," the man required.
Guess what, I forgot where the preview button was! The pass 2 days I had scarcely taken pictures, and when I did, I always used G12. These pass 2 days I hadn't been in the mood of photography at all. I had been too worried about my train ticket to Turpan. Furthermore, this morning my photography desire had been banished at Tianmen Square.
"Is this your new camera?" the man asked while the buttons I pressed didn't make a picture show up on the preview screen.
"No, no, it isn't. I just forgot. Wàngjìle."
At last I got my memory back. "Here it is."
"Wow! That's nice! It's a very good camera."
In this freezing night guards stood still at every section. Unimaginable. They may not move their legs nor rubbed their hands. When I was squatting by the fence, changing my camera lens, a patrol car stopped next to me. The patrol man looked down towards me. I held up my camera and moved my lens forward. He nodded with relief and drove away. Did he think I was taking out a bomb? Aha.
Thanks to tele-lens, I got a close up shot of one of the guards. I pretended to point my lens elsewhere but zoomed in on him. Normally the guards would wave their hands whenever they see someone aiming a camera at them. Ah, why do guards, policemen, officers, don't like their picture taken? Aren't they proud of what they are doing? Ah.
But what I wondered more was, where is Mao Zedong now? Does he know that people are sacrificing themselves bearing this freezing night? He appears smiling there. Is he still smiling now?
Remnants of snow near the Forbidden City. After getting my train ticket, the next thing I wanted was snow. The chill wasn't worthwhile without snow.
I took a bus to Wangfujing, out of curiosity because it was mentioned in my text book.
When I'm relaxed and happy, any meal turns double tasty. This was my dinner. Even cabbage, didn't look as disgusting as it used to to me. The best part of this meal was the warm rice and hot chicken soup on the right. In my country we call it "Tim Ayam". Mom used to have our maid cook that for me when I was a kid. Here, I took of my winter coat, my hand gloves, my hat, and sat back. Phew. I sighed. I felt like I had just waken up from a nightmare.
On my way back to Dongsi on the bus, a ladies choir attracted my attention. I got off.
I certainly didn't expect to encounter something like this in a so called communist country. Excellent.
The next morning, while waiting for breakfast, I sat in the lobby with my laptop browsing the internet. In my room there's no internet connection. It was still dark outside. Every time someone pushed the door open, I could feel the freezing wind sweeping over me.
A newspaper man pushed the door. He stamped his feet on the mat and greeted the staffs. In a hurriedly he handed the newspaper and turned back outside. I could see him shivering between his coat. At that moment, I lost my right to grumble.