So as I detailed in my last post, they canceled my flight, forcing me to reschedule the departure on my great adventure to the next day. It is leaving early, and after the day’s events, it is already well into the night, but I still have a mission. Somehow I need to let Hebei University know of the schedule change.
Beijing International Airport (the old and much more charming one) is a more than a two-hour drive from the University in Baoding. I can’t just take a taxi, and although there is a wonderful train system in China, who knows how that experience would go for someone who only knows a few Chinese phrases. I could email them, but again, this was 2005, and people didn’t check their email as they do know. Plus, from my experience over the last few months, it would be weeks before I would get a response (and I would have already started my life as a beggar in China).
I search for a phone number. I seem to remember seeing one someplace. I look and look and finally find one, but it appears like it is probably just a general phone number to the University. Hell, I don’t have a choice. Next, I need to figure out how to call internationally. I know it may seem obvious to many of you, but I was just a recent college grad from the countryside and never needed to call internationally before. Again, it is incredible how things have changed in 15 years. Now, I could easily Skype, Zoom, or WeChat (at least for the time being) with video for free. Anyway, I do some research online to get the country code, the good old +86. I dial once and get what I think is an automated Chinese operator, probably saying that my call cannot be connected as dialed. Who knows, maybe I’ve called Hu Jintao for all I know. I try again, and its ringing. I’m sweating now because I have no idea how this call is going to go. To this day, I hate talking on the phone (I’ve been playing drums since I was 7, with no hearing protection for those early years, so this doesn’t set up my ears for success), so this is like a nightmare for me. But no one picks up. What am I going to do? Then it hits me. I look at the clock, and its 7:30 PM. With daylight savings times and the time difference, it is only 8:30 AM in China. I wait a bit and try again. It rings, and then someone picks up.
“Do you speak English?” I ask.
The person says something, maybe a curse word, and then hangs up. I’m guessing it was probably the wrong number. I try again and finally get something that sounds a bit more promising. The answer is still in Chinese but sounds more professional.
I meekly ask, “English?”
“Děng yīhuǐ’er (wait a second)”
I hear some conversation, and to my great relief, someone says, “hello?”
I’m not going to go into the details of the conversation, but needless to say, the young lady on the other side of the world, did not speak ideal English- not that I expected she would. Actually, I expected to crash and burn, so at this point, I’ll take any avenue to progress! So we chat, and I try to relay the issue as simply as possible. My parents never knew this, but I wasn’t exactly sure that we were all on the same page after that call. I think I got the message across, and I think she understood me, but I still wasn’t exactly sure if anyone would be waiting for me when I arrived in China, an essential point for later in the story. If my parents knew that I was passing into only a slightly less foggy unknown, I am not sure they would have driven me to the airport. But, at this point, it has been a long stressful day. I’m tired and have resolved to leave everything up to fate. I have an early flight in the morning, so I go to bed.
The next day, things go much smoother. It must have because I don’t remember much about the trip, other than it was very long. I do remember landing in Beijing. It was night time and early February, meaning it was close to Spring Festival. As the plane descended, as far as the eye could see, fireworks were going off in all different shades and colors. It was quite the experience and seemed an auspicious omen for my arrival in the Middle Kingdom after an already long adventure. Boy, would I be mistaken.
Check back soon for part 3 as a get a taste of what starving to death is like 🙂