Sunday, July 11, 2010

July 11th: And so it begins... (copied from notes I wrote in my journal)

I'm riding shotgun in a van, still here in Jingzhou.  Several of us will take the van together to Jingmen, a town a couple of hours north of here that has the luxury of a train station, where we will catch our trains. Monica, one of the new waibans (foreign affairs office workers who keep track of and help us foreigners), is also going to Xi'an.  We didn't realize we were on the same train until we saw each other waiting for the van.  However, we are in different carriages.  We exchanged phone numbers; it's nice to know that I'll know someone who speaks Chinese just in case anything goes wrong on the trip up.

Now, we're driving around trying to find someone who is supposed to ride with us, but having a bit of confusion.  The driver and Monica have been talking to the person ont he phone, and from what I understand of the conversation, I could have told them the problem quite a while ago.  I don't figure they want the input of a foreigner who might not even have understood correctly, so I've kept my mouth shut.  Like I thought, though, we were on the wrong campus. We were supposed to be at nan xiao chu, the south campus, but we were on the new technical campus which is just down the road from the south campus.  I've seen people make that mistake before--I remember especially one bitterly cold--so cold it made your skin burn and every breathe felt like a knife--not long after we arrived when a taxi driver made that mistake and dropped the Pratts and I off there to wander around confused for a bit. 

Anyhow, we finally made it out of Jingzhou and headed north.  Driving through the countryside felt more familiar somehow--China seemed a little less foreign then.  Rice field and corn patches, little barely paved roads wandering off into the trees, all in a flash-flood pouring rain.  The road was a mess--paved, but with gravel filler at regular intervals and potholes here and there that made even our professional driver cringe.  The driving rain with the wipers going full blast didn't help, either.  I was the only one who didn't fall asleep, so I would commiserate with him with a smile when we rattled our teeth on a particular deep rut, although I couldn't say much about it.  Here and there on the shoulder a single water buffalo would be tied--maybe to keep down the grass in the ditches, but it didn't seem to be an ideal spot to keep your water buffalo.  Old people hauled loads and baskets along the shoulder, or sat on their low wooden chairs in their doorways, watching the world go by. 

I was getting sleepy, as I only slept an hour and a half last night (okay, this morning--from six until seven-thirty) because I stayed up all night talking to BW.  It was worth it, though.  I don't know how easy communicatin will be over the next couple of months while I travel, although I hope it won't be too bad as I hope to find internet cafes.  He's had this week off of work, and I've enjoyed getting to spend some time just talking with neither of us being in a hurry to rush off to work or suffering from lack of sleep.  It was perfect timing, too, after all the stress he's had to deal with the last few weeks working third shift, and before I head out on the road. 

Anyhow, the rain had finally stopped by the time we got into Jingmen.  I liked the vibe of the town--smaller, but a more modern layout, not quite so flat and featureless as Jingzhou.  Thankfully, our driver, although a man, has no problem asking for directions.  We wandered around the general area of the station for a bit, asking various people for suggestions as to the correct direction to head, until finally Monica convinced him to turn the right direction.  It seemed obvious to me as to which direction it must be, and that something so major as a train station must be on a main road, but he hesitated and almost turned down a side street too soon.  But again I kept my mouth shut, being a foreigner who's never been there before.  We had to wait for over two hours for our train, anyhow, so driving around was more interesting than more time in the crowded waiting room. 

At long last, our train arrived, and so it begins...


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