Friday, July 13, 2007

Somewhere and Back Again

A week-and-a-bit ago we got back from Dalian, with Alison's dad Simon in tow, arriving at the Changchun train station at about 6:00 am having spent the night in a so-called "soft sleeper" car - where the rooms are somewhat private and have two double bunk-beds. The fourth occupant was already snoring loudly when we boarded the train; he turned out in the morning to be a Korean fellow who spoke decent English and confessed to having been quite drunk the night before.

Backing up a step, Alison and I went to Dalian on the Monday of that week, leaving Changchun on Sunday night. To save some money we took a "hard sleeper" on the way there - this means the bunk-beds are three high, and there aren't really separate rooms, just doorless compartments. We still got a decent sleep though. The worst part of all this though was that Alison had much trouble buying the tickets from a very rude woman at a nearby hotel. Fair enough, it wasn't your typical ticket purchase: two hard sleepers there, and three soft sleepers back. But it really shouldn't have taken forty-five minutes, nor resulted in such emotional anguish to the buyer!

Our gracious hosts in Dalian were Matthew and his girlfriend Rebecca, who live in an apartment on the nineteenth floor of a five-star hotel. Alison knows Matthew from Chengdu, where they were roommates for a short time and Matthew was Alison's first Chinese teacher. He has been here for three or four years and seems pretty much fluent - it's encouraging to witness. Matthew now works (though not for much longer, I gather) for the head office of the school where Alison works, which is a nine-to-five-type job. Rebecca has the more flexible schedule of an English teacher, and she was so kind as to spend most of Monday and Tuesday showing us around the city. Dalian provided a very pleasant contrast to the China I have grown to know, living in Changchun: The city seems really clean, on the bus we witnessed actual large patches of greenery, and we even spent a while at the beach! The seaside is pretty novel when one's city is mostly concrete and dust with little water to be seen.

The idea was that we would meet Simon on Monday night at the airport and that he'd be arriving with two friends, Liz and Cathy. This failed to come to fruition on two counts. The first was that there was some miscommunication between Alison and Simon involving a less-than-healthy respect for the International Date Line. Simon was to arrive Tuesday, not Monday (and happily not Sunday). The second was that China Airlines (in keeping with its country's policy of doing basically whatever the heck it wants without providing compensation to those adversely affected by it) decided not to go through with the flight that Liz and Cathy were scheduled to take.

Liz's daughter Katie, who was finishing up a year of teaching in Dalian, fortunately knew the correct time of her mother's originally scheduled (and Simon's actual) arrival. This saved us from a day-early trip to the airport. And Katie had already arranged a driver for the trip back from the airport at this time, and she was nice enough to go with us to get Simon, even though she had to go back to the airport the next day.

All these confusions aside, the trip was a really good one. We spent Wednesday with Simon and ended up going to this one park whose attraction is a large hill with a metal slide coming down it. The ads called it "largest land slide" or something; it was basically like a waterslide but with no water. So we rode the chairlift to the top - this involved the slightly-harrowing passage over a highway with somewhat hokey-looking safety nets over where the lift and slide went over. They take your picture as you get to the end of the chairlift ride and then try to sell you it. Alison and I are pretty much in the habit of buying no such things, but Simon in his first day insisted on getting one. Anyway, for the slide down you ride a plastic small-wheeled seat with a stick to operate the brake. It was pretty fun, though in retrospect I would have liked to be less chicken and have more faith in the engineering of the slide's banking and such. I think though that I may have some cause to be cautious; this is, after all, the country where the "ground" of most electrical sockets seems to be attached to nothing, and where we have newly poured cement at the bottom of our stairs, and someone put a brick in the cement to act as a support for the plank that was placed as a bridge over the wet cement; now that the the cement has dried there is a brick sticking out of it, just waiting to trip somebody.


Becky said...

I like this Rebecca girl. She sounds smart, and nice, and pretty.

jayman said...

sounds like the construction techniques in South America.

1. tear apart a road
2. do nothing. for a really long time.
3. block all access in every direction with as many dump trucks as possible.
4. do everything by hand. let the oldest, frailest worker do the hardest jobs.

If it's home construction you'e after:

1. pile all materials on the sidewalk and part of the road.
2. throw all unwanted pieces of brick into the street (do not look where you are throwing the bricks or yell any sort of warning).
3. mix concrete in the middle of the road as traffic will wait or go around.