The kindness of strangers

Xi’an 2

For some people, pantomime works, but for others, I am simply a goose flapping my wings. When I try to tell the driver to turn around, he not only completely ignores my efforts at communication, he he makes disgusting sounds. It finally dawns on me that I should call Dolma to translate. After quite a while thinking about my dilemma, I decide to have the driver continue to my original destination, the famed Ball tower. This way, the money, time, and trauma will not have been for naught. I want him to wait, as my visit will be brief, then take me back where he found me. Once there, I am pretty sure I can navigate back to that hotel.

Ha! He grunted and yelled at Dolma, for a long time. The short version is that he does not have time to take me back, and will not. I will have to get another cab. Mind you, he is the only person in the world who knows basically where I need to go!

I am now settling into a real funk: no power cord for my laptop and I am up shit creek with no paddle in Xi’an, which is miles from where all my belongings are. And to top it off, when we finally reach downtown Xi’an, the traffic is horrific. People here drive like they are the only children that, in fact, most are. Aggressive, unyielding, rude. Causing gridlock is of no concern. Neither is consideration. So now my driver is heaving big sighs, and cursing. One need not comprehend the language to know what he is saying.

Turning past some truly magnificent, very old, very large buildings, we go through what was once a gate to the walled city and are now in the old town. Xi’an is a tourists’ mecca.  Lordy, there is a Walmart!!!!! This is a first, for me, and like all Walmarts, it is huge.  I have only seen them on the outskirts of somewhat rural towns in the US. This one takes up a whole city block in what looks to be very expensive real estate. The Colonel is also here and so is Starbucks. Midst a bunch of shops with funny English names that don’t quite work, I spy a Samsung store with, yes, an Apple symbol!

About a half mile further down the street, traffic is completely clogged. I am tired of this. Much to the astonishment of the cursing driver, I thrust the full are at him and jump ship. His parting look, somewhere between confusion, “no, we are not there yet”, and embarrassment somehow amuses me. This is good, to be amused, given my predicament.

I must find someone who speaks English, and hoof it back to the Apple store with high hopes. No one speaks English, but they do have my coveted cord, and the young clerk translates my pantomime with ease. I purchase it without caring how much it cost. Oddly, with the power cord in pocket, I am actually happy. I will be able to continue my journaling, which has become surprisingly important.  Now, I just have to figure out how to get back to my stuff.


I have decided that the thing to do is find somebody with a working internet that I can use to access my account, thus finding out the name and address of my hotel. Thank the lord for, and that I actually used it in the wee hours of the morning to make hotel arrangements for Xi’an.  On my flight here, I was thinking that had been a waste of time.  Now I am thinking differently.

Across the boulevard, I see what looks like to be a possibility. A large sign above a massive building, says, after a Chinese name, “International Hotel.” I cross the street (scary) and locate the entry. The hotel is so fine that there are flower arrangements that circle with me as I go through one of those grand revolving doors.

I am greeted by a very elegant, soft spoken young Chinese man, who asks if I am staying with them. “No,” I reply, ” but I have a problem.” He speaks very little English, but is in earnest in trying to understand, sensing that I am in distress, but managing to keep my cool.  He escorts me to a beautifully carved “throne” and indicates I should sit. Using the little flip phone, I dial Dolma. The first question, the answer to which I am sure is “no,” is to see if I can use their computer to look up the place I am staying. Unbelievably, he says “yes”.  I am relieved and amazed. This is a very exclusive, luxurious five (at least) star hotel.

He leads me to his elegant desk in an alcove in the foyer, and opens the computer for me to use. Of course it is in Chinese, but, once again with the help of Dolma, we manage to get to My reservation comes up––for a $22 room in a slum near the airport. I see a very subtle flash of acknowledgment cross his face, though he doesn’t pause. In fact he is very considerate, treating me as though I am a guest in his formidable establishment. Again I am guided back to the gorgeous chair to wait while he places a call to my hotel. Upon hanging up, he asks if I would like him to call a cab. I can hardly contain myself.  But I do.

Of course, I try to give him some money, but he absolutely refuses. Instead he wants to know if I have enough money for the cab!

The cabby, upon getting directions from this truly kind hotel man, charges five times the inbound fare, but who am I to argue!? He does have difficulty finding the place, and I am starting to worry. But find it it he does. And he is actually good humored, a first for cab drivers in China for me.

Upon entering my room at the Xi’an Xianyang International Airport 168 Express Hotel, a perfectly lovely, convenient place to sleep, clean with western toilet and good shower, I am greeted by the business card I had picked up with the hotel name and directions on how to get there. It is lying on the end of the bed, where I had put it while hurriedly donning my sweater.

And that was my day in Xi’an in 2015.

Uh oh…

Xi’an 1

Have you ever had that feeling in your gut gut that something is amiss? I don’t mean the big adrenaline producing “thunk”, more a gentle “oh, you hoo…” So that you are inclined to not pay attention, even though? That kind.

A few minutes later, like five, and five more miles down the highway, the “you hoo” gets so agitated so that now it is an “uh oh” and you are moved to action. Because, a nano second before “you hoo” became “uh oh”, you KNEW exactly what the problem was going to be. And it’s a doozie!

But let’s back up. I flew into Xi’an this morning, and found the little hotel near the airport that I booked on in the wee hours of this morning. It’s fine, although a bit tricky to find, tucked into a project looking neighborhood. But it is near the airport. The reviews online were favorable, and since I need to be at the airport by 6 am, it is perfect. The couple who run it it are both helpful and nice…and, as it turns out, they will drive me to the airport for free in the morning. Can’t beat that!

One of the first things I do when near electricity is start charging batteries. It seems to take forever to charge here, and no time at all to discharge. So, because of this ritual, I immediately figured out I left my iPad cable in Lijiang. Un-fucking-believable! I probably have about two hours left on my iPad for the rest of my trip (more than two weeks). So, as you might imagine, this has put me in a boohoo kind of mood.

It is only noon, and since I am near to this wonderful old city of Xi’an, a place which has nice memories of going to see the astonishing terra-cotta warriors, I decided to make something of my layover. After weighing the complications of getting the right buses when I cannot read Chinese, I decide to hire a taxi to drive into the heart of the city so I can visit the Bell Tower. From there I can just mosey around till I need to catch a cab back out to the burbs.

I grab a card from the front desk that has the name, address and telephone number for the hotel. The hotel owner has offered to take me to a place where I can get a cab, so we head out, but once the front door opened, I realize I better add a layer. It is cold. I return to the room, don my wonderful alpaca sweater, and off we go. I am so glad I brought this sweater. It is a keeper.

Getting a cab here is a strange event. The owner drove about a mile, then we got out and crossed a very busy intersection with a lane like a free way exit that we had to navigate. After a few more such crossings, we end up actually on the freeway a bit down from that exit, so that now the only cabs passing us will be headed toward Xi’an, which is about 25 km of heavy traffic away through ghastly industrial development. Three cabs pull over to vie for the fare, the hotel man acting as my agent. After sending those away, a forth comes and the price is right, 60 Y, so I get in.

Feeling quite together in terms of my little day adventure, I settle in for what turns out to be a really long, unpleasant ride. For starters, on the back of the front passenger headrest, leaning about a foot from my face, is a monitor—dead. All I see is my face reflecting back––very close. Yeah, there is the ugly stuff flashing past the side window, but is not worth a kink in the neck to look at. So I find my self looking down, which pretty much sends me inward.

I begin pondering my memory blips and this is a scary place for me.  Yesterday, when were driving from Hongpo Village to Ligiang, a Beatles song, sung in Chinese, was playing on the radio. It was a really famous, very familiar one, for which I couldn’t for the life of me remember any of the lyrics, or, for that matter, the title. Freaked me out just that I was struggling so hard. Breathe, and let it go. Later, as I was trying assiduously to practice non judgement regarding my painful observations of what is going on here in terms of development, Let It Be came into focus. Kinda perfect, eh. Anyway, it is at this moment, thinking about memory, that the little “you hoo” is morphing.

Oh shit! I start looking through my wallet, my phone purse, my pockets and then I search again.

Have you figured it out? Yup. I am flying down the highway, with a taxi driver who speaks no English, in a huge city where English speakers are rare, and I neither speak nor read Chinese, nor do I have the card with the hotel name and address. I couldn’t identify one road from another let alone direction. I only have my cash wallet, my hidden money belt, my flip phone, and my little camera. I am traveling light, for once. Too, light.