Vacation In China

by : John Abbot

My first vacation in China was, I thought, well planned and well thought out.

I was newly single, having recently separated from my girlfriend of 3 years, the shortest of my 5 long-term relationships with western women, evidence enough that I was incapable of maintaining a lifetime partnership with any woman born and raised in North America. I had always been attracted to Asian women, but had never had the opportunity to act on that feeling, and at 48 years of age time was running out.

I'd been planning the trip for several months and had even managed to combine it with 2 days of business in China which meant my flights across the Pacific were being paid for as well as 2 night's accommodation. I was going to spend 2 weeks in China and decided not to try to do too much so I planned to spend time in 4 different cities, and then, more importantly, I had spent many nights on the internet and had managed to line up 4 different Chinese women to act as my dates and my guides in each of those cities.

Did I feel a little guilty about this arrangement - yes. Did I feel a bit like a cad - yes. Was I looking forward to it with baited breath - oh YES!!

The first stage of the trip, for 5 days before business was to start, was to be 1 night in Shanghai, then a train ride to Hangzhou, supposedly one of the most beautiful cities in China for a 4 day stay with one of my Chinese ladies. I'd traveled extensively around the Western hemisphere, I'd studiously studied my "China - The Rough Guide", and I was perfectly confident in my ability to book hotels, train tickets and domestic flights on the spot and for immediate use. So I boarded my flight on April 29th, drank a few free rum and cokes, swallowed a sleeping pill, grabbed a little sleep, and confidently touched down in Shanghai late afternoon of April 30th. The airport seemed pretty busy but what the heck, this was China.

On the bus into Shanghai I was lucky to be seated by a Chinese university student anxious to practise his English, so I ended up explaining my travel plans to him. My first hint that something was amiss was the mild look of concern on his face. He suggested he'd be happy to help me get to my hotel, and since I had a couple of heavy bags I accepted gratefully. When we arrived at the hotel I planned to book there were surprisingly no rooms available, contrary to the best advice of my trusted travel guide, which indicated you could almost always get a room in any hotel in China. Only when my new Chinese friend said he wasn't surprised did I start to get a bit of a stomach ache.

"Why," I queried, "are you not surprised?".

"Well," my little buddy responded in what was surprisingly good English, "tomorrow is Labour Day, and everyone in China is traveling tonight and for the next week."

"What did you say?" was my clever comeback, but his answer did not change.

"I think we should maybe go to the train station and try to get you a ticket now" my little ally added.

By this time I was very happy indeed to have found such a good and faithful sidekick, and I adopted his plan immediately. I would try to get a train now and sleep on the journey. Tomorrow in Hangzhou I would book into my hotel which I had pre-booked because of my pending 4 night date, needing a specified place to rendezvous. Fortunately the train station was nearby, only a few blocks from the hotel we were in. Unfortunately the lineups for train tickets started in the hotel lobby. After fighting to the head of the train queue (the longest battle of my life in spite of being assisted by both my loyal sidekick and a sympathetic Chinese cop) I was advised that there would be no train tickets available for 2 days. My confidence was starting to ebb.

My friend and I decided that the best thing I could do was take a taxi from Shanghai to Hangzhou, because, I stated, I thought it best to escape the craziness of Shanghai at the time. I was not then aware that Hangzhou is the one city in China where Chinese tourists from all over the country will go to congregate with family instead of going home. The bizarreness that is Hangzhou during the 3 national vacation periods is an experience I intend to never suffer again, even if self inflicted death is required to intervene.

My friend negotiated a taxi for me, and I suspect he got a 10% cut of an inflated price, but even so I cannot begrudge him as he had probably saved my life already at least twice. The taxi took over 2 hours and cost me about 90 USD. I was actually able to get my room that night on my arrival because they had accidentally booked me in a day early, and the hotel was a decent 4 star number owned by the Red Army.

So I settled in, then headed upstairs to the hotel bar, and tried to order a cold beer, intending to have a quiet night while waiting for my first Chinese date to arrive the next day. Nobody seemed to understand what a cold beer was, which I attributed to my complete lack of Chinese and their almost as complete lack of English, until I walked over to the bar myself to point to a cold beer only to find all the beer neatly stacked on the counter outside of the empty beer cooler.

This was over 5 years ago now, and at that time the Chinese almost religiously believed that drinking anything cold was a surefire way to bring about an early demise. They were not sure what the beer cooler was for, but it for damned sure was not for cooling beer. I managed to convince them to put a half pack in the cooler just for me, thinking I would enjoy them the next day when they were actually cold, but they dutifully removed them overnight to ensure that no sane person accidentally consumed a cold beer and died while on their watch.