Saturday, May 17, 2008

Things to do when you rip off our toenail

Having ripped off my big toenail I considered the options for my longish holiday weekend in Korea.

I figured my options were as follows:

1) Experience pain like you have never experienced pain before

2) Drink profusely

3) Try to relax

4) Drink a little more profusely to try to numb out that pain

So, these being my options I decided to hell with it and packed up my bag and went to China.

In reality the China trip had been planned since March and I was not going to let a little thing like ripping off my toenail stop me from going. So after downing the better part of a bottle of tequila on Friday night I woke up Saturday around four a.m. strapped on my bag and headed for the bus. This required walking which was painful, but there was no way around it.

I hit Seoul, went through all the various madcap fun of airport security and caught my plane arriving in Beijing two short hours later. Upon arrival I immediately learned one thing. China is freaking HUGE! Or at least the airport is. Walking from the terminal to immigration was a painful process. Then getting out of immigration required taking a tram to the actual airport, where I then had to walk some more to find an exit gate. Since I was traveling in true backpacker fashion I had an empty backpack, a book, and a bag with gauze and tape. I should have packed more alcohol.

My friend McGlynn was waiting for me at the crowded gate. I saw him in the crowd and started walking. And then walked some more. And some more. The gate was like a winding maze and you just kept going and going and going and going and there was no end in site. I finally managed to get to the finish like about ten minutes later and we hoped into a cab and off to Bejing proper.

In the cab I changed my bandage for the first time.

Basically the experience was like this:


The air was crisp and clear on the day of my arrival and the weather cool. There is some suspicion that China is trying some kind of experiment to both clear the air and control the weather for the Olympics. Having been there this is easy enough to believe. It was early clean.

"For your first task," McGlynn says to me, "you must go into the silk street market and find this book." He holds up a little red book. Quotations of Chairman Mao. Of course.

"For the task you must find the book and pay equal or less than I and the Australian paid. Should you succeed we will buy you dinner. Should you fail you will buy us dinner and drinks for the evening."

We headed over to the Silk Street market and I admit to having lots of expectations, but was not prepared for the actuality. When we finally got out of our cab at the market I looked up at a clean and compact six story building. The market had been moved off the street and into this veritable mall. It was odd. I expected the hustle and bustle and flow of a moving street market, but instead here was the sanitized reality. From the score of tour busses parked outside I guessed that this was perhaps more tourist friendly then a sprawling teaming street market. Mores the pity.

We walked into the market and were greeted by "Hey Lady you want how much?" In a course repeated several thousand times a second. This was occasionally accompanied by touching and sometimes even grabbing. Pushy does not even begin to describe. I was hustled through and up to find the book that I was looking for.

Now, having pulled off my toenail and consuming a bottle of Jose for dinner the previous evening I had failed to actually figure out the value of my money. This was stupid. Unlike Korea where it is basically a one to one in China it's different.

"It's simple," says McGlynn, "It's base seven math. One hundred yuan is fourteen dollars. Fifty Yuan is seven dollars." Right, simple. It probably would have been simpler if I weren't hung over and getting reacquainted with the pain in my foot. The goal for getting the book was to haggle. But I had no idea how to haggle since I didn't know the value of my money. As accustomed to haggling as I am in Korea I had no idea what I was doing now. The pushiness and English competence of the hawker shoving the book in my face, the spinning loudness, the throbbing in my foot basically left me in one place.

I wanted this to be over with as fast as possible.

In the end I got the book overpaying buy only a few yuan so I did not feel a complete failure. We left the hustle and bustle of the market and headed down the ways to get some Mexican food, and after that a bar. By then I was passing out from a combination of things even though it really was quite early. Finally I gave up and begged to go to the accommodation for the evening to soak my foot in salt water and pass out. For the first night the plan was to be put up in a guest teacher's apartment. This was fine by me.

The apartment was small and surprisingly dirty by Korean standards. It had a bed and a bowl of salt water and at that minute that was all I really cared about. I soaked my foot and thought of home. I passed out thinking "I'm in China."

1 comment:

John C said...

...but did you overpay by your standards or your friends actual price? Come on...who bought dinner? lol