Journey to the West(ish)

16:19 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

My journey to western China began in typical fashion; an extortionate taxi ride to the airport, obsessive checking of my pockets for my passport and the sinking realisation that I'd lift my emergency chocolate stash in the fridge.

During my time in China, I've been studying Chinese and I can now finally haver a bit of a conversation. However, I've noticed the locals deal with westerners in two infuriating ways;
1) they pay no attention to the fact I might not understand their dialect and continue to speak in such a garbled fashion it sounds like they are chewing on their tongue; or
2) they see my western face, freeze and become mute. They ignore the fact I've just spoken to them in Chinese and start pointing frantically and writing invisible symbols in the air with their finger.

...I still haven't decided which approach I prefer.

The day of travelling from Shandong to Gansu has been my first real 'China day'. It started to go wrong when I went to the airport cafe and ordered a coffee without first checking the price. I supped my coffee, blissfully unaware of the fact it was going to cost me the best part of 150RMB (£15). When the bill came I nearly cried.

The day got worse when my flight was delayed. I didn't have a clue what was going on but my fellow passengers where clucking around and getting stressed. I decided to spy on them until I saw someone with the same ticket as me. Then I would follow/stalk that person. That way, I thought I would eventually end up at my destination.

An hour later, I was in a hotel room with a middle-aged Chinese man. The delay was going to be a long one so we were transferred to a hotel to wait it out. My new friend turned on the TV and we watched a repeat of the European Cup Final. It was becoming surreal. However, every challenge is an opportunity, so I decided to start practising my Chinese with him. Unusually, he was courteous enough to speak slowly and clearly and it was a really valuable practise. It's not often I get to spend an hour alone with a random Chinese fella.

One excruciatingly slow conversation later, we were back in the airport. We were all ready to board the plane and then it all went a bit chicken-oriental. At the front of the queue it had kicked-off and there was lots of shouting between passengers and the ground crew. Chinese crowds can turn into mobs at the drop of a hat and it was getting pretty tense. Then the mobile phones started coming out. I was fearful that in a few hours I'd be in the middle of the latest viral video of some crazies having a fight.


We've all seen these videos of crowds in Asia going mad, shouting obscenities and waving their fists about. What you don't see it that most of the passengers have sat down somewhere behind the view of the mobile phones and are having a good laugh at the mentalists. It would be easy to judge these people by the behaviour we see in these videos like this but we should always consider the context, what we can see and also what we can't see. 

The ruckus ended without a single arrest. I was very surprised. I boarded the plane hours late, wondering what was in store next.

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