Whoever said getting there is half the fun needs to be drug out into the street and shot. Seriously.
Socrates, having been unceremoniously given the boot by the bastards at his school, managed to procure work temporarily at a school up the tracks in scenic Suzhou - VENICE OF THE EAST! I've been a bit miffed about it because it's left me largely without a walking buddy, but you gotta do what you gotta do. To make up for it, he invited me to come up and visit this weekend, so Friday I packed my stuff and headed up to the train station. I bought my tickets earlier in the week while my bike chain was being prepared. I didn't go to the station; it just so happens that there is a very handy little ticket office on Hongmei St. So I walked in, showed the lady a calendar, indicated the days that I wanted to go to Suzhou and come back, and what times, and she sold me my tickets. Easy cheesy.
On the other hand, I show up at the train station, and I look for the train number and time on my ticket, and it's not listed. I fight my way through the station, to information, and they inform me that the woman at the ticket office has sold me tickets for Shanghai station, rather than Hongqiao. My bad, I'm sure, for assuming that since I was physically IN Hongqiao at the ticket office that they would assume that was the station I wanted to begin and end at. Oh well, 20 minutes of my life later I had exchanged them for the correct tickets, texted Socrates to let him know I would be two hours later than originally anticipated, and found the Subway in the downstairs shopping area to kill some time (and 30 of my last yuan) in.
The train was fast, clean, and comfy. I have no complaints about the train. But when it pulled into Suzhou station, my life became complicated again. See, there's not a whole lot of guidance to get to the taxi stand, and once you do, you have the opportunity to be stared at and approached by beggars while you wait. Or at least I did. I'm sorry, little Chinese girl with the funny hands, but I teach your kind all week. Your adorableness has no effect on me. I was ready for the communication gap when I finally did get a taxi - I had the address Socrates gave me in Chinese up on my iPod's email - but the smell was none-too-pleasant, and when I texted Socrates to let him know I was on my way, my phone wouldn't send it. Crap. It also wouldn't let me call him. Double crap. But when we got to the business he told me to go to, I thought, "No worries, I'll pop in and use their phone"...only when I did, their landline wouldn't call his Shanghai mobile number. Triple crap. So what's a girl to do? Well, folks, this ain't my first rodeo. I pulled out my iTouch, found an unsecured wireless network, and emailed my partner in crime. For a lot of people, this might not work, but Socrates is the proud owner of an iPhone which (sometimes annoyingly) notifies him every time he gets an email. So two minutes later I got a reply that he was on his way. Problem solved.
Now, writing about all of this two days later, I have gained the proper perspective. I'm proud of my resourcefulness and can laugh at the comedy of errors that took place Friday night. However, when Socrates showed up at the rendezvous, he did not find a particularly happy camper. In fact, I had that feeling I always got when I went on one of my little adventures outside of Seoul, back in the days when I at least knew some of the language; ie, the feeling of WHY THE HELL DO I EVER LEAVE THE CITY?!?! I was also pissed off because people do this to me a lot. A LOT. "Right. When you get into the (airport, train station, bus station, etc) get the (taxi, train, bus, etc) until you get to (landmark) and give me a call." Being competent is a pain in the ass sometimes. On the other hand, if people coddled me the way I do anyone who comes to me, I'd probably get offended, so I guess there's no way to win.
Well, we went out for a few drinks once I'd finally calmed down, and had a reasonably early night. I went for a wander while he was doing job search stuff, and saw some of scenic Suzhou on foot by daylight, coming to the conclusion that it was not so bad, after all. That afternoon we saw Suzhou's Coiled Gate (which may be the last land and water city gate in all of China) and climbed up a pagoda (invoking fond memories of the Eiffel Tower and a reflection on the value for price of the two), and paid 15 kuai each to shoot crappy arrows with a crappy bow at targets that were way too close...which was enjoyable nonetheless. Later we met some of his colleagues and went to a rock (punk???) show at a youth hostel that involved a lot of screaming and a wee bit of talent, before hanging out at a place closer to home where I made a new friend. Suzhou touts itself as the Venice of the East - it is pretty enough, and full of beautiful places to see (more of which I will hopefully see next time I go, maybe I'll even rent a bike for the day), but comparing it to Venice it probably going a little far (as Socrates pointed out, "For starters, it's not sinking.")
Hmm. Shouldn't have mentioned Venice...now I'm wishing I was there. Oh well, two more weeks of playing Santa's workshop (actually, I might have misspelled something there...) and I'll be home for the holidays.