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 booking.com account, thus finding out the name and address of my hotel. Thank the lord for booking.com, 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 booking.com. 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.

This entry was posted in on the road, STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS (china 2015), Xi'an.

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