"You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."
I'm finally 21!!
Rather than taking a taxi back from Bar Rouge, a huge group of us decided to walk back. It was one hilarious walk and I almost ended in birthday tears when I thought I lost my phone. Thankfully, Trevor was able to find it; otherwise it would have ruined the birthday fun! We made it back to the ship around 3 am, and it was truly an amazing night. And today continued to be one unforgettable birthday!
4 hours later, my friends woke me up asking me if I was ready to go explore Shanghai. Justin, Sammy, Heather, and I headed to the black markets. I don't know why we decided to walk (I have never done so much walking before in my life) because it was pretty far.
One of the biggest cultural differences that I noticed in China was hucking a loogie. Honestly, we would be walking down the street when someone would spit right in front of us. To us Americans, it was absolutely repulsive, but in their culture, it was a sign of a great meal. I thought it was interesting how many countries think Americans are dumb, rude, and disgusting people, which I'm not going to lie is true to some extend, but in reality some of it is just cultural differences.
Anyway, once we got to the black markets, we were all a little overwhelmed. I believe it was 7 stories, of all knockoff shopping! In my Consumer Behavior class, my professor was telling us about the markets and how to bargain for better prices, so I was prepared to get some great deals. Once I got comfortable with how it all worked, I turned out to be pretty good at it! It was so funny to throw out a price and the storeowner sometimes got pretty mad that you went so low; one lady threw a calculator at us! When we didn't get the price we wanted, we walked away. They would come running after you saying, "Come back! Come back! 150, 150 (or whatever your lowest price was)! 150, just for you!" I found it amusing just to watch the whole thing… Justin even had a lady grab hold of his arm and walk down the hall with him trying to get him to get back. There were a few shops that were not going to take our low prices, but we were sure to find exactly the same items a few shops down.
The exchange rate was 100 Yuan which came to around $16 USD… I was paying like 50 Yuan here and there, but it felt like I was blowing all my money. And it definitely didn't help that it was my birthday, since I was making excuses to buy things! I left with a new Long Champ bag, Beat headphones (like everyone on the ship), and a few other random unnecessary items. There were so many other things I wanted to buy, but I knew I wouldn't have enough room in my suitcase to bring it all back home.
For a girl who doesn't like to shop, we spent a decent amount of time at the black markets before heading back to the ship.
When we had filled out our immigration forms a few weeks ago, I had decided, like most people to travel independently to Hong Kong, like I did in Japan. When we got back, the four of us met up with Trevor, grabbed lunch, packed our bags and headed to the train station.
I knew that we were going to be traveling by land to Hong Kong, so I had asked my mom to do some research for me on what the best way was to get to there. She had told me that it would take about 20 hours by train and we had to buy the tickets at least a day in advance otherwise we probably wouldn't have seats.
I was busy and ignored the fact that my mom told me to book my train ticket in advance. I mean why would I ever in my right mind listen to my mother?! So we arrive at the train station, and headed to one of the booths to buy a ticket. The machine kept saying "unable to purchase ticket" and everyone we walked up didn't even acknowledge us. I don't know if it was because they didn't speak English, even though SAS had told us majority of people spoke English in China, or they were just unfriendly people. But it was weird to say the least.
We walked around until we found a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi, so we could do some research. After sitting there for 20 minutes, I felt like we weren't getting anywhere. Justin and I decided we would go walk around the train station and figure out if we could take a train or not.
The train station looked like an airport and I have never seen so many people in one area before. As we are trying to figure out where to go, I remember it was the Chinese New Year. And Like Fun-Fun told us yesterday; it is a really busy time of year, since everyone goes home to celebrate with their families. As we are trying to find someone who could help us, I decided I did not like China at all. People were extremely rude… I understand that people were trying to get home for the holiday, but people were cutting in line, pushing and shoving. Seriously, imagine the rudeness/rush of people in Boston or New York… now times that by like 10. It was awful. And on top of that, we didn't speak the language.
After walking from one side of the train station to the other, we finally ended up at the right booth. The lady looked at me like I had three heads and was complete insane and said, "no tickets for three days." Remember when I said my birthday continued to get interesting? Well interesting is an understatement. By this point, Justin and I had completely lost the other three people we were travelling with. And I had gone into complete panic mode… I almost sat in the middle of the train station and broke down in tears. I mean seriously, it was like traveling from Ohio to Florida… who in their right mind does that without any plan?!
I of course was so overwhelmed, frustrated, and upset that this was how I was spending my 21st birthday. I had racing thoughts on what was going to happen… I was thinking my parents are going to kill me for wasting their money on this trip, because I wasn't going to be able to make it to Hong Kong; I was going to have to start a new life in China; and most importantly, why didn't I listen to my mom?! I was clearly being extremely overdramatic, especially since I was exhausted.
As we walked around the train station aimlessly, with no clue on what we were going to do, we saw an Australian man talking to one of the train assistance. So we booked it across the train station to talk to this young Chinese college student. Someone was looking out for me in this moment, because luck does not explain running into the ONE bilingual person who spoke great English. Like I seriously owe this guy my life. He had family in Australia, which is where he learned to speak English. Remember when I mentioned how rude everyone in China was? Well, SAS always tells us there will be one person who complete changes your opinion on that country. And we found that one person.
Since he was about the same age, he completely understood that we didn't want to spend a ton of money. He stayed with us for what felt like an hour and half and helped us figure out the cheapest way to get to Hong Kong. The only way we were going to make it was by flying to Shenzhen, which is right outside of Hong Kong. We couldn't find the rest of our group and I was not about to start a life in China, so Justin and I bought a flight for the next morning. Though flying wasn't the fun original plan we had thought of, at least we were getting to Hong Kong.
We finally met up with the rest of our group and everyone was so tired and frustrated with the whole situation. Our original plan sounded like so much fun and I think a lot of us were hung up on the fact that it didn't turn out how we expected. Once everyone had a ticket, we headed to a restaurant in the airport. It was a well-needed 21st birthday beer that I bought myself! Trevor, Heather, and Sam had a flight to Shenzhen that night. After dinner they headed to their gate and Justin and I had to figure out how to get to another airport in Shanghai.
After an hour bus ride to the other airport, it was about 11 pm and our flight was at 7:30 am. We were left with two options: either spend more money and stay in the airport hotel or sleep in the airport. We walked around for a while deciding on what to do, when I finally said "you know what, we have to be up in 5ish hours this day has already been interesting so what the hell. Lets sleep in the airport!"
So we found a spot and passed out.
As my quote at the beginning said: "You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." I'm pretty sure this was a big jump and pushed me way outside of my comfort zone…. 4 years ago, I could barely make it to Maine and back without calling my mom in a panic asking for directions. Never in a million years did I think I would be traveling like this!
Like I said, it was one unforgettable birthday… no joke. Now writing this all out and looking back on the situation, it was blast. Obviously, it was a miserable in the moment, but stuff like this is where the best stories come from. And now I know I for sure have the ability to travel at home with absolutely no plan!
What I learned in this experience:
Always listen to my mother
Always have a detailed plan
Never walk past someone who looks completely lost and out of place
And… ALWAYS LISTEN TO MY MOTHER!