Ni hao here, Ni hao there, Ni hao everywhere. But I was getting nowhere! My bags were becoming heavier and heavier but like some modern St Christopher I bore them stoically.
I must have looked like the village fool to most law-abiding Shanghai citizens as I kept stopping people and asking them if they were o.k (ni hao, ni hao… ) when I should have been saying Ching wen which transcribed as excuse me in Pinyin, the Romanization of Standard Chinese (of course then I didn’t know that this is the way to initiate a request for assistance in the street, and the Chinese are so … sooo correct). That, rather than inquiring after strangers’ health, would at least have been a more diplomatic opener and we could have taken it from there and dismantled the language barrier one way or another to at least get me to the nearest metro station. One young Chinese chappie with the name of probably the most popular t-shirt in the history of rock, RAMONES, emblazoned on his chest gave me a ray of hope.
When he heard me say metro, he pointed over the heads of the crowd towards a line of shops in the distance while pretending with his hand to put food in his mouth. Yes, the sign metro was so big that it could easily be seen from a good distance. But immediately I recognized it as one of the chain of Metro stores that resemble the American 7-Elevens and were scattered around the city. In fact it was one of their chain near my hotel that I visited every night during my Shanghai sojourn to get noodles and a drink. I thanked him, albeit disappointedly. That much, I could not conceal.
TRAPPED IN THE QUEUE
I felt a sudden surge of anxiety and I knew I bore a woebegone semblance for all to see, not that anyone paid much attention. I wasn’t stopping people any more now, I was accosting them beyond reasonable cause. I didn’t even have a metro ticket stub to aid me. Again my shoelace came undone and I was standing on it. It was tripping me up but I had no room to bend over and tie it so I lurched along with the crowd. It was agonizing really.
Where was I going? Why? My mental state was already bad enough but now it was a full blown nightmare being pushed along and having to carefully limp in case I stumbled in the process. It was my personal cal vary. It reminded me of the three-legged race but it wasn’t funny. The maddening thing is that I wasn’t the only person standing on my shoelace; there were about another dozen who took turns to do it as well. I was hopping along as best I could but decided I had to try and tie it somehow because if I fell over I could quite easily be stampeded to death. The crowd suddenly stopped moving forward. I found myself a little space and stood my ground for a few seconds. Then I grabbed my chance. I managed to bend over.
I felt the contour of my passport half-way down my rump. It was embedded low in the back-pocket of my jeans and I semi-consciously reflected it could take me to the other side of the world but not to a metro station. I bent down, I was almost there… but before I managed to tighten the knot, there was a sudden surge again from behind. I was bumped forward by a chinese knee in my backside. I had two plastic bags in each hand and almost lost one of them but fortunately my hands were placed through the string handles for safety. And yet, I would almost have preferred to have gotten rid of them, they were so cumbersome. Upwards and onwards again, this was indescribable madness. How does a normal person get into a situation like this? Maybe, I wasn’t a normal person.
Great view if I could only find it. Every day I walked most of the way from there to my hotel.
GOING TO THE FOOTBALL
The mind boggles. Again we all lurched forward in unison, we stopped and we started, we started and stopped. As I hadn’t been able to tie my shoelace, there was only one solution. I made a drastic decision. I would have to prise the shoe off somehow before it meant my downfall causing me to die in China, crushed on the ground by a horde of soccer fans. I levered it off whit the heel of my other foot and left it adrift and abandoned beneath the human mass that strove forward to the football match .
Well, football match, I presumed. The Chinese were nuts about football and I could make out afar a sort of stadium with the lights shining brightly in the distant darkness of the night. Were all these people going to the one place together? The crowd was in buoyant mood and I admit reluctantly that it lifted my spirits a bit. I even allowed myself a private quip “JEEZ, I don’t have a ticket!”
But hang on a minute… what are the reference points here? Am I lost or found. Have I got a problem or not? And if I have a problem and I can smile in the middle of it, can it really be that big a problem? My mind was shifting to philosophical mode, verging on the metaphysical. But despite such cerebral complexities, I was being rational for once. Isn’t that just a reflection of life and the way we are? Virtually everything in life is relative. The bottom line was that I wasn’t on death row. Full stop.
The feeling didn’t last long. I was at sixes and sevens. My immediate reality had taken over again, I was living outside the second. My bags were dragging me down and it crossed my mind again to just dump them somewhere. But in a modern-day society, it’s not easy to dump a bag if there’s not a rubbish bin around without the risk of being arrested on suspicion of terrorism. I presumed it was the same in china as anywhere else in the world.
The hotdog and drink stalls were practically side by side now but still doing snappy business as customers broke free from what I finally realized was a slow-moving queue. After buying their chow they forced their way back to where they’d been in the queue and just continued to shuffle forward. There it goes again Haipat! That word stood out from the rest of the constant jabber of the vendors. Hey, I’ve learnt two Chinese words now, I mused gloomingly (it’s an ill wind that blows no man no good, I reflected and it makes you ask yourself how much of it just is in the mind.). Well, getting back to basics, now I can ask for a hot dog, but no thanks, I’ll stick to my Chinese noodles by night.
After a few minutes, for some reason, the crowd loosened up considerably. It then occurred to me that maybe it was a section of the queue ahead being released into the staduim. Now I could have moved over to the the side and bent over easily to tie my shoelace but too late, shoe missing, lost in crowd. Should I fight my way back to find it? No, too risky! And then, on the other hand, what was the point of going forward if the underground station was behind me. All these people suddenly densening the crowd again from behind made me think it was. Two Chinese girls and a man who were standing at the side of the queue were staring at me and wondering.
Haipat! Haipat! Haipat! (Oh stick your hotdogs where the sun don’t shine)
To be continued…