At some point around 11am I awoke more than just to shift to a
slightly less uncomfortable position and tried to order food.
Pictures too small to discern if dishes included meat and waitresses
poking me to illustrate what areas of animals' bodies dishes depicted
made this a no-go, so I amble back for some more half-sleep. Not sure
if I'd already passed it when I woke to attempt the diner car, but I
managed to sleep through my stop. I'm off at Wuhan, some 2-3 hours
farther north toward Beijing than Changsha, my planned destination.
Dealing with the ticketeers is amusing. Like many in customer service jobs that I've encountered here, they think me not knowing Chinese is hilarious and speak just enough to make communication sustainable. Long conversation short, I'm assured that I'll be fine to board with my ticket from Changsha but I might not have an actual seat. Fun...
Wuhan seems like it should translate to "industrial wasteland" during the first several hours of my wandering. Smog and construction activities are the dominant themes, making the air none too tasty.
A commercial area presents ridiculous name brands as ridiculously expensive as back home. And then some weirdness: a cop rides his bicycle up to me and starts speaking in 90% broken English. I think he's asking me where I'm from and if I like fighting, and he's rather insistent that I come see his apartment. Yeah, I know it sounds improbable, and it is, but this is the strangeness that happened.
So I follow this odd little police officer to his stranger, nearly as small apartment. It's high up a tiny elevator in a building that looks presentable from the exterior but doesn't even have lights in the halls inside. His apartment would be tiny for a bachelor pad by U.S. standards, maybe 600 square feet over 1 or 2 bedrooms, a common area, bathroom, and kitchen. Soon, I see that it's far from just him: mom, dad, a sister, and what I think is the cop's baby son all share this very humble abode.
Out of the 6 people here, the cop appears to be the only one with even the most menial bilingual skill; needless to say, communication is not effortless. His dad showed me wushu (a martial art) medals he'd won, the mom cracked up at the baby saying "hi" to me about 50 times, I take a group shot that the sister wanted no part of, and then I leave, snagging a few probably rude pictures of the hall on my way out.
Still with the cop. I fear for my life and wonder how he pedals during a sting sitting diagonally on the back of his bicycle, and I'm not sure how to politely get rid of him or where he intends to go. Finally, by loudly repeatedly insisting that I know where to turn for the bookstore I pretend I'm going to, I ditch him. The Beijing 2008 Olympic Committee would be proud of his stammering "Enjoy... China!"
Some more random paths before and after what I'm almost ashamed to say was my most expensive meal here so far: Pizza Hut. But doesn't a mixed seafood pizza sound tempting? And there was a line and everything... judging by the pizza, which was ~$9 for what we'd call a personal pan, Chinese are hungry for and willing to pay a premium towards Americanization. Hopefully, it's just the unhealthiness, but I'm increasingly thinking that "bring ____ (American brand) to ____ (currently underdeveloped country experiencing double-digit GDP growth) and make some minimal local customizations" is a pretty damn feasible business plan. Libya, anyone?:)
Experiment: googling "falun gong" from an internet cafe well within the confines of the Great Firewall of China. Result: page not found. Weird: Google not loading for a few minutes after that... but gmail working fine, which, if I understand correctly, is securely encrypted the length of its trip to and from Google's many servers and wherever I may be. Connection's kinda spotty here, so I'll call this test inconclusive and resolve to try more in Beijing.
Depending on your travel philosophy and toughness, I fall asleep in what is a high or low point of the trip. There are no seats left and I don't feel like standing, so I'm laying in the connecting area between cars, door to the car behind open to let in warm air. Travel should challenge; this is called practicing what you preach:)