Sunday, November 23, 2008

The trip home and a comfortable ending.

I sat in Starbucks for 45 minutes or so just enjoying the people watching and exchanging text messages with people back in the world. What finally drove me off was a band that fired up inside the mall. It was incredibly loud and echoing like crazy off all the glass and marble surfaces. I could only stand it for a bit and left, stopping to take a picture on the way out of the two fusion violinists.

I wandered down to the Carrefore store to take stock of their inventory and concluded that I would be making a regular run in for supplies. The selection was far more diverse than anything I'd seen yet. I passed an Indian fellow shopping with his driver, staring dejectedly at the cereal offerings.

Done with my window shopping, I headed off to the big market behind the train station to find a piece of luggage. I'd not planned my trip over very well, traveling with my largest carry-on in order to maximize my carrying capacity. Problem is, I won't be bringing anything back except my computers so the one bag I have is much too big. I figured I'd just pick one up that was big enough for the hardware and cheap enough to be a throwaway if it breaks.

Da Cai Shi is a block square, 5 inside stories and mobbed. One floor for women's wear, and one for men's. A floor just for gems, minerals and feathers. And finally one for luggage, shoes and bags.

I wandered up and down the long aisles, not quite finding just what I wanted. The sales women all wanted to sell me the biggest one they had, I being American and all and some of them got irritated at not being able to close the deal. I heard one say that he was not buying, only looking as I walked away. Back and forth I went, getting hotter and hotter because the place was crammed with people and there was no air to speak of. Another one of those places you wouldn't want to be if someone yelled "Fire!"

I finally found one that was just about right but a bit too big. The store assistant dug down in a pile and came out with the perfect bag.

Now for the haggling which I was only halfway in the mood for, it gets more than a little tiresome playing that game. We parried offers until I ended at about 1/2 where we'd started. The woman laughed and said I still owed her 2 kuai and really laughed harder when I offered it to her.

It was about time to head back so I crossed the square and got into line at the ticket agent. A few seconds later one of the guards started yelling "Kai Fa Qu" which I took to mean that there was suddenly an express line, just for me. So I shot over, got a ticket and headed up the stairwell which was unfortunately completely pitch black as the lights were not on.

It's very disconcerting to grope your way up 4 flights of stairs in total darkness in a place you have never been with a bunch of strangers doing the same when all of you have just come in from the sunshine.

I reached the top and lined up in the shortest queue. Five or so minutes passed and a train pulled in and unloaded from the far side. We just stood and stood and stood, long after the final person was out.

Finally a yellow light above the door came on and the doors opened. It was suddenly like an insane game of Musical Chairs - I was conveyed into the car without ever moving my feet and forget about a seat, I was out in the 1st round.

People kept coming and before you knew it, there was no room left. The car was getting pretty hot and offensive from the stale body odor and street food breath that was now making up the atmosphere. No room to move or to breath, assuming you would want to. It was far better this morning when everyone had just brushed their teeth.

At the first station, 5 or 10 people got on proving wrong my theory that we were at maximum capacity.

Another 15 people got on at the third station, making it impossible to keep writing. At the fourth station, no one got on but we did have an altercation between one guy and the people blocking his path out. He had been arguing with one of the guards back at the start, perhaps about standing there in the crush for so long. The guard was laughing at him. Wanting to get out badly, he shoved his way from the middle, pretty roughly with the guy next to me who also just shook his head and laughed. I think he was drunk and had pretty much had it.

We chugged along passing the trash littered wetlands behind Dalian Bay. I was surprised to see so many little hovels, many with piles of corn cobs drying on the roof in small clearings in the reeds. .

The train finally pulled into the station, about 1 hour after I had boarded. Walking back to the hotel I got a notion that I might like a pizza and so I chose to spin down the street past The Real Eddie's but it was empty and I could not bear the thought of sitting alone in an empty restaurant. Sometimes there is anonymity in crowds. Now that I think of it, there is always anonymity in crowded restaurants even though there are far more people staring at you.

When I hit the main drag I had a brainstorm - what better place to blend in than Pizza Hut so I aborted my street crossing and headed that way.

Busy enough, but not terribly so, the hostess showed me to a table. Sitting down I realized that the music was Astrud Gilberto's Greatest. Hits. What better way to end my grand day out than a Hawaiian Pizza in Pizza Hut in China listening to Brasilliero? The Girl from Ipanema and now Agua de Beber, I'm digging it and everyone else thinks it's Pizza Hut Muzak.

The pizza was a nice touch altough I sometimes wonder how Chinese chefs manage to make things like pineapple taste vaguely of seafood. My only complaint was that the drink glass was too sticky to touch. So I just pulled it close and drank from the bendy straw.

No big learnings today aside from the fact that the train is easy to use albeit far too crowded for my taste. Dalian city is still the same as the last time I saw it and next time I go to the big market, remember to put my down jacket in my messenger bag.











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