Contrary to what the title might convey, and possibly to your chagrin, this anecdote is NOT going to end with me holding my kidney out to a gang of Chinese men in an alleyway, screaming for them to “JUST TAKE IT!!” My day started out just fine, as my boss ever so generously drove me to the Zhenjiang train station to catch the high-speed rail into Shanghai so I could stay the night before my flight to Taiwan. He helped me purchase my ticket and ensured that I was safely waiting for my train before he took off. When I boarded my train an hour later, my luck suddenly changed. I sat between a nosey businessman (nosey as in, his nose was literally in my ear as I played Sudoku on my iPod and read on my Kindle) and a man who reeked of cigarettes and rice wine. He wielded a laptop case and slammed it on his tray table in front of him, which had a suspiciously non-laptop shape that bore an uncanny resemblance to a flask. The smell was unbearable, and so was leaning the other way so that the other man’s nose was actually INSIDE my ear, but we all have to make sacrifices. Suddenly, before the train ride even commenced, the man gave us a preview of our en-route entertainment: he drunkenly removed his gloves, placed them on his flask/laptop case, and started yelling at them. I can only imagine that he was angry that they had been keeping his hands inadequately warm. Then he started pounding on the window, as if he had woken out of his stupor only to find himself imprisoned on an expensive Chinese railway system. It’s a scary world, that’s for sure. Needless to say, this 1.5 hour train ride was a bit unpleasant.
After debarking my lovely journey, I arrived at the vast train station in Shanghai. I walked in a random direction for what seemed like miles underground until I finally came up into the light. My first thought, “How am I going to get to my hotel by Pudong airport?” As luck would have it, a strange man approached me perhaps a little too enthusiastically and asked, “Do you want to go to Pudong airport?” brandishing a fine American accent. I consented, full of that temporary optimistic naïveté when trying to immerse in a strange culture, right before the moment of becoming overly paranoid. I ignored the instant hand-slap from the God of Common Sense across my face and tried to keep faith. The cheerful man then informed me, purely in Chinese, that he was a taxi driver. While surprised at the code-switch, I acknowledged the information and was comforted in knowing that he wouldn’t be leading me to some strange van out in a vacant parking lot. He then led me to a strange van out in a vacant parking lot. “Okay, this doesn’t seem right…” my gut said to me. I peered inside. Dirty floral seats, chemical bottles, and a peeling plastic floor cover were the warming interior decór. Without time to change my mind he snatched up all my luggage (including my laptop) and nudged me inside and locked the doors in one fell swoop. Well, at least I had the security of knowing I wouldn’t fall out of this rickety structure with cracked windows and absolutely no shocks whatsoever. I expressed my skepticism, which he laughed off as presumably “silly, paranoid American” thinking. However, as we pulled out of the parking lot, I was also just beginning to fear for my life so I remained still, gauging what objects I could possibly use for stabbing a person in the eye.
The merry driver, unknowing of my discomfort, then proceeded to unleash the normal line of questioning I receive in China: “How long have you been here, why are you in China, where are you from?” Except that after I answered that third question, his eyes lit up like a boy about to receive his first game console. He said to me in Chinese with a conniving grin on his face, “Americans have a lot of money!” to which I immediately replied, stating, “Except me! I don’t have money. And neither does my family,” I hastily added, just in case. (Do I watch too many movies…?) He argued with me, insisting that I, my family, and my friends are all positively loaded. My fear worsened. As we gained speed onto an onramp, I decided to call my boss. I could only imagine his disappointment in me being kidnapped after only being out from under his supervision for less than three hours. But if this were to be the end, someone should at least hear my last words, I justified.
Lucky for me, when I explained my situation my boss informed me that I have good instincts – apparently getting in a strange van is a no-no in all parts of the world, who’d’ve thunk it? But after having a conversation with the driver (and taking down his name, vehicle make/model and license plate) he rested assured that I would end up at my destination unharmed and not robbed, unless of course you count the 200 yuan I probably could have saved if I had just figured out where the damned subway was… but c’est la vie, right?