Day 140: 这是为什么这么难?/Zhè shì wèishéme zhème nán? (Why is this so difficult?)

09 Jan


It’s been several days since I’ve posted but nothing much has happened. We’ve been existing in a way that resembles our life in Asheville over summer vacation – what with sleeping in, staying up late, drinking lots of coffee, and catching up on TV shows – minus mountains, work, or visits from friends and family. It’s been a peaceful existence here the past couple of days, but we’re itching for our next adventure to begin. Happily, the next adventure will be as soon as this Sunday, now that all of the various bookings are complete.

Yesterday morning we once again confirmed that trying to do things in China is almost always excessively complicated, inefficient, and void of linear logic. Even though we were going through a reputable site that clearly originated with a good idea, any kind of process just wouldn’t be authentically Chinese (read Baoding) if it didn’t involve some kind of illogical hassle (maybe it’s intentionally there to teach us patience and tolerance).

Anyway, we woke up and decided it was a good day to buy our tickets for our next adventure and so we got online and started what we assumed was going to be a simple process. But first some background information…

Normally, we take a bullet train as our main and preferred method of transportation. Because of the (frustrating and nonsensical) set up of Chinese websites and ticket purchasing procedure, we are unable to buy our own tickets on the website because we do not have a Chinese ID card. Chinese citizens, who all have ID cards (that function like driver’s licenses, social security cards, insurance cards, bank cards, and more all rolled into one), can just enter in their ID card number for online or in-person purchases or simply slide their card for electronic vending station purchases in order to get tickets. As non-Chinese citizens, however, we cannot just enter in our passport numbers or somehow scan our passports and thus we need a Chinese ID card to be able to even begin buying tickets. Then, once the tickets are in the shopping cart (assuming we are buying online as we usually do), you can only pay for them using a Chinese bank account card or number (which we also do not have). This means that we have to get a Chinese person to buy the tickets for us using their ID and their bank account information and we have to pay them back in cash. So far we have done this (fairly easily) with the help of our friend Johnson and all has gone according to plan (we cannot thank him enough for his willingness to help us).

When we started planning our upcoming trip we realized taking a train was either not a viable/worthy option (our destination either had no fast train station and the regular train would take about 25 hours one way or the cost was prohibitively expensive) or tickets were unavailable (because of the upcoming Spring Festival/all foreign teachers in the country are off work right now and traveling) and thus we decided to add another new element to our adventure – Chinese domestic flights.

With all this in mind, and having already decided which flights we intended to take, we started the process of getting our tickets. But with the combination of unreliable Internet, credit cards shutting off because of potential fraudulent activity (despite our informing them that we are in China until July), and the complex and unchartered intricacies of the Chinese way of doing things, what should have been a process that took a few minutes, ended up taking almost four hours including multiple phone calls and a trip to QLH for more stable internet. Fortunately, we didn’t need a Chinese ID card or bank account for this venture, and once we finished wading through innumerable seemingly unnecessary steps, we believe we have plane tickets for our upcoming trip. We won’t know for sure until we get to the airport, show them our confirmation numbers and passports, and they either hand us tickets or say they have no record of our reservation (as is also common here, they will first say they have no record and they will argue that we even exist despite our standing in front of them talking to them, but then after everyone involved has been sufficiently riled up and is exasperated with frustration and feelings of helplessness, they will magically find our tickets and we will be on our way). But, what matters is that at the end of yesterday, we had the plane and hostel reservations to fly from Beijing to Guilin this Sunday, stay there for a few days, fly from Guilin to Chengdu, stay there for a few days, and then fly from Chengdu to Beijing before returning to Baoding at the end of the month. I’d say it was a successful day.

But today we had one more task to complete before our journey could commence and that was to buy a train ticket from Baoding to Beijing for Sunday so that we could actually get to the airport to find our tickets to get to Guilin. Johnson was unavailable to help us today with the acquisition of tickets via our normal method but Samantha graciously offered her help and we were feeling pretty confident. Several hours later, we still had no tickets, we were unable to access the ticket buying website (servers were down due to unusually busy activity), and we are standing in line, outside a ticket window down the street from QLH, desperately hoping the people behind the counter will understand us enough for us to buy tickets in person (without a Chinese person to assist us should language create a communication issue). Also, fortunately, thirty minutes later, we have tickets in hand and now we are ready to go to Beijing on Sunday. Phew!

In other news, I was super brave today. I talked to my other favorite street vendors (a couple that makes delicious jampinguozi) all in Chinese! She asked us if we were returning home or staying here, and after Duncan responded, I told her I understood her question (“wo ming bai”), last week we went to Xi’an (“shang xing qi, wo men qu Xi’an”), next week we will go to Guilin “xia xing qi wo men qu Guilin”), and “wo xue xi hanyu” (I am studying Chinese). It was simple and I made a fool out of myself, but I was brave, tried to brush off the repeated “shen me” (what?) and laughter, and I walked away feeling quite successful.

To end today’s post, I want to say again how grateful I am for everyone that made this adventure possible and for all the people who continue to make life here so accessible. I am especially grateful for our friends Johnson and Samantha, and the rest of the QLH crew, for establishing a safe place for us to connect with friends and family in the US, practice our Chinese, and help us navigate the details of living and traveling in China.

Thank you for reading and posts with beautiful pictures from Guilin and the lively city of Chengdu are soon to follow!


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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Baoding


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