Happy Qingmingjie! People all across China are sweeping the tombs of their ancestors, or not and pretending they did. I originally planned to spend my three-day holiday at 泰山Taishan, a mountain about 2.5 hours south of Tianjin by train. But a series of tragic events, accompanied by laziness and thriftiness (thrifilaziness), crushed these plans into oblivion. Which I’m OK with.
At first, my friend and I were going to make the trip to Taishan by ourselves, but she quickly recruited some students from her school to go with us. Lucky for us, her student Steve took the reins and reserved hotel rooms for us and basically planned everything.
All we had to do was sit back and sip margaritas until the start of the holiday on Thursday–or so we thought. On Monday we got word that Steve somehow tore a ligament in his leg, obviously meaning he couldn’t go climb a mountain with us, and that he canceled the hotel room reservation that he had made in his name.
Our carefree holiday had changed forever.
I foolishly believed that one of my friend’s other students would help us poor foreigners out and find us a new place to stay, but no. I began searching online for hotels near Taishan, and English websites only had ridiculous expensive Chinese-style Sheratons and Hiltons. I switched my search to Chinese websites, but most of the hotels were already full, and the few rooms still available were far too much money.
I decided to persevere. But the task of reserving a hotel was made more difficult, since I couldn’t use my American credit cards on the websites, and I hadn’t yet set up my Chinese debit card for online purchases. I headed over to the ever-venerable Chinese Construction Bank and went through the preposterous process to simply be able to buy things online. Unlike the name/date of expiration/back-of-card code system used in the US, Chinese cards are FREAKING COMPLICATED.
On a website, you have to enter in your full name, debit card number, and a six-digit pin, then hit confirm on a super-futuristic device that the bank gives you.
After spending over an hour at the bank filling out one piece of paperwork incorrectly (not in caps), filling out another one correctly (in caps), and having one of the employees try (and fail) to set up banking on my phone, I went home and attempted to reserve a hotel. But in the box where I had to type in my full name (first, middle, and last), I COULDN’T TYPE IN THE LAST LETTER. My name was too long, since the bank insisted that I use my entire name, as listed in my passport, for all my paperwork.
That night, less than 24 hours before we were supposed to catch our train, my friend and I sat in her room and freaked out that we wouldn’t be able to find somewhere to stay. Most of the hotels were completely full. One website said it would accept US cards, but my debit card didn’t work. Another said it accepted Paypal. Not my Paypal, evidently.
At this point, full of frustration and heartache, we realized we had to make a decision: spend another indeterminate long period of time looking for rooms and pay over 200 RMB, or $30+, per person each night (which is a lot for China), go to Taishan without hotel reservations on a busy holiday weekend and hope for the best, or call it quits and cry silent sobs for a trip that never was.
Other factors were also at work in our decision-making. Taishan is not for the weak of heart. It requires about six hours of climbing, and since it’s China, you have to climb the mountain IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT to see the sunrise. And it was supposed to snow the night we wanted to climb it. And I’m out of shape. And I didn’t want to slip and die.
So my friend and I took the difficulty of reserving hotel rooms and the scary weather forecast as omens: this Taishan trip was simply not meant to be.
Yippee! Seriously, after all of the drama that this almost-vacation had caused, I was glad to be rid of it.
We celebrated our new-found Tomb Sweeping Day freedom at our usual neighborhood bar. We chatted with some Japanese girls in Chinese (still a strange experience), and met a motorcycle-owning Chinese man with a helmet that prominently displayed a swastika. His drunken explanation of his grandfather or somebody fighting in WWII didn’t make much sense, but it was acceptable at 4 o’clock in the morning. Rosie the Riveter was also sighted with a beer and smoking hookah. She really needs to cut back if she’s going to continue being an inspirational American icon.
Chinese beer and Arabian smokes? How very un-American of you, Rosie.