The Worst Day of My Life (Part I) / by Deborah Clague

Sorting through my old archive of China images made me reflect upon one of the worst days of my life. Or 48 hours to be exact. Or to be even more precise it's probably not the worst, as I tend to not publicly reflect on that stuff, but rather the most post-humously humourous time in my life that I would be thankful to be alive. It started innocently enough in Beijing...late check-out at my hotel gave me time to sleep in and watch some forgettble Kate Hudson (or was it Jennifer Aniston?) movie, the only English television I'd watched in a week. I lingered, taking forever to get out of bed as I knew a 30+ hour trainride to Chengdu was the only thing to look forward to in my immediate future. Train rides in China are not pleasant. NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST. Sardines are afforded more comfort. And so I waited, through the end credits, through saying goodbye to the comfortable high-thread count sheet set, till 3:00pm, which gave me 45 minutes to walk across the street to the Beijing Railway Station to catch my ride. 

About that: Beijing Railway Station was where I purchased my ticket for Chengdu. I even bought it at the English-speaking counter so nothing (I hoped) was lost in translation and I didn't inadvertantly get a ticket to Mongolia. I didn't end up there, but as I returned to the station it was more than clear that this wasn't where I was supposed to be. As I handed my ticket over, the railway employee's eyes turned to saucers and she shrieked the universally understood "oh no!", turning away from me and running off into the distance with no further explanation. I stood completely confused until she returned with another employee who told me in broken English that I was at the wrong train station. Fuck. This would have been good information to have when I bought the ticket and before I wasted the day watching terrible chick flicks. The railway employee wrote down the name of the place I needed to be in Chinese and hurried me outside to catch a cab. I waved the paper in the air hoping to catch the eye of someone willing to make a buck. Unfortunately, the person who came to my rescue operated a black market cab. This would cost me dearly and almost cost me my life. 

Careening through rush-hour Beijing traffic was like being in a rocket ship. I swear to God, this guy's van was traveling at the speed of sound, blazing through red lights, swerving past pedestrians while jumping the curb onto the sidewalk. I didn't know which direction I was traveling, but I did know that we "tapped" two bicycle riders en-route. They appeared to be okay though (or so I hoped). In about 20 minutes (and for $200 CDN, which would have been about a $10 ride at most), we made it to the proper train station at the other end of town. But we weren't exactly AT the train station. The driver just stopped in the middle of the freeway and told us to get out. He didn't get a tip. 

A high-speed freeway. Five lanes in each direction, making for ten lanes of Chinese drivers to traverse through. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. There are no rules of the road in China. They will do whatever they have to do to get where they need to go. As a pedestrian, I've learned that one must do the same. Just boldly step forward and hope for the best (this is actually good advice for life too). And so I did. Each step bracing for impact, writing the perfect obituary in my head that would somehow hint at - and perhaps embellish - my desire to become a female Indiana Jones. But I made it. Traffic is organized chaos in Asia and somehow, someway, I made it across the freeway alive and with minutes to spare to catch my train. 

To be continued...