The train rolled on through Sichuan province. Hills becoming mountains and mountains leading to shangri-la (Chengdu is known as the "gateway to Tibet"). My roommates departed well before we arrived at 11:00pm. Stretching my legs and inhaling (relatively) clean air after that seemingly endless journey was one of the greatest feelings ever. I got my luggage and hit a bold stride through the train station to the front waiting area which was a pedestrian plaza. There were hundreds...no, probably thousands of people waiting for loved ones and loitering around in general. The sea of humanity was somewhat hard to navigate through, but using a neon hotel sign in the distance as a beacon, I marched forward until *BOOM*.
I mentioned previously how there are no rules to the road in China and people frequently drive in places where they shouldn't. For pedestrians this can be exceptionally dangerous considering one doesn't have a giant metal shield also surrounding them. And so I was struck. Not by a car, but by some dude on a motorcycle. I fell on my arse, half in shock, but managed to look up to see a figure hovering over me and yelling. Angrily. Good thing I didn't read that section of my English-Mandarin dictionary. And then he took off. Not bothering to help, not bothering to wait to see if I was okay (which I was). But the incident proved to be the icing on the cake fueling my own anger at being sick, at being uncomfortable, at having this country bring me to my knees.
I got up and headed towards the hotel but my series of unfortunate events wasn't over yet. Another thing I would quickly learn about China is that tourists can only stay in regulated hotels. I didn't have this issue previously as I pre-booked my hotel in Shanghai and stayed at an American chain in Beijing. Despite being communist, China is actually every bit as capitalistic as the west (perhaps moreso), so it was with shock that I was turned away from not one, not two, but three hotels after arriving in Chengdu. I contemplated seeking three wise men to help me find room at an inn, but then finally came across a place willing to accept my yuan. I can't remember the name of it, but it was a high-rise and the interior was dark. Very dark. Perhaps it was to camoflauge an insect infestation or, more likely as I later calculated, it was for privacy, né secrecy. As I finally crawled into bed ready to sleep until the next decade, my potential slumber was interrupted literally every 10 minutes by a phone call or knock on the door asking if I would like a "massage". Yup. Pretty sure I was staying at a brothel.
But with every sunrise comes a new day. Life is never as bad as you think it is and with every bout of bad luck, a wave of good fortune is soon to wash over. It did for me. Early in the morning, I looked up hotels in Chengdu on the internet and discovered a Crowne Plaza a few kms away. I made my way over to their luxurious high-threadcount sheets and spent the day watching terrible Jennifer Aniston (or was it Kate Hudson?) movies, eating exotic fruit from a basket in my room and taking the longest shower in recorded history. Feeling refreshed gave me a new outlook on my trip - I was only supposed to be in the city for three days, but decided to stay over a week after falling in love with the people, their spicy food and a new friend. He was, after all, the reason I was in Chengdu in the first place and definitely made the adventure worth it: