I finished my finals at CET Harbin, said goodbye to some really great friends, and headed off to Kunming with James, the other Kunming Fulbrighter. I begin my journey to the west. My blog’s title is “Journey to the West” because of two reasons: the first one being, I am literally moving from the East part of China to the West. The second reason is that my path and the journey that the Monkey King, the monk, and their companions followed in the Chinese epic, Journey to the West, are similar. At one point in their fictional adventures, the group found themselves in a Kingdom of Women. The women tried to seduce them and stray them away from their mission. My research will soon lead me to Lugu Lake, an ethnic minority area that still hosts a matrilineal society. Because of this trait, the area, Lugu Lake, and its people, the Mosuo, have adopted the nickname “The Kingdom of Women.” The fictional kingdom has become a reality.
From Harbin, the CET Harbin crew took a train to Beijing. I woke up the next morning on the train with a severe stomach ache. It felt like my stomach was tied, I didn’t want to eat anything. Even though I felt sick to my stomach, I still had a day’s worth of traveling ahead of me. James and I took a cab to the airport, got switched to an earlier flight, and first flew to Xi’an. When we got our next tickets, the flight was delayed for 6+ hours and wasn’t going to leave until 11:30pm. My stomach urked in pain…I looked outside at the polluted, soot-filled Xi’an air and then back at my ticket, I was not going to be sick here! I persuaded James to join me and try to change our ticket.
The man at the ticket assistance desk looked at our tejia (special price) ticket and immediately said “gaibuliao,” or “it cannot be changed.” James and I were persistent in a friendly/pathetic/jokingly way, but they kept on saying “no, no, no.” At that point, they were letting people go ahead of us. I became desperate. I looked at the woman who was then dealing with us and said, “Do you see his face? Do you see how pathetic it looks?” I said it half jokingly, half earnestly. James wasn’t expecting this approach, but went along with it. Suddenly, I finally got some sympathy…or they may have just gotten annoyed at the laowai who wouldn’t go away. We switched tickets and found our friend (who was planning to meet us in Kunming) at the gate. It was perfect, except for the occasional bouts of nausea.
I thought this experience highlighted the unpredictability of the Chinese “system.” For our situation, it was the arbitrary switching of ticket times. In Beijing, we also had a “special price ticket,” but the attendant just switched it without any hesitation, but in Xi’an, it was a completely different story. You never know when someone will or will not follow the exact rules. I will definitely run into more of this in the future, especially with getting permission to do research in northern Yunnan. Will it be easy? Will the government official simply stamp a document and say, “O-KAY!” or will I run into a ton of mafan (trouble/nuisance)?
As for now, that is later matters. I have to first register at my University, meet with my professor, and find a place to live. We safely arrived in Kunming (I didn’t eat for 24 hours). But, now I am feeling just fine. I’m happy to be in Kunming again.