Monday, December 21, 2009

Tough City Rush Hour

This morning was Day 2 of Shanghai Debacle. We woke up early to head to the Chinese Embassy to try and get same day tourist visas and slip on a flight this evening. We went packed and ready to hit the airport, just in case (ever the optimists!).

We usually avoid rush hour but today couldn't help it. One mental image remains from this morning that depicts the difference between our languorous life in Canada and a city like Seoul, where trains pass you by unless you fight to get on.

The subway platform was packed, with everyone lined up in an orderly fashion. As the train pulled into the station, it was obvious that it was already crammed with more people than you'll ever see on the subway in Toronto, at any hour. The doors opened. Isaac and I just stood there as a wave of people rushed on. They jumped in where there was no room and MADE room.

One older salt-n-pepper gentleman clawed his way in and clung to the doorframe like a spider. A kid in a puffy parka moshed his way onto the train. Everyone ignored an ineffectual, pimply young monitor who politely asked Puffy and Spiderman to step off each time the doors re-opened as it sensed blockage between the doors. The doors opened and closed three times. The monitor had a baton like a short light sabre and wore a sash like a very official pageant-winner. The doors would close then re-open and Monitor would pinch a bit of the thin nylon of Puffy's parka between his thumb and forefinger. "Excuse me," tug, tug, "Please step off and wait for the next train." Puffy pretended not to hear or feel him, steadfastly staring into the sardine can subway car. Doors open, close, open, close. These two held up a lot of people for a very long minute because they could not let the train pass them by.

I was horrified. If getting to work requires athletic feats of genteel yet fierce tenacity, what does it take to get THROUGH a work day here?

We missed two trains this way, getting to the Chinese embassy at the stroke of 9. After visiting the embassy and two travel agencies, it became clear that we weren't going anywhere. At least the second travel agent, a kindly, rumpled older man, was nice. He wore a sweater under a nubbly tweed blazer and reading glasses with just one arm, which wasn't a reflection on how hard he would hustle, calling and faxing around on our behalf. Alas, there was really was no way to salvage our Shanghai itinerary. He suggested we get our money refunded (ha!) and tried to make us feel better about our mistake, saying, "There's no visa requirement between Korea and Canada, so it probably just didn't occur to you," although he did add, "You can't travel to China from anywhere without a visa" (but in a nice way, really).

We schlepped our overnight bag across the street to the Myeong-dong movie theatre and saw Avatar, which took longer than it would have taken to fly to China.

After, I bought some glasses (they took 20 minutes, on the spot) and we stumbled upon the dumpling restaurant I fell in love with three years ago. We devoured a bunch in 5 minutes, tops.

This morning, we were on a high of efficiency and tenacity, trying to make our Shanghai trip work. Then, we were just distracted by James Cameron's flight scenes and accompanying pan flute score. But as the day wore on and I trudged around the city lost and alone, I thought about how tough life is in this city. I've had that thought many times over the past month. But Puffy Parka and Spiderman this morning really clinched it.


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