I knew it couldn’t last forever. What was five days of spot-on seamless travel, turned into virtual disaster. Maybe disaster is too harsh a word, since I’m back in Beijing in one piece, but nonetheless, the final three days on my Dongbei trip have to go down as my least successful Chinese travel experience ever.
It all started several nights ago in Yanji when I met two recent college grads who were traveling around China following the torch relay and selling Olympic T-shirts. They had invited me to come along with them to Dalian, and eventually Shandong to help hack goods and see the country. On the day we were supposed to leave, some unexpected work related issues arose, and had to remain in Yanji for a full day working out of a netbar. The boys had already booked their train tickets to Dalian, and I had decided that if I stayed back, worked for a day, and then took a bus, I could still meet them there (the bus only takes half as long as the train). I spent the entire day in the netbar, rushing through my TPS reports, and when I finished, I went to the train station to book my Dalian ticket for the following morning. Once I arrived at the station, I was informed that the Dalian bus service had temporarily been suspended. I would have to take a bus to Changchun, and then from Changchun go to Dalian. This route was still faster than taking the train would have been. I spent the entire night on a bus to Changchun, arrived at 6 am, checked out the town for about three hours, and then at 10:30 am, boarded the bus to Dalian.
While I was on the bus, I received a text from one of the T-shirt sellers telling me that Dalian was in a state of torrential downpour, and that they were going to continue on to Shandong. They had offered to wait for me, but being that I wanted some time to explore Dalian, and that I felt bad having them change their schedule around me, I told them not to wait.
When I arrived in Dalian, it was about 9 pm. I strolled around downtown for a few hours, but was so exhausted from all the bus rides, that I found a sauna house, took a hot shower, and passed out. The following morning, the rains had returned. Usually, harsh weather doesn’t faze me too much, but I had come to Dalian to sight see, and it was raining so hard I could barely see anything. I spent two hours in an Internet bar hoping for the weather to clear up, but all to no avail. After checking the forecast, (something which would have made much more sense to do BEFORE I went to Dalian) it became apparent that it was probably going to rain for the next three days. I decided to cut my losses, and head back to Beijing.
I took a bus to the long distance bus/train station area, and after wading through the crowds found the Dalian to Beijing bus. There was an overnight sleeper bus, which would give me the rest of the day to explore if things were to clear up, and then I’d be back in Beijing the following morning. I went to the ATM to withdraw money to pay for my bus ticket, content with what I had seen in Dongbei, and ready to go back home. Then I looked down at my camera pouch around my belt. It was empty.
It was immediately apparent what had happened. Long distance bus and train stations are the number one most common place to get pick pocketed in China. I’ve probably walked in and out of Chinese train/bus stations over a hundred times. Each time I have anal retentively placed my wallet, phone, passport, and camera in my front pockets, with both hands directly on them. Recently I had bought a Swiss army backpack with a pocket on the top. At previous destinations I had put all my valuables in the top pocket and swung the bag around on my front side. A thief would literally have had to pick my pocket right from under my nose.
For some unforsaken reason, this time at the bus station, the thought of protecting my valuables hadn’t even dawned on me. I had also been carrying an umbrella, something I rarely if ever do, which had required the usage of one hand. Not to mention my camera was stowed in my belt loop “I have a camera, please steal me” pouch. But more than anything, I just wasn’t paying attention. The interesting thing is, in all my travels ever in China, this is the one and only time I have ever spaced out at a transit station, and I got taken right away. Between the long bus rides, the rain, and now my camera gone, I had had enough. I bought a ticket to head back to Beijing that afternoon.
In the back of my mind I like to think that I was going to be hit by a bus last night, or maybe fall down an uncovered manhole. Maybe getting my camera stolen was fate’s way of intervening on my behalf. On the bus ride back to Beijing I was reading Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans.” I was at the part where the narrator is revealing in detail the horrors and monstrosities of life during the Cu1tural Revo1ution. Reading about all the merciless denunciations, beatings, and carnage helped make my problem seem more trivial.
My camera was expensive, but replaceable, but more than anything, I am going to miss all the photos I had taken, the old European Harbin buildings, the Jewish cemetery, the pictures of North Korea taken from across the border, shots of all the random Dongbei food I sampled, the torch parade through Yanji, just to name a few. All in all, there were over 100 shots, and if the punk who took my camera were here today, I’d gladly hand him over an extra couple hundred kuai just to get my memory card back. In the next few days I am going to try to recount as much of my photography as I can through words, as this is probably the best way to make something positive come out of such a situation, and as I did mention before, there are much worse things that can happen on the road than losing a camera and some pictures. Then again, it still stings.
This was actually the first time I have ever been pick pocketed, and I with all the traveling I do, I was formerly quite proud of this small feat. Some people like to say things like this are bound to happen when you travel a lot. I disagree. They happen when you aren’t being careful and have your head stuck up your ass, which is exactly why it happened to me.