I would like to take this time to tell a story. A story of embarrassment and success, a story of despair and redemption. This is the story of how Robert Wiese and I, after missing the bus, somehow found our way back to the class within the Shanghai port system. It all starts with a phone call. We both knew the bus was going to leave at 9AM so I had set my alarm for 8:00 the night before and expected to have the time to get ready, get some breakfast, and be good to go. Rather, I was woken up rather abruptly at 9:15 by a phone call by Professor Maxham asking Robert and I why we weren’t on the bus.
So how had this happened? I went to sleep at a reasonable time and even set my alarm. I look at my phone, and then realization hits me, the alarm is set for “8:00PM” rather than “8:00AM.” A silly mistake I’m sure everyone has done once or twice, but can be very costly when you miss the bus to a destination that’s supposed to be 2 hours away. So after I am abruptly woken by the realization that we are on our own getting to the ports of Shanghai, I get myself together in 2 minutes flat and rush down to the hotel lobby, trying to figure out this predicament.
We get to the lobby and lucky Professor Maxham has called the hotel already. We were provided with a sheet of paper with an address written in Chinese (So I had no idea what is said) and a scribbled out phone number to call (where I still am not sure what some of the numbers say). Robert and I get into a cab on the street and give him the sheet of paper, hoping desperately the cab driver knew what it meant. Surprisingly he did, and we were off after that.
Now I was surprised this driver knew where the port was at first because it was so far away, but as the trip was going on I became more and more impressed with the driver’s knowledge. He was taking us out of Shanghai and pretty much into the middle of nowhere China. The further we went the further we realized we had no idea where we going. We tried to place an “over-under” on the cab fare for this journey to the port. Robert though we would be charged 600 RMB (about 100 dollars) while I had the more optimistic number of 300 RMB.
We were both very pleasantly surprised when we arrived at what looked like a port and the fare turned out to be only 105 RMB. After being ripped off so many times by the Chinese taxis, we really couldn’t believe that after we were obviously so desperate and vulnerable, we got what we thought to be a fair price in the cab. This good feeling went away immediately after we saw where we were dropped off.
It appeared as if civilization and infrastructure had not made it to this place yet. The sidewalk was cracked and broken, stray dogs were running everywhere, and we were getting very interesting looks from the truck drivers that were hanging out around us. This was not a place we could have picked up another cab if things went sour. We also looked around and realized this port was HUGE! The fencing around the place went for miles, and there was no clear place where we would meet the bus. And to make things even more adventurous, I checked my phone and realized it was about to die.
So to set the scene, Robert and I are in the middle of nowhere, next to a gigantic caged off area, trying to meet up with a bus we couldn’t see, with an address I couldn’t read, and to add to all of that, we couldn’t get any calls through. It seemed that the number given to us by the hotel was not a real number, so we had no contact with the group we were trying to meet up with. So with no direction and minimal hope, we began to walk.
Our plan was we would walk until a guard told us to stop, then show the guard the address and hope for the best. The first guard we met looked at the address and kind of pointed around a corner. This was good news, because apparently the address pointed to a specific place at this giant port. So we began to walk… and walk… and walk. The port area was much larger than we expected, and the road ahead was very long. We would walk a bit, find a guard and show the guard the address. The guard would point a direction, we would follow that direction, and the process repeated. Finally, after about a mile of walking we ended up at a gate where we appeared to be in the right place. But with no identification and no escort, we couldn’t get in.
So the good news is we found the place, but we still couldn’t contact anyone, my phone was about to die, and the bus was nowhere in sight. It was then our first big break happened, professor Maxham called me on my phone! So in the last few minutes of battery life I was able to explain to him where we were. So apparently we were in the right place, and soon after we saw our bus driving past the gate! We watched as the bus drove across, turned away from us, and drove away…
It was like in the movie Castaway when Tom Hanks had to watch Wilson sail away. My phone was almost dead and there the bus was driving away from us to a place we couldn’t follow. We were so close, and yet so far. I was about to lose all hope when a man came up to use, and in English asked us: “Are you from the University of Virginia?”
This was an amazing breakthrough! Not only did this man speak English, he knew who we were! He later explained he was one of the directors of the port area and had come out to meet up with us while the bus went on a tour of the port. As we talked he kept saying how lucky we were to find the place and all I could think of is how right he was. Finally after what seemed like ages the bus came back to the gate and we were able to walk on. So to the sound of applause from our classmates, Robert and I had somehow successfully made our way through the Shanghai port system. My feeling is adventures like this will happen to each person during our trip through China, I’m just happy I was able to survive mine.