Well, you’d think that experience would bring wisdom and wisdom would help make things easier…….but no.
We left our Beijing apartment around 8:00 a.m. and I had downloaded a speaking phrasebook to my phone so I would be able to at least say where we wanted to go and add a few other words to my Chinese repertoire (which only consisted of “ee ping peejoe” which means “a bottle of beer” and “sheh sheh” which is “thank-you”).
We flagged a cab and I managed to say “train station” in Chinese while pointing to the Chinese characters for the West Beijing Railway Station on a piece of paper we got from the helpful proprietor of the City Walls Hostel. He nods and says something back to me to which I reply “I don’t speak Chinese” in Chinese and he gives me this look as if to say “You just did – twice!”
We get there without problem (other than slow traffic), managed to find our gate and board this really sleek, high-speed train that travels at about 300kph. Our trip to Xi’an was about 6h and was very comfortable and uneventful. We had planned to find SIM cards for our phones once we reached Xi’an but there was nothing resembling a phone kiosk anywhere so we decided to head straight to our apartment. No sooner had we left the departure gate and were heading to the taxi stand, when w were approached by a friendly, English-speaking man named Jack who offers us a taxi ride to where we’re going for $100. Plus he’s offering to take us on a tour of the city. He tells us we don’t have to wait in line for the metered taxis which could be an hour or more. Well, I’m far too trusting – he has a big friendly smile to match my own so he must be a good guy, right? Thankfully, Barb is a little more wary and whispers to me that she read we should be careful about scammers at this station (Lonely Planet is our friend). We politely declined and headed for the metered taxis. Turns out it only took 3 minutes to get a taxi since there was about 100 of them waiting.
So we jump in a taxi and it turns out that the driver doesn’t speak a lick of English except to say, “No English”. Well, we were prepared for this and I said “Binguan” (hotel) and showed him the phone number of the English/Chinese speaking proprietor of our apartment. The driver called and tried asking me all kinds of questions which I didn’t understand nor was I prepared for this. Barb had a map showing the location of the apartment and I had my maps app on my phone so between the two I was able to find a rough route to the apartment. The driver in the meantime was talking on the phone and he passed over the phone to me. It was some lady who spoke more English than the driver but not by much. In the end she managed to ask me if I could give the driver directions to which I agreed.
As we went along I saw landmarks that were on the map so I felt better. Eventually we got to the the proper street but we didn’t know which building it was and the driver drove up and down the same street while talking on the phone. We pulled over in front of this one building and this young man comes over and says, “Barbara?”. Wow, deja vu. I’m sensing a pattern here. It’s our contact Danny Zhang. He has a bit of an exchange with the taxi driver, who we pay and he’s on his way.
Danny leads us up the elevator to the 16th floor and shows us the apartment which is much more spacious, bright, clean, and air conditioned than our last place and all for a lower price! The only downside is that the building from the outside and in the hallways looks like a post-apocalyptic war movie set.
Barb confessed later that she was starting to get a bit anxious about what was going to happen if we couldn’t find the place. I figured there wouldn’t be an issue for housing since there are a number of hotels around. Still this place is seeming to be a bit of a step up from the last place.