There are two sides of Nanjing Road, two colors on the Chinese flag, two layers to every dumpling, two dimensions to every city when the raw underbelly of humanity juts out. This is what we found to be true in China. This is what we experienced: the Yin and Yang of the Chinese culture. In traveling, you must be prepared for absolutely everything. This includes horrible, extensive ‘hold on for dear life’ travel, toilets that are mere holes in the ground, lovely bouts of food poisoning, and gaping breaches in communication. In Shanghai, we experienced all of these. What we didn’t expect came to us at the most extraordinary of times. Such is life.
Summer and I were waiting in a long line to retrieve our bullet train tickets from Shanghai to Beijing. Finally at the front, we were informed we didn’t have enough money on us to purchase the tickets, so we moved to the side and began frantically scanning the huge station for an ATM so we didn’t miss our train. The woman who was behind us in line came hurrying up to us and asked us something in Mandarin. We smiled at her apologetically—she didn’t speak any English. She took out her wallet, at the same time, motioning to the line we just came from. We looked at her stunned as she pulled out 500 RMB (the equivalent of 100 US dollars) and handed it to us. We stared at her confused and tried to give her some of the American currency we had on us, but she just smiled and shook her head before walking away. We were so awestruck, we didn’t even have time to thank her because after staring dumbly at each other, we turned to find the woman in red had disappeared. We were speechless-which is hard for us- and completely humbled. For the past seven days, we felt like strangers in a distant land, and we were. Hardly anyone spoke English, people seemed to always be shouting at each other abrasively in a language we couldn’t even begin to understand; we were constantly stared at, pointed at, brushed off, ignored, seen as an alien with a wallet in a communist country. At this moment, when we felt tired and most vulnerable to a mental breakdown, China style, a woman who could not even have known our situation spared us. Red is the color in China of power, life, celebration, and happiness; the woman in red became our Chinese Yin.
And every yin begets a yang.
Our first day in Beijing began with dumplings and dough sticks- a very glorious and delicious start. As we paced around Tiananmen Square, three well-dressed, articulate Chinese girls came up to us and started speaking in English. They asked us, very animatedly, to go get a drink somewhere in order to continue the bond we were forming between locals and travelers. We talked and walked for over an hour. They chose a teahouse where we were brought to a private room, they ordered in all Chinese, menus were nowhere to be found, and we were brought a pot of tea, a plate of fruit, and a glass of wine.
The bill came and after insinuating that we would split it, we found it came to 70 US dollars a person. We were in total agonized shock. Our Tea party turned into a Tea Scam. We were dejected, burned, and in picking up the pieces, we found that these three girls were our Yang. We had flipped the coin, and this time, we had lost.
For the most part, we evened out. We had found a balance that both exalted us and tore us down simultaneously. In the game of life, win some-lose some. In the quest of traveling, two roads can lead you to either an angel in red, or three satanic snakes with poofed, greasy hair.