After flying in coach for 20 hours from Fort Lauderdale to Shanghai, largely without sleeping, common sense told me that I’d be exhausted. But I wasn’t. I was wired and, come to think of it, maybe a little delirious too.
I got off the plane and began the search for my friend, RZ, who was picking me up at the airport. He was staying with my friend Sean, who some of you now know from our South Korea mishaps, at a hotel in Shanghai. Eventually, I found RZ and thank goodness I did because looking back on it now, I might have never made it out of the airport. Or, if I had, I likely would have gotten on the wrong train.
We purchased our tickets for the Maglev Train, which travels at an insane 431 km/h (268 mph). Before I knew it, we were already in Shanghai. The train had covered about 30.5 km (about 19 miles) in seven minutes and change.
From there, we took the Shanghai Metro (again, something that would have been a challenge to navigate for a first-timer) to the Howard Johnson they were staying at, only a few blocks away from The Bund. By that time, though, I was suffering from some serious sensory overload. The smells, storefronts, crowds and traffic were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The traffic was particularly overwhelming. As we navigated our way to the hotel, we avoided cars, auto-rickshaws (awesome to ride in), mopeds, bicycles, and people pushing carts of produce.
After a few minor feats of agility, we reached the hotel. Once we got in the room, however, I noticed there were only two beds, one for RZ and one for Sean. Bummer. I guess I had the floor. For those of you that have slept on a floor before, you know it’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s not something you want to do for anything longer than a weekend. I would be in Shanghai for 10 days. I needed to do something about this situation.
In my brilliance, I decided I would get a sleeping bag. It would be cheap and probably easy to find. Most importantly though, it would save my back and hips from the punishment of sleeping on the hard floor for 10 straight days.
With my plan set, Sean looked up the nearest place a sleeping bag might be and wrote the address down on an index card, along with the return address to the HoJo. At that point, it hadn’t set in quite yet that I would be making this trip alone. But I would be. Sean was doing an internship during working hours and RZ was studying at a nearby school. If I wanted a sleeping bag, I was going to have to make it happen by myself. They had done all they could for me.
Now, I could lie and tell you I wasn’t nervous that and that I never doubted that I would find my way back to that precious HoJo with a perfect sleeping bag, but I’d be lying. Accomplishing this small task, something that wouldn’t even register back home, was downright daunting. When you’re suddenly in a country where you can’t say a single thing besides “Hello” and “Thank you” and realize that you won’t understand a thing said back to you, it quickly dawns on you how much you take language for granted (you’ve probably been doing it all day). If anything goes wrong, you have no way of communicating with anyone around you to remedy the situation.
With those disconcerting thoughts in my head, I flagged down a cab and got in. The man behind the wheel said something I didn’t understand and I handed him the index card with the address on it. He said some other things to me, but all I could do was shrug and point to the index card like a small child. He seemed to understand my predicament because he stopped attempting to communicate with me and started driving. Eventually, we reached the address.
I paid and thanked him and walked inside the store. Essentially, I was just in a Shanghai superstore, like a Walmart or Super Target, but I was mystified. There were so many products I had never seen before and so many things I wanted to buy. There were trinkets and snack foods and cookware and live seafood, all of which I wanted to take with me, even though I didn’t really have any use for the majority of it. Thinking about it now, I can’t imagine how ridiculous I must’ve looked to anyone else in that store. Imagine seeing someone wander around a Walmart in your local city, marveling at everything like it was the most incredible thing they had ever seen. You’d probably think they were crazy. And yet that was me.
After some serious searching, I made it to the bedding area that looked like it might have a sleeping bag in it. I looked for a while, though, and couldn’t find one. At some point, an employee approached me and asked me if I needed help (or so I assumed). I smiled sheepishly and nodded my head.
“Sleeping bag?” I said.
She looked at me, clearly not having comprehended those words, just as I hadn’t understood her words. I tried again (why I thought this would work I don’t know), only this time I tried to do my best mime impersonation and mimicked the action of zipping myself up and then going to sleep. Still, nothing. A woman who was nearby saw my struggles and gave her daughter a slight prod.
“Hello,” the daughter said. “What are you looking for?” She was a bit unsure of her words, but I was thrilled to be able to speak with someone.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m looking for a sleeping bag. Do they have those here?”
She looked at me funny. “A sleeping bag?” she responded.
“Yeah, like the thing you sleep in when you go camping. Have you heard of that before?”
In my excitement, I was talking too fast. She wasn’t understanding. I tried a little slower, but it was clear this wasn’t going to work. “I’m sorry,” she said and shrugged her shoulders, just as I had in the taxi on the way there. She said something to the employee and the woman smiled at me and pointed to the bedding. I wanted to tell them how appreciative I was because there hadn’t been any reason for them to go out of their way to try and help me. All I could say though was, “Xie xie” and smile.
Defeated, I grabbed a cheap comforter, figuring that was better than nothing. I paid for it and went outside to catch a cab back to the HoJo. The exhaustion had finally set in. Sure, I was tired from the flight, but I was also worn down by that familiar traveler’s exhaustion, a type of exhaustion that stems from the otherworldly struggle to complete even the most mundane task in a foreign country.
I made it back up to the room and opened up my comforter. It was bright pink. Spreading it out on the ground, I realized I was about to lay down for the first time in over a day. I put my pillow on the comforter and grabbed a sheet and laid down. That’s when I realized it.
The floor wasn’t any softer.
Charlie Crespo (@Little_Utopia) is the editor-in-chief of Little Utopia.
Previously from Charlie Crespo:
♦ Flopping Has Finally Infiltrated the NFL
♦ Science Says You’re Happy With a 40-Hour Work Week
♦ Viral Video of the Week: Georgia Fan Sobs on the Radio
♦ Beertopia: Duvel Moortgat’s Duvel
♦ The Pavel Datsyuk Conundrum