The humidity hangs heavy in the air even at seven this morning. I step out of the shower, dry myself off and then wonder if I have actually done so. Undoubtedly it will be another day of
I glance out the window and for a moment watch the locals hustling about their business. The men’s Mahjong boards are already set up on a makeshift table under the shade of an unstable umbrella and a few sparse trees. They study the board with brows furrowed as seriously as if they are generals of armies deciding on great strategic defense. A woman stands in the doorway of her shop, arms crossed, surveying the street for customers. Another man quickly sets up his portable shoeshine business…a rickety old stool and a few rags.
I decide that if today is the day, I best be off. I make my way out into the narrow alleyway and am surprised at the intensity of the heat so early in the morning. Propaganda blares from the speakers through the open doors of the shops wafting out into the streets along with a variety of distinctly pentatonic sounding songs and a symphony of continuously blaring horns in the background. Putrid smells ooze up from the sewers smacking me suddenly as they intermingle with the smell of the fried ducks hanging in the windows, various bodily odors of those passing by me, stale urine alongside a building. Everything is so much bolder in this heat…in this country. It screams at me. It thrusts me into sensory overload.
I stand and take it all in before I make my way over to the confusion of taxis just off the road. I address the first fellow. No English. I was prepared for this. I rummage in my knapsack until I pull out my map. I show him where we are and then point to a place way up the map…the Great Wall, Mutiyanu. He jabbers at me in Mandarin, flailing his arms about. I have no idea what he’s getting at. Another fellow walks over and asks if he can be of assistance. I explain that I would like to go to the Great Wall and was told that I could hire a taxi for the day. I ask the fellow if he would ask the taxi driver if he would take me and for how much. They engage in conversation pointing at the map. One hundred Yuan, it’s a deal.
I hop comfortably into the back seat and securely fasten my seat belt. The driver doesn’t like that. It’s an affront on his driving skills, but I’ve now been in enough Chinese taxis to not care how he feels about it. The traffic is horrendous. We zigzag in and out. At times there are no discernable lanes, just the flow of endless vehicles pulsating towards their destinations. We continue on for what seems like forever, yet we have not yet reached the city limits. Suddenly the taxi driver turns onto a side street and pulls up in front of the Sheraton. I’m confused. He stops the vehicle, turns around and in stilted English says, "get out." It must be the only English he knows. I try to glean even a small level of comprehension. I am totally lost. He points in one general direction and continues to excitedly speak. I still have no idea what he's getting at. What am I to do? It’s his taxi. I get out.