Let me start of by saying that the last few weeks have been crazy! Extremely busy at work and at home, what with preparations for my summer holidays. To add to that, quite unexpectedly, I happened to do quite a bit of traveling, too. This weekend is probably the first one in ages when I don’t actually have anything planned. However, the bright side of this madness was being able to visit some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in China.They say Chinese men are not romantic…well, they clearly haven’t met my husband!:) Our latest trip was like from a romantic drama!Here is how it all happened…
My birthday was coming up and hubby was not letting on what he had planned for me at all, which was fine by me as I love surprises and he knows it. This year, my birthday fell on a Saturday and I planned to meet some colleagues. OH knew, or so I thought. Few days before the event something told me that I should probably remind the boy about my plans and it’s a good thing I did as it suddenly turned out that I wouldn’t be able to meet my friends because…I wouldn’t be in Guangzhou that day! Naturally, I got very curious and excited, trying to figure out where the boy could be taking me, shyly assuming a short getaway to Foshan or Hong Kong. NOTHING indicated I would be going somewhere further away. I cancelled my meeting and eagerly awaited the day. I imagined a stopover in a nice cafe, maybe a stroll in the park, perhaps a bike ride along the river…Nothing too fancy, just stuff that makes me happy. I’m quite easily pleased. Basically any old, sloshy, cheesy stuff and I’m done for.
Friday came and I was on my way to dinner with friends. By that time, I must have asked husband 5 times if he’d had anything planned for us for that evening, to which he repeatedly replied NO so I was taking my time. Imagine my shock/surprise/horror when at 7pm my phone rings (as I’m entering a restaurant) and my panicked husband asks where I am!Accusingly he claims I promised to be home by 7 that evening (I did no such thing) and practically interrogates me as to what I’ve been doing that I’m not back yet. Now, don’t get the wrong idea-he is NOT possessive or controlling in any way, EVER, so this behaviour was very weird indeed. Eventually he had to come clean and stoically stated:’you have to be at the train station at 8.40pm‘.
There I was, about to be led to the table, with my friends staring in disbelief and total confusion, me trying to figure out what’s happening and what I need to do next!Clearly, no time for dinner. Worse, no time to go back home to pack! Guangzhou is a large city and it takes time to travel from one district to another, even with the super-efficient if ever-crowded metro. Decision was made-boy needs to pack my stuff!Oh the horror…I do trust my husband but if any of women reading this have ever asked their partners to pack their stuff, they’ll understand my worries…
I had no idea where we were heading thus no clue as to what my backpack(!) should contain. As I was making my way back to the metro, in a downpour nonetheless, just to make it more dramatic, as if the weather knew I couldn’t go home to get changed into dry clothes, I frantically typed messages explaining what absolutely had to be packed (underwear, skincare, shoes) and desperately tried to advise what type of clothes could potentially be good for all occasions (and places). As you can imagine, I dreaded opening my backpack that evening…
I arrived at the train station and up until that point I was still sure, perhaps naively, that I wasn’t traveling anywhere far, that my OH had clearly planned for us to spend the night somewhere and we’d be back the next evening.
How wrong was I…
The pieces started coming together when husband insisted on me having dinner, even though I wasn’t really hungry and thought I could just have a snack after arriving at our destination. After scoffing down a burger (sadly, the only quick option around), we headed towards the waiting area and, believe it or not, everything happened so fast: the bag-check, the ticket-check, the run along the platform, looking for our compartment, that I totally missed the signs showing the destination of the train! Entering the carriage, I still didn’t have the slightest clue as to where I was being ‘whisked away‘ to! What I spotted immediately though was the fact that we got on… a night train.
Okay….not Foshan or Hong Kong then…Once we were settled on our 2nd class bottom bunk beds (6 berths, no doors, as opposed to 1st class’ 4 berths and the luxury of having doors!) I waited for my husband to reveal the entirety of his plan. But nothing happened. He kept shtum and just smiled with that smug: ‘Ha!Not only have I succeeded in completely tricking you but I’m probably the best husband in the world‘ smile. So I chose not to give in and to simply wait and see.
Then came the dreaded part-checking what he’d packed for me (which did not help to figure out where we were going,trust me, it could be anywhere judging by the contents of the bag!). You think you know your husband and you think he knows you. That changes when you realize he packed the kind of clothes you would never EVER pack yourself! So I ended up with : a dress I only wear at home when I’m cleaning (as it’s so old and dirty but I can’t face throwing it away), another dress worn only at home as it’s way to short to be worn in public, a top I’ve had for about 10 years, mega-stretched and stained, which I was going to cut into pieces and make dust clothes out of them, a pair of trousers which are see-through and can only be worn with light underwear (see next point), dark underwear, a more elegant dress, which would be totally fine if not for the fact that the only pair of shoes I had to go with it, were trainers!Honestly, I wanted to be angry…but couldn’t. He obviously put a lot of effort into getting my things ready, remembered about all my skincare and cosmetics, snacks and drinks to bring along, and even slippers to wear on the train, not to even mention coming up with the whole thing.
Despite the shockingly mismatched clothes, the stress of having to manically rush to the train station, despite how soaked from the rain I was, I felt happy.
I like traveling on night trains in China.
Now, that’s not a statement proclaimed often! These trains are not modern, not particularly clean, they smell quite profusely of cigarettes and people’s socks/feet/shoes. The staff are gruff. No gentle wake-up music there. After a few hours in a tight, uncomfortable bed, listening to others’ snoring and farting, trying to cover yourself with a permanently stained, torn and too-short duvet, you’d think I’d want to escape as quickly as possible but actually, it’s not all that bad. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always traveled with my husband, a Chinese, or perhaps I’ve just been lucky because I’ve never experienced any unpleasant situations while on board; other passengers, though cold, have not been troublesome or rude, the toilets have not been blocked, all taps were working and nothing got stolen. Not always a given on European trains. The biggest draw of Chinese night trains though are pot noodles!A must on any longer train ride.
When the OH was still asleep, I sneakily glimpsed through the curtains trying to figure out where we could possibly be. I knew it couldn’t be very far from Guangzhou, so probably the neighbouring province. As we visited Guanxi the previous weekend (wonderful trip that I’ll write about soon), it was more likely to be Fujian, on the other side of Guangdong. Hmm…mountains…banana and palm trees…yep,definitely still in the south! Finally, the train came to a stop (Those, who have traveled on Chinese trains will be aware that it is quite hard to understand the names of the stations announced through the speakers, especially if your Mandarin is as limited as mine).
Not even for a second had the name XIAMEN come to my mind when I was trying to guess the place my husband’d chosen to take me to. Total and utter surprise, but what a lovely one.
When I told this story to my Chinese friends and colleagues, they were completely taken aback by my husband’s romantic behaviour, his spirit of adventure and organizational skills. I was repeatedly told, as if I didn’t know that already, how lucky I was, how special HE was and that basically I’ve got the God’s gift to women by my side:) Literally all of them, including men, claimed that it is highly unusual for a Chinese man to plan things like that, use his imagination and do something original. Most would simply copy others, buy and expensive gift, take to a fancy restaurant. Not that there is anything wrong with that at all, I’m sure I would have been perfectly happy spending my birthday in that way. What I was being convinced of was that Chinese men are lack creativity. I both agree and disagree. Yes, my OH’s friends follow each other like sheep in almost everything they do, from the things they buy, to the places they choose for their wedding photo shoots. However, we’ve all read or heard those sweet/weird/crazy stories about Chinese men doing truly extraordinary things, be it for love or their own sense of satisfaction and this proves that not all of them are as boring as many claim. It’s like saying all Italians are romantic and I’m certain that it simply not true.
What do you think?
Read about my impression of Xiamen in my next post, coming up soon.