Heavier Than Tai Shan

Here I was, by myself in the lap of luxury, and I felt the loneliest I’d felt in a long time.
push their way through the throng of people, spruiking their wares in loud voices. On the train there are people talking, laughing, sleeping, smoking, listening to their favourite pop tunes, there are people not just slurping down their noodles, but even chopping vegetables to add to the noodles as they rehydrate in the boiled water. Boiled water is supplied by a dispenser near the toilet. The toilet is a simple hole in the floor behind a rattling door. In the midst of this throng I stood, chatting with my new companions until it was time for them to alight. Before doing so they assigned a friend of theirs, who was continuing past Nanjing, to look after me. He was another medical student, and was very keen to discuss more political issues. He wanted to know, in particular, what my attitude towards Taiwan was. The issue of Taiwan was one that stirred extreme patriotism in many Chinese people I met. One friend of mine from Beijing, whose build and personality is usually akin to that of a large cuddly bear, banged his fist on the table and asserted his loyalty to China by resolving to join the army if called upon to fight to reclaim Taiwan. Having seen such a strong reaction in my friend from Beijing, this time I chose my words very carefully knowing that the topic evoked such strong opinions.

He asked where I would be staying in Nanjing, and was very concerned when I told him that I didn’t have any accommodation organised. We would be arriving in Nanjing at about 10.00pm, and he seemed convinced that I would be sleeping on the street. When it came time to make our farewells he went to talk to the first few passengers lined up at the exit door. More nervous glances were cast in my direction. When he returned he explained that these people would see to it that I get in a taxi and be taken to a hotel where they speak English.

I followed this group of people off the train, through the throng at the station, and into a dusty car park. A grey-haired businessman talked to the first taxi driver he found, and towards the end of the conversation the taxi driver looked agitated.

“Take this taxi”, the businessman explained gruffly, “he will take you to a hotel. I told him not to rip you off”. With that, he and the others disappeared into the dust.

The taxi driver took me to a luxurious five-star hotel. There I stood at reception, my bag, pants and jacket covered in dirt from huddling in the cave to escape the storm on Tai Shan, my hair unkempt, my boots – well I could go on. I just didn’t belong in this hotel. After asking the price (prices in China are often displayed on a board behind the reception desk, but they are not the real price, for the real price you need to ask) the suited young man replied:

“Normally 8000 kwai, but because it is late you have a special half price.”

I can afford that. I thought to myself.

I entered my suite, stripped out of my sweaty, muddy clothes and stepped into the Rainforest Shower. A deluge uncannily similar to that which I had experienced on the mountain poured upon my tired body from all directions. Following this, I flicked through the 20 or so channels on the massive widescreen television. I found the American and English shows a bit silly and shallow, and so turned off the television. Then I was struck by an unnatural silence. Only the whirring of the air-conditioning, and the periodic slurping of the bar fridge broke an absolute silence. No birds cried, no insects chirped. I lay back in bed. Here I was, by myself in the lap of luxury, and I felt the loneliest I’d felt in a long time.

About David Rutter

Dave grew up on a small acreage on the outskirts of Sydney, within a stone's throw of the bush. Having spent a large part of his childhood exploring the bush behind the family home, much of his adult life has been spent exploring the world - he has lived in Sweden, traveled much of Europe, travelled in the Pacific and South America, and more recently in Asia. The Australian bush is however, the place where he feels he truly belongs.
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