First, you go to the concierge and ask for information about the subway and how to exchange currency. He gives you a map in Chinese, but with pin yin, as well as characters. He also shows you just where the garden is on the map and the best subway route to use.
Then, you go up to your room and review vocabulary that may be helpful when wandering the streets, while you wait for the bank to open. During study breaks, you go to the window of your 16th floor window to survey the cityscape, traffic patterns, and weather.
Since the bank is just next door, it is easy to find, but when the ATM machine won’t work for you, you ask the young doorman how to get a number. He helps you very politely. You don’t have long to wait, which you consider rather amazing in a city of 22 million. The English speaking trainee-teller sends the doorman over to the machine with you and you discover you were previously trying to use the wrong one. Things seem hopeful, but the machine won’t process, in spite of instructions being followed about adjusting to their 6 digit PIN system. Sigh. So, you get another number.
When the teller calls you back up, you must give proof of identification so that she can use an archaic credit card machine to run your debit card in quadruplicate, stamp it with multiple red stamps, then have you sign in a couple of places. However, you are happy to have Chinese cash.
With map in hand, you step out into the smogosphere and down the street… In the wrong direction, which you will discover when, after nearly an half of an hour of walking, you ask an elderly guard for help in your best Mandarin. He is thrilled to help and points wildly in the direction he has just seen you appear from. You are not sure exactly what he said, but you know you should at least head back.
The next street sign brings you into orientation, so that you able to accurately follow the map all the way to the subway station. It helps immensely that you have already had experience in the Taipei mass rapid transit system, because the Shanghai system is very similar. You know you need to get a ticket from the video vending machines in the large underground hallway. After looking somewhat helplessly at the completely Chinese screen, you notice a button in the corner that says “English.”. However, the machine spits your pretty red Chinese bill right back out at you. You get up the courage to ask for help again, which you accidentally do in English due to the stress of the moment, but the young man understands the problem from looking at the denomination on the money. He smiles and points to a booth with high glass walls and no visible occupant which you thought was part of the guard system since two very official looking men are standing right next to it.
As you walk timidly towards this booth, a small friendly female face appears just over the top of the solid portion. She is sitting there waiting to give change, and she almost has it ready before you give her your money. You acquire a ticket and hesitantly approach the guards. Upon facing them, you find the guards to also be friendly, so much so that they kindly help you figure out how to make your ticket open the turnstile. Now you proceed into the bowels of the Shanghai subway.
Initial confusion about determining which train is headed which direction is slightly scary, but the signage goes through some sort of morph in you brain and becomes clear. Eight stations later, you transfer to another line. Like a pin ball, you bounce through a couple of more stations with the tired masses and are finally near the entrance of the gardens.
As you pause a moment to consult the map, you hear a distinctly America “excuse me” behind you. It is repeated in a questioning way, so you turn to see two young ladies smiling at you. They ask if they may talk with you a while to practice their English. They already speak well, so it is easy. After chatting for a while, they invite you to go to a traditional Chinese ceremony with them. You check the time, making sure you will still have enough time to go to the gardens, then answer, “yes.”
During the tea ceremony, they practice their English more as they translate all of the descriptions and history being spoken by the girl serving. You say various things in Chinese throughout, receiving much encouragement from your new friends. However, you surprise them at the end of the presentation by responding directly to something said in Chinese. You laugh, then explain that you learned the phrase “we accept credit cards” very early in your Chinese studies!
After purchasing some of the good tasting teas you just sampled, your college-age friends escort you back to the entrance of the gardens, apologizing for not going in with you. They have plans to go tomorrow with another friend. You exchange contact information and regretfully say good-byes.
You must wind through the multi-street shopping maze, but you will finally find the gardens and go in. It has been a round about way to get to the gardens, but you wouldn’t have had it any other way.