After my year teaching was complete, I set off.
I had amassed an amazing amalgamation of experiences in and around Zhuhai. But free from my job, it was time to explore far off places in China. The next several posts will be an account of this trip I took almost exactly a year ago to the day.
Every trip starts with a starting off point:
I stared at this map on my bedroom wall all year long. Finally, I was going to be able to see these places. Which places? Well this trek would start in a little village known as Beijing:
After a week there it was off to a rural area near the city of Luoyang where I’d meet a very special old woman:
After that, I went to the mountains of Hubei province to an area called Wu Dang Shan where I practiced Tai Chi and Kung Fu:
And then I wrapped it up with a jaunt over to the historic city, Xian:
And I sure as heck wasn’t walking to these places.
Here’s a fun mix and of how five modes of transport got to my first target, Beijing. (The working title for this article was Bus, Train, Subway, Plane.)
Off we go!
First, I had to take the boring ‘ole city bus to the train station. But off on a three week journey, the bus ride was exciting!
And this was no ordinary train I was headed toward. Here in Guangdong Province, high speed rail was being completed between Guangzhou–to the north–and Zhuhai. It wasn’t yet complete all the way to Zhuhai, though. That’s why I needed to take the ‘ole bus to the station.
Soon the high speed train arriveth to take me Guangzhou where’d I’d fly out to Beijing.
Trains are a neat topic because, well, trains are cool; but also because they conjure up some controversy back in the U.S. Obviously, they’re expensive and so require the right conditions. Even then, they require subsidization.
Right now they’re cutting a major corridor between St. Paul and Minneapolis. The image of a fresh new train taking smiling faces to and fro has many seeing past the current chaos of detours and jackhammers.
Let’s hope it’s a true benefit to the community.
In China, I don’t hear the clamor of debate regarding trains. Of course, could they change things if they wanted? (Do they want to?) The Chinese are reliably supportive of government projects.
I don’t know the finances of the train I was on. I hope it was a good investment. All I know is that I paid a small amount for a good distance and the ride was cool, comfortable, and smooth. It made me look forward (foolishly) to my next train ride on this trip following my time in Beijing. Unfortunately, that experience wouldn’t be so comfy.
But it sure was on this train. Here were some sights on the way up to Guangzhou:
And here were my seat neighbors:
I had a few more neighbors when I got off the train in Guangzhou. We were all headed to the airport, and this required the subway. Into the tunnels we went:
We were gophers (or moles, or worms) burrowing to the airport in this contraption:
Pretty nice subway system in Guangzhou.
Lastly, we went from the underground to the over-ground. I boarded the plane and we soared to Beijing. The flight was ordinary, but my earphones didn’t work, thus I couldn’t listen to the movie which was the English film, “The King’s Speech”. I found it odd the earphones weren’t electronic; they worked like a stethoscope.
Oh well, guess I had to make conversation with the woman next to me:
Getting to know her paid off, and made for a story to end this article:
See, I was in need of a ride into the city. The Beijing airport is a ways out and we got in past midnight so the trains didn’t run. My only option was a spendy taxi. I asked my new friend if I could share one with her. She said something in broken English about that being okay, her husband coming, too.
Whatever, sounds good. I’m gonna save 100RMB!
We landed, got our bags, and indeed, we left the terminal and met her son and husband. She looked at me and mentioned me to her husband something like “the one on the phone I told you about”. If he ever looked back at me, it was for the shortest second. I had the feeling he wasn’t happy to have me. I realized, then, that it wasn’t a taxi, but their own car we were taking that, the one her husband drove to Beijing.
Putting myself in his shoes, I empathized with his displeasure of having to take a stranger to his hostel at 12:30 a.m. somewhere in the huge city of Beijing. As much as some folks in China liked the Westerner, I was pushing it here with this guy. I was stuck there between a rock and a hard place–his reasonable annoyance and his wife’s hospitality.
Of course they put me in the front with him. Mother and son sat in the back, and I tried to make small talk with the Dad on the 35 minute ride. But “I don’t understand” is all he’d tersely respond.
There we were driving along the freeway at 12:30 in the morning into the Beijing, myself sitting shotgun in this stranger Chinese family’s car. (Nice car, too.) They needed to know where to go and couldn’t read the directions I had in romanized Chinese (known as pinyin). They needed the real-deal Chinese characters. I did have a phone number (and a dead battery on my phone), so sheepishly had to ask to use their phone to call my hostel. They did and got directions.
There would yet be several minutes of trying my best to keep it light.
During our silence, I looked out the window and through the fog of night, got faint hints of Beijing. I noticed the random billboards and traffic signs, indicating I was in a fresh, new part of China.
Suddenly, I was alarmed back into the car as Dad threw on the hazard lights and abruptly pulled over onto the shoulder just shy of an exit ramp. I was confused and assumed car trouble. The car stopped, Mom quickly opened the passenger’s side back door. Okay, more confusion. I turned around to see her holding their toddler just outside as he peed—on the shoulder of the freeway. It all went down like the pit crew at a NASCAR race—just replace the sounds of air wrenches with the white noise of sporadic late-night drive-by traffic and the sight of a boy peeing. He finished, she hoisted him back inside, and off we went. 15.4 seconds. Nice job, Crew! I’d have thought this middle class family would have used diapers. Nope.
A little later the father had to call my hostel again. He spoke loudly. The Chinese like to bellow on the phone anyway, but I think he was frustrated and lost. Oh boy. We had exited the freeways, onto city streets, and then exited those down alleys just wide enough for the side mirrors to clear (one time we had to pivot them inward to squeak by a dumpster). I felt odd and tired, but just as I started considering alternative sleeping plans he stopped the car, got out and opened his trunk, and pointed. We were there. Mother refused any money. Gosh, I hope they weren’t far from their place.
They left, and it was just me and Beijing. The next day was Sunday. I walked into a church service and later witnessed some “worshipers” in a nearby park.