MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Well, sort of. I’m in Guangzhou airport waiting at my gate (A22) for the flight to Chengdu. I should arrive there around 11:40 where Matt should be waiting.
I feel like I have gone through absolute hell to get here. Since I now have the time (just under 120 minutes), I’ll share some of the details.
I woke up this morning and got two tickets, one bus ticket from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and one plane ticket from Guangzhou to Chengdu. Both together cost me about $850 HKD which is about $125 US. Actually a very good deal, considering R/T airfare from HK to CTU (Chengdu) is $3500 HKD, about $500 US. I was really not looking forward to going anywhere with my huge bag. I hate myself more with every step that I take with that thing. I walked 3 or 4 blocks with it through Tsim Sha Tsui to the bus station and then relieved, sat on the bus and listened to tunes for about 90 minutes.
Then the bus pulls into a customs/border station. This is pretty much my introduction to China proper. No one speaks a word of english. Oh, well, actually, two words: “NO ENGLISH” followed closely by an awkward smile. So when we pull up, I have no idea what the protocol is, but everyone else seems to know what to do. Everyone gets up, I follow them, and ask the driver if I’ll be boarding the bus again, if I should leave my bags on the bus, etc. He doesn’t understand me and can’t answer, so nervously, I take my backpack and leave my camera bag. Once inside the building there’s a long line which moves very quickly where officials are checking passports and visas. I actually met two travellers from Kuwait who spoke some english, so we were together in line. We get through this obstacle and get back on the bus. Then the bus goes another mile or two and stops again, this time to search our bags. Except nothing is really searched, we just walk past some guards. Again, no one speaks a word of English.
Get back on the bus, ride for another 3 hours. The landscape is really pretty varied. Some of it looks like residential Hong Kong, which is very dense and urban, and the outside of all of the buildings look all haggard and torn apart, and the only color is from clothes hanging outside the windows to dry. Other areas are more rural and spacious, with long fields and yards between decrepid office and residential apartment buildings. Cars drive on the left side of the road here, which is strange because the bus I’m on has a driver on the right side (this is normal for HK). I’m used to having a few thousand miles of water between places where people drive on the other side of the road, but here you just have to cross a bridge and go through customs. The cars are very different here also, lots of Volkswagens (all of the taxis are Volkswagens, they look like older body style Passats) and Toyotas. No Mercedes, no BMW’s.
The ride goes pretty quickly and soon it’s over. Upon arrival I find myself in front of the Garden Hotel in Guangzhou, which is apparently a 5-star hotel. I look at the rates for the hotel which are posted outside, and a room costs about $80 US, pretty reasonable. I try to figure out where I can get on a shuttle that’ll take me to the airport and when I finally find someone who can help me, they tell me to go to another hotel down the street. Supposedly it’s called The International Hotel. Trying to gauge how far it is, I ask if I should take a taxi, but the attendant tells me it’s close enough to walk. Then I ask if taxis will take my Hong Kong dollars, to which I get a quick “no”. Well, fuck. Looks like I have no choice but to walk.
This is the really hellish part. I had to walk probably just over 1/4 mile with my bag. I can guess what you’re thinking (even if you’re me, if some time has passed), but walking 50 feet with this bag wears me out. I would walk a few hundred feet, and then have to put the bag down and take a break, figure out where I was, where I was going, and make sure that I was headed the right way. The time was about 5:30pm and I had to be at the airport (an hour away) by probably 8:30 at the latest, so I had plenty of time. I walk for a while and take a break in front of a large international bank which is closed. I try to find out if I’m going the right way, but no one speaks any English. While stopped and catching my breath I decide to sit for a minute and see if I see anyone walking by who looks like they speak any English at all. I wait 10 minutes, smoke a cigarette, and don’t see anyone that fits the profile. Get back up, keep walking, get to the top of a bridge which crosses a big highway. Across the street I see a large building which I think is the hotel. Rest for another 10 minutes, then cross the bridge and walk down it, get pointed out by a group of locals, and then finally find a baggage attendant at the hotel who speaks some English. He says I’m in the right place, and points to the green umbrella which indicates the bus stop. I make my way over and a woman tells me that the bus arrives in 15 minutes, but the cost is $17 RMB (mainland China currency) and they don’t accept HKD. There’s a security guard standing near that overhears her tell me this and he is kind enough to exchange his $100 RMB for my $100 HKD (he made just over $5 in the exchange). I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for that guy. The bus arrives quickly and I board, relieved.
The bus to the airport goes through heavy traffic and is stagnant on an artery road for 3 or 4 minutes. I’m listening to Chris Fortiers Atmospheric Breaks, one of my favorite mixes to relax to. The bus arrives at the airport sooner than I had expected, and the view of it is beautiful. I actually didn’t expect it to be this nice. I wish it had a wi-fi signal available, though. No complaints here, though.
I get directed to the proper ticketing counter and give the woman my ticket, and tell her that I’m checking one bag. I hulk my bag onto the conveyer belt and she says that it’s overweight. I’m pretty surprised by this, since this is the third flight that I’ve checked it on, with the same contents, and the first time that I’ve heard this. She wants me to pay an additional $196 RMB (about $25), to which I say that I’ll try to take some of the heavier items out. I take out a small bag with my electronic adapters and plugs, which is heavy, and put it in my backpack. I don’t think it made much of a difference, but she quickly forgets that my bag is overweight and lets it go.
On my way to the terminal there’s a small restaurant where I was looking to get something to drink. There’s a fridge on the counter top filled with drinks that I’ve never seen, and none of them are adorned by any English words that I can see. I can tell that one of them is Coke, but it’s all in Chinese. This is weird to me because even in Hong Kong and Japan Coke said Coke on it. I buy one, and a couple next to me speak to me in a friendly tone in Mandarin, but I tell them that I only speak English. Strangely enough though, for the first time, I can actually understand some broken bits of the airport announcements here. Cantonese was impossible.
I think that when I’m done with my trip I might be able to publish all of this into some kind of small personal book. I’ve had my physical journal with me as well, but I find that the only time that I write in it is when I’m in transit, either on a plane or on a bus, or waiting somewhere where I can’t open my laptop. Writing on the laptop and writing in the journal are two entirely different experiences; while I like the physical aspect of hand writing, when I’m on the computer my thoughts can pour out effortlessly. 25 minutes have passed since I started writing here, I think I’ll close this and find some food to eat. I still have probably 90 minutes until I board.