Monday June 2, 2008 (backdated entry) – Journey into China

Written on the back of a scary overnight bus ride that was supposed to be 8 hours…

Unable to get the sleeper train from Shenzhen (just across the border from Hong Kong) to Guilin as “planned”, on short notice from CTS (China travel service), I was a bit worried about how we were going to get to Yangshuo.

We stopped by the Indian consulate so I could apply for my Indian visa – a relatively painless 30 minute wait, with the exception of needing to go get my passport photocopied and then coming back. Seriously, what kind of country’s consulate doesn’t own a photocopier?!

Anyway, after running my errand, we decided we’d take the HK Mongkok-Guangzhou express train and then figure out how to get to Yangshuo from there. Pleasant train ride – passed by Shenzhen’s kitschy park of miniature replicas of famous attractions like the Statue of Liberty… Huge towers of condo buildings, lush farmer’s fields… No problems.

Arrived in Guangzhou just before 5 PM. Unfortunately, since I hadn’t planned on going this route, I had zero information on Guangzhou (no map, no guidebook with a “getting there and away” section), so we wandered around trying to figure out our next leg. Hungry, sweating, stressed – I was getting pretty grumpy. I had tried to search out some info on the net from our hostel in HK prior to leaving, and was trying to find this supposed long-distance bus station near the train station where we got off. After our first hour of wandering, we figured out that the first taxi driver we spoke to was telling the truth – that this bus station was at another train station (not Guangzhou East Railway station but Guangzhou Railway station… confusing as heck, but not if we had a guidebook).

Took the subway to the proper train/bus station, and we figured we’d attempt to get train tickets out that night if possible, bussing it as a last resort. I was pretty apprehensive, knowing how Chinese bus drivers drive, let alone at night.

Rising up out of the subway station, the railway station in front of us looked ominous. The smog is unbelievable – you can’t even see the sky, and far off buidings are slightly blurred under the thick fog of pollution. The station square had long metal barricades for crowd control into the station. Huge lines of people rushing towards the station with suitcases, seemingly in exodus…

Guangzhou train station

Once through security inside the ticket office, we faced a huge hall with row after row of hour long lineups, just to buy a ticket. I was pretty sure the train wouldn’t be an option. Confirmed with the boy at the information desk that the last train to Guilin was in less than an hour. He pointed us to the bus station at least, where we got our overnight bus tickets for 8:30 PM, schedule for arrival in Yangshuo at 4:30 AM.

Finally, had a chance to relax before our departure, so we filled up on food at a local fast food chain – “Kung Fu” – with an emblazened logo of Bruce Lee – how could we resist?

Kung Fu fast food restaurant

Nolan had his Axe spray deoderant taken away at the train station security, so I joked that we were only adding to the stereotype of stinky foreigners, seeing as how we had walked up a sweat with our humongous bags over two hours. The A/C in Kung Fu was pretty welcoming. Just before dinner, it had started raining.

Once on the bus and on our way – the rain turned into a torrential rainstorm – quite unreal. Our bus looks like it’s driving through a carwash. Passed a health club where the staff was sandbagging the entrance and bailing non-stop. Deep flooded streets where insane drivers of small cars power through the puddles, hoping not to seize their engine. Driving under the occasional overpass, the water drainage streams are like being hit with a waterfall. The odd flash of lighting lights up my page as I write.

Everyone else is asleep on the bus, while I’m still on edge from the last honk of the bus driver’s horn that has me gripping into my seat. Gonna try to sleep now that city lights have faded.

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