39 hours of busses and train

June 17, 2009 at 9:54 am 1 comment

A very long journey awaited me. I had enough for a bus ticket to Kunming after changing what was left of my Baht. The bus was a sleeper (with beds) and left Lijiang at 8:30pm. I was in Kunming’s bus station before sunset, where the bus had stopped and let the sleeping passengers doze until 6am. From 6 to 8 I slept on the chairs in the bus station, amidst lots and lots of unventilated cigarette smoke. I then went to eat breakfast at this place near the station that serves a thali set of Chinese food for 6 Yuan. By 8:45 I was on the bus on my way to Rachel’s workplace to collect my card.

At her office I distracted her a bit as I tried to activate my new card. I couldn’t do it because I didn’t know the account # but my cousin was finally able to do it for me in New York. I walked away very cheerful and almost applauded the machine when it presented me with all those Yuan!

Afterwards I went to the train station, intending to buy a ticket for later in the afternoon for the 24+ hour journey to Guangzhou (the city I originally flew in to from Bangkok). I had been trying to buy an air ticket instead but without success. The prices when I first started looking were less than twice of the price of the train ticket which was very good and reasonable, but the site ELONG.net requires immense verification for foreign credit card purchases, so despite sending them copies of my passport, credit card (from & back) and signature I didn’t make the cut and they cancelled my tickets. What I couldn’t provide them was my signature on the document they wanted me to sign because I didn’t know where to print it out and re-scan or fax it. It was all too much hassle, especially with the time constraints because it was evening already when I was trying to book these tickets and was leaving to the Gorge the next morning. And since they don’t guarantee prices until confirmed it made less economic sense to buy later.

It was 10:59am when I bought my ticket to Guangzhou and saw that the ticket was for 11:50am! Instead of seeing about whether I could book another train later I scurried with my newfound time-gem to look for provisions. I bought bananas, two pieces of flat bread (like naan in appearance but more eggy taste), two cakes from the bakery, and gogi berries (seven 250g packs of them!) I didn’t have time to buy tea for which Yunnan province is so famous. There were many tea shops but the employees never spoke English and none of the teas had English names and I couldn’t identify good or bad from just smell. I had been putting off this purchase till now because of the finances and now with the clock approaching 11:40 it was too intimidating. I walked briskly back to the station and was in my cabin by 11:45. Five minutes later, exactly on schedule, the train pulled out of the station. A contrast from Burmese trains.

The ride was smooth. I had the cheapest bed, the 3rd bunk. I don’t know why I always buy these beds. One reason is probably that I don’t like the feeling of sleeping under someone’s bed and always worry that it will fall and crush me. Another is that I still experience that childish delight at being on the top and untouchable. Either day it was an acceptable place to sleep… but not to do much else. I couldn’t even drink water from my bottle up there because of the small distance to the ceiling.

I recall the first time I woke up, not long after the train started off. I looked out the door and at the windows and they were dark and the chatter and noise seemed to have died off. Could it be night already, I thought to myself, encouraging the possibility as if it would come true if I could convince myself. I liked the idea that half my travel time had passed so smoothly without my participation… but alas the next time I opened my eyes there was sunlight and noise. Only two hours had passed.

I spent the next hours sitting on the seat near the window in the hallway, reading Lonely Planet’s chapters on Chinese history (of which I know very little). Once I tried to make a drawing. I like the reflection on the window of the two old men still in their cabin that was across from my little table. They were sitting on their beds and talking but I already forget what they looked like. They didn’t look ethnically Chinese. I think they were darker and their features more broad. This makes sense, since Kunming, where they’d gotten on, is the most ethnically diverse province in China, home to half of the 55 minority groups residing in China. Did you know that the one child policy does not apply to these ethnic groups?

I succeeded in starting the drawing by sketching my self and the other man at the table. My sketches are always grotesque in a way because of my inability to reconstruct natural proportions and lack of technical skills. But I like my drawings because often, despite these serious lacks and their technical simplicity, they can (at least to me) convey certain emotions very strongly. And in my untrained mind, since I can’t see or appreciate artistic technical virtues I judge art only by it’s emotional influence.



There were no foreigners in my car and no one tried talking English to me. Someone offered me some fruit (lyches) but everyone refused a piece of cake from me. In the morning one man tried talking to me, but as is common among the Chinese – in Chinese! What I mean is that despite seeing that I couldn’t speak his language he continued asking me questions and commenting in it. This characteristic is uniquely Chinese (in my humble minutely-experienced opinion)… no other Southeast Asian person will speak his dialect to an uncomprehending year so thoroughly as if the more he repeats himself the better you’ll understand. I don’t mind it at all, I find it amusing and charming.

Back in New York, Chinese always seemed too loud and awkward. But in China it has lost its pique. Maybe like the food it is better in China. Chinese food back in America is nooooooooooothing compared to the delicious variety I’ve found on the mainland!

Twenty-six hours later I was in Guanzhou’s main train station, steered along like a calf through its swarming corridors, when I saw a foreign head. I had a look at the face which seemed roughly familiar. Then I looked at his backpack and shoes and those looked familiar. I tapped him, “didn’t we go to the Gorge together?”

And so I had a travel companion. He was also heading to Hong Kong. The sun was setting when we finally split up – he to find a guest house and me to my cs host’s flat on Hong Kong island. We made plans to sight-see the city together today and I should be at one of the vegetarian restaurant’s by noon to meet him. It’s almost 10am now. I take too long to get ready so this is goodbye for now =)


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , , , , , .

Tiger Leaping Gorge and a poor attempt to express my views on interaction between travelers and locals. per l’amaro e il dolce…

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. GS  |  June 17, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    I’m glad you are OK and have a nice days


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