She gave me my ticket. I looked at this and noted that it was covered with squiggly lines which are commonly known as simplified Chinese. I'm glad they simplified it because not being able to read the simplified Chinese, I sure as hell know that I wouldn't be able to get anywhere with the complicated. I'm even more glad that they didn't go and make it more complicated because that would just be wrong on so many levels. Complicated isn't really a fair description of the older style which is actually called traditional. I never was one to adhere to traditions anyway. We should get rid of everything traditional in our own language and just simplify it all. That is why as I'm typing this in Microsoft Word I'm using a sanserif font. None of those goofy little feet on my letters and numbers. I know that you can't see the sanserif font that I'm using which is why I am telling you that I am. I would look at whether the font on livejournal is serifed or not but that would be more complicated than what I'm willing to get into in order to simplify things. It just doesn't help to make things simple by complicating them. I'll take simplified any day, even if I can't read it, which in the case of simplified Chinese... I can't.
I couldn't tell from the ticket where I was supposed to go to get onto my bus, what time the bus departed or even where the bus was supposed to take me. This last one of course is the most important.
I walked around the bus terminal, following other people until I found the back side of the bus station where all the buses were parked and where people were congregating and meandering about. Understand that no one was standing in a line anywhere. Chinese people rarely adhere to lines. They'll stand in lines to buy bus tickets and train tickets and things like that but anywhere else forget it. And even when they do stand in line to buy tickets they don't appear to understand fully the concept of the line. People will break in front of others without any regard for there actually being a line there and the people who are standing in line seem to be oblivious, most of the time, to the fact that someone just barged in front of them. The rare exception to this is the tut-tut line or a line of taxis. If a tut-tut driver sitting in the back of a line breaks protocol and takes a passenger before someone who is in front of him all hell will break lose and the some of the remaining tut-tut drivers will stand there arguing for hours and refusing to allow anyone to take any more passengers. Forget making any money for the rest of that day with your electric golf cart like vehicle because now it is time to argue and any potential passengers will just be waived away. This actually happened a few months back. There are some things you just don't do. Breaking in line to buy a train or a bus ticket apparently is not one of those things. A tut-tut driver taking a passenger or two out of turn is a cardinal sin but stepping in front of someone at a ticket window is perfectly acceptable behavior. I almost think that some Chinese people find the concept of a line as offensive as the western world finds the concept of cutting in front of someone in line. I know this behavior happens back home too but it seems a little more common here.
I find where people are standing (out of line) around waiting for buses. I then find someone in a uniform and show her my ticket with the squiggly lines on it. Being illiterate is so much fun that I can barely stand it. This lady points and says some stuff that of course I don't understand. I walk in the direction that she pointed for a minute and then show the ticket to another uniformed lady. This one points to a specific stall which she is standing next to. The stall is empty. She is jabbering away and of course I've no idea what she is saying. I throw my bags against to wall, stand there and wait.
More time passes.
I'm trying to discern meaning from the overhead announcements and I'm not getting anywhere with that. Eventually a bus pulls up in the stall that had been empty. The second uniformed lady starts yelling at me and gesturing toward this bus. I don't know the words but the meaning is clear enough and I get on.
In theory Guilin to Longshan should be a two hour bus ride. They announce the destination just before the bus stops each time. I never hear Longshan. Four hours latter as the theme song for Gilligan's Island is rolling through my head the bus pulls into its final destination and everyone gets off.
I step off the bus and into a pile of rubble. There is a gravel parking lot here for the buses surrounded by piles of bricks and half crumbled walls. There is a small building in front of me that looks like a bus station that Marco Polo might have used when he last passed through China. It has seen better days and my guess is that every one of those better days was before the first world war. The truth though is that the building probably isn't that old. Its just in a sad state of disrepair. I walked first out toward the street. There were large buildings here. Immediately around me were several men on scooters waiting for potential passengers. There was also a man with a small van. I was in a city. I wasn't sure what Longshan was supposed to look like but I was reasonably certain that it was a village and not a city.
I needed to find out where I was. I looked at the closest person to me who was sitting straddled across his scooter and mumbling something to me in Chinese. I've no idea what he was saying but it was probably something along the line of “where can I take you?” I searched my mind for the most logical combination of the half dozen Chinese words that I know and I came up with:
“Wo zai nar?”
This produced laughter from everyone in attendance. Everyone looked at me like I was an alien. I will grant that according to the legal definition of the word I am indeed an alien. They started saying things to me and to each other, presumably about me. What I had said was essentially, “I where?” but the words apparently don't make any sense combined this way. My co-teacher Chrisy told me that I should have said something that sounded to me like, “Wo zhi nar?” and Google Translate tells me that I should have said “Wǒ zài nǎlǐ?”
None of this did I know then. It didn't matter all that much since I could tell that I wasn't going to get anything useful from these Chinese electric cowboys. I walked back into the bus station. Under the overhang of the building I found a table around which people sat playing cards. One of them said something to me so I walked up and repeated my handicapped question.
“Wo zai nar?” and again everyone laughed. This time one of the women decided to answer me.
“Zhōngguó,” is what she said. Again everyone laughed. Zhōngguó literally means Middle Kingdom or Middle Land. It is the Chinese word for China. It is also one of the few words that I understand. Here sat a fellow smartass. Truth be told had I not have needed help and if I was able to actually speak to her this is probably a lady I would have enjoyed talking to. I imagine we would have gotten along well but at that moment I just wanted to choke her. I thanked the lady for telling me the one thing that I already knew and stepped few feet away from the table.
The people at the table said a few more things to me but of course I didn't know what they were saying and I had no way to respond. Eventually a girl approached me and asked me in broken English if I needed help. She knew enough English that I was able to explain the situation. She then told me that I was in Doaxing.
I didn't know where that was but I vaguely remembered a place that started with a D that was near to where I wanted to be and I held out hope that I may not be too far off. Then she asked where I was trying to get to. When I said Longshan she responded that she had never heard of it. All hope vanished as she uttered those words. Never the less, I'd make the best out of wherever I was.
The girl offered to help me find a hotel. She told me there was one across the street but that I shouldn't go to it because they would likely cheat me. I was glad that she warned me about this but it is almost a moot point since I had no way of knowing that the hotel was there anyway. The girl then introduced me to her boyfriend and a friend of theirs. Neither one of them spoke English so I was only able to talk to them through her. Their friend had a motorcycle.
Let me make a point of this. He had a REAL motorcycle. He didn't have a scooter. He had an actual, honest to god, motorcycle. For some reason that I haven't figured out yet Chinese people think that all two wheeled vehicles are called motorcycles. If you say scooter most of them don't know what you mean. If you say motorcycle most of them think of a scooter. This is madness and we must stop it. The day that I see the word motorcycle in one of my textbooks I will spend an entire day on the subject.
I got on the back of the friend's motorcycle and the girl and her boyfriend got on the back of a scooter and down the street we all went. It was a straight shot. There were no turns which was lucky. They found a hotel and went inside with me. I paid for a night here. The girl wrote several things down for me in both Chinese characters (those simplified squiggly lines) and in English so that I could point to what I wanted. On one piece of paper she wrote the Chinese for, “Take me to a train station and help me buy a ticket to Guilin.” She also wrote the Chinese for, “I need a ticket to Guilin.”
I wasn't sure why she was telling me to go to a train station. Then I saw the receipt for the hotel. Across the top it said the name of the hotel. This was a long name, the first two words of which were “Hunan Provincial.”
I was in Hunan. I wasn't supposed to be in Hunan. I was supposed to be in Guangxi. More to the point, I wasn't supposed to have left Guangxi. I asked the girl if this was correct. She said that it was and that if I wanted to go across the provinces to somewhere in Guangxi I would probably have to take a train. I decided not to argue with her and just thanked her instead but I understood that she still didn't know where I was trying to get to. If she had she would have told me to just take the bus. To be fair to her I didn't actually think any of this until I got to my room and looked on the internet to see where in Hunan, Doaxing was. I wasn't too far off course. I could get back to Guilin easily enough on a bus but I would have to do it first thing in the morning. This was also something that the girl advised. Whatever I did, she said, I should do well before noon.
My hotel room had two beds. It also had a western toilet which I absolutely adored. The toilet however was basically inside a shower since the bathroom floor was essentially the shower floor since there was no division of any kind here. I've seen in other places (a couple of people's apartments) where the toilet was inside a shower stall. Here there was no stall. I had a western toilet and the internet and I had a bed that was much more than a sheet of plywood worked so basically I was happy. Actually I had two beds that were both much more than sheets of plywood but I could really only use one of them.
I went out looking for food. I found noodles and meat sticks. Some girls actually bought some meat sticks and gave them to me. The food I found there was good but it took me forever to find it. For the longest time while I was walking all I saw were buildings that were closed up. I don't know what kind of businesses they were or even if there were businesses there but everything was closed. Basically, there is nothing in Doaxing. The place was nothing but closed up buildings and piles of bricks until I found the night snacks. There did seem to be hundreds of street food venders once I found them but it took me forever to find them.
In the morning I checked out of the hotel and walked back to the bus station. I bought a ticket for Guilin. At least I thought that I bought a ticket for Guilin and since the bus actually dropped me off in Guilin I'm almost certain that I bought the right ticket.
Ticket in hand I crossed the street to find breakfast. I was given a bowl of soup noodles with beans and chunks of meat in it. Some of the chunks of meat were suspicious shapes. I don't know what I was eating but I think it might have been intestine and possibly stomach. I've really no way of knowing. I also bought some drinks and some packaged food for the bus.
Back at the bus station I approached uniformed people to make them point at the appropriate bus for me to get on. I ended up sitting with a girl who spoke just enough English to tell me where I needed to sit and that she too was going to Guilin. This was the first time that I was actually sure that I had bought the right ticket.
Once I was back in Guilin I headed straight for the Backpackers Hostel where Matt and Les were staying. I had decided that there was no point in trying any further to go to Longshan. For one thing I was tired of buses for the time being. Also I was ready to hang out with people again. I knew where Matt and Les were and I knew that soon others who I wanted to see would be in town.
At the end of this I had still not seen any rice fields. I had also spent just a little more than I would have if I'd taken the guided tour. This is a gamble. From what others have told me, depending on where you go there are some tours that are rip offs. There are even people who will lie and claim to be a tour guide who is mentioned in Rough Guides or Lonely Planet and charge two to three times what the real guide will charge. Canadian Joe tells me that this happens in Beijing. There is a guide there for the Great Wall that cost 12 kuai and there are people who claim to be him and even wear the same kind of jacket that he does but charge anywhere from 50 to 150 kuai. Hostel tours you can usually trust and the truth is that I should have taken this one. But then if I had you wouldn't have been laughing for the last fifteen minutes.