Guangxi the war ravaged mountains border of the Chinese Civilization, to the south the indomitable Vietnamese. Amongst the the far famed limestone karst peaks, old men fishing with tamed cormorants on mist drenched rivers, Guangxi is old mythical China of picture postcard, and it was to be my last taste of the mysterious Orient before I headed south bound on a one way course into the tropics.
I catch a bus headed for Zhuhai just over the border. I am the only person on the bus. The driver drops me at the border crossing where I take my bags pass through immigration and presumably meet him on the other side, although this is not entirely clear. The crossing is quick and relatively painless, immediately on the other side a change is apparent. It feels grayer, gritter, dustier and more industrial. I was reminded of how I felt crossing from Mongolia into China almost two months ago, its funny how its the small subtle differences you notice first, a particular brand of lemon juice or a funny seaweed flavored packet of crisps.
Its late morning, my plan was to bolt for Guangzhou and get the hell out of there as soon as possible, hopefully fluke a ticket for the train to Guilin that very night. At the other side of the border predictably there is no sign of my bus, I sit around for a while pondering my next move.
Eventually I see a young girl walking around jabbering loudly with a sign held over her head, I recognize the characters for Guangzhou. A bus rapidly pulls up along side, myself and about thirty other people barrel inside, I repeatably ask my fellow passengers – Guangzhou right? Guangzhou yeah? Im generally met by silent quizzical nods. Im acutely aware that its the culture in Asia never to admit to not knowing something, people may not have a clue what you asked them and would simply smile and nod anyway. With this disturbing thought we pull out of the border crossing bound for god knows where, my single consoling realisation being that well realistically on the bright side it didnt really matter where I ended up, there was no where on earth I had to be.
Maybe an hour or two or perhaps three later we arrive in Guangzhou, crossing enormous bridges over the Pearl River delta we are afford an incredible vista of the sprawling enormous cityscape. Through the bus window I search desperately for landmarks cross referencing with my compass trying to fit various rivers and bridges to my Lonely Planet map to figure out where I am and how far to the train station. The bus pulls into a station and everybody disembarks, I have absolutely no idea where I am. Several lanes of noisy traffic encircle the station, I stand on the edge of the road and after a surprisingly long amount of time manage to flag down a taxi. “Wo yao dao houchezhan qu” (I want to go to the train station.) i tell him. He looks at me dumbfounded, I repeat it again and again and again permuting the various intonations in the hope of making myself understood. “Ya wha’?” he replies. An awkward standoff ensues with the two of us staring at each other in silence for about twenty seconds as I tried desperately to think of something. “Sorry bud, you’re on your own” says the taxi driver closing the door and driving off. Bloody taxi drivers, the same the world over.
What the hell am I going to do now? For the first time in my travels I was absolutely stumped, I didnt know where I was or how to get out of this situation. I think the people in Guangzhou speak mainly Cantonese, perhaps I could draw a picture of a train or flag down another car and start making choo choo noises and hope the driver didnt call the cops or bring me to a lunatic asylum.
Thankfully the second taxi I stopped seemed to know what I was talking about and I shortly arrived back in the Guangzhou railway station of two weeks ago much to my relief, there was no time to waste in getting a ticket. Its dusty, crowded, people swarming everwhere. I really want to get out of Guangzhou tonight; the thought of having to stay here feels me with dread. Fighting my away to the front of a roaring mob I score a second class hard sleeper ticket to Guangzhou for eight o clock in the evening – bang! And leave my heavy bag in the station storage.
Taking a walk about the nearby city districts I notice many Westerns hanging about in hotels, coffee shops and restuarants, unusual for a Chinese city. They are mostly business people attending various trade shows and textile import exhibitions. The whole place reeks of exploitation and Im grateful to have a ticket out of this place.
As nightfalls Im tucked into the top level of a triple bunk, six bed compartment. Its distinctly less comfortable than the four bed soft sleepers. My head is about half a foot from the roof making sitting upright impossible, there is no door either instead the compartment opens out to the carriage which contains perhaps ten such rooms.
Laughing quietly to myself, I lie hidden above the unsuspecting people passing up and down the train corridor below. Adios Guangzhou ha ha made it, here I am again alone amongst the crowd, the fearless adventurer, the indominitable explorer and so the journey continues. With the moleskine cover pressed against the cabin roof, I write some words in my journal. “We are changing at an ever increasing pace. So glad that I got to see the world as it is first hand before this all vanished. For sure I believe that more change will happened in the twenty first century than all previous centuries combined. Id be surprised if thirty years from now cities, money or even countries still exist and much less the Guangzhous of this world.”