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Published: February 16th 2007
The rain in Longsheng already had me down. The dark streets at 6:45am pushed me even further to the bottom. Best of all, I had absolutely no clue what the day in front of me had in store, and as today was set aside for travel, that wasn't a good thing.
A few days prior in Yangshuo, I had booked a train ticket from the nearby town of Liuzhou to Zhangjiajie, a small town in northern Hunan province, and home to the Wulingyuan National Park. Before ever coming to China, a random guidebook picture of the Zhangjiajie sights had put the area at the top of my dream list. Now, with the opportunity to visit at hand, I would do just about anything to make sure I got there. And that is exactly what I had to do, anything.
That ticket I had booked, well apparently not quite a sure thing. The day of departure from Yangshuo, I was informed by the travel agency that they did not have the ticket in hand. This followed nearly three days of "Come back later, we'll have it!" I was a bit angry to say least. Now, being well aware of how
hard it is to travel anywhere around China during the New Year celebrations, I simply asked at the time if I had any other options to get to my dream spot. There was just one...
Meet the "guy" at the train station.
Right. I was given a short run-down of this mysterious contact at the Guilin train station. Apparently in business with their office, this ticket-selling saint would find me once I gave him a ring from the station, and magically deliver my ticket, if he could get it of course. Being the busiest travel time in a country of 1.3 billion, that's a big if.
So I boarded my early bus from Longsheng to Guilin, praying that the earlier I arrived, the earlier I may have a real ticket in hand. Pulling in at 9:30, I was greeted by a wall of rain, a magical start to what promised to be a magical day. A short rickshaw ride to the train station and I dialed my man.
Not my man. A woman. A woman with terrible, heart-breaking news. No ticket. I lower my head in agony and despair. Well, at least I could get my
But First - A Train Ride
Pic from ealier trip from Chengdu to Liuzhou
money back, she must have some pity for me.
"Öf course, but call my daughter," she shrieked with passion. "She speaks English!"
"Fantastic!" I cried with equal exuberance. "What is her number?"
That's the sound of a phone call cutting off, mixed in with a heart slowly shattering into a million little pieces. She hung up.
Not much to do now other than just take the hit to my pocket and move on. I gave a quick call of desperation to the travel agency in Yangshuo, seeing if they knew how to get my money. They might have, but I sure as hell didn't understand much of their rapid-fire Chinese. So again, I resigned myself to fate and moved on.
For the next twenty minutes, I was hustled around by a ticket seller, trying to get me on a bus to Changsha, a large city just five hours away from Zhangjiajie. I almost bit too, if it wasn't for a last-minute second thought of putting my dream trip on hold and simply flying back to Beijing. Luckily, I did neither.
My phone rang. "Why didn't you call the number?"
There was a number? Apparently during that machine gun of a Chinese conversation, a number was given to me for another "guy." Or so I thought. I scribbled the number down, now given in broken English, while in the middle of an empty sidewalk. Empty now, because the rain had only gotten worse. I''m sure more than one pair of eyes was wondering what I could possibly be doing. Like them, I didn't really know.
I give the new number a call. Turns out to be the old number, the one with the "No Ticket" lady, ripper of souls and crusher of dreams. But this time, a new voice. The Guy!
The next half hour consisted of me dashing in and out of the station, cell phone in hand, screaming "I don't know where you are!" Somehow, in a sea of Chinese travelers, he was supposed to be the easy one to find, not the sole blondie running around in circles with a look of shear panic plastered across his face. Yet somehow, guided by fate and pure luck, we crossed paths. In a small alcove in the corner, protected from the open skies above, we made the drop. Business as usual.
Now the story could end there, but one small event made everything right again in what had proved to be a most trying day. Now 5pm, I arrived at the Guilin bus station for my short trip to Liuzhou, where I would catch by miraculous chariot to Zhangjiajie. I arrived, along with what appeared to be the rest of China.
I struggled to grab a seat in the waiting room, after which the five next to meet spontaneously decided to vacate. While I waited, a small, stout woman heads straight for me. With a smile like she had known me for years, she grabs the seats for her and her family. Now I'm not sure if she had mistaken me for someone else, but the woman was positively joyful to see me (again?). We talked for maybe two minutes about where we were headed, all the while her infectious, giggly laugh filled the packed room. I couldn't help but smile along with her, and any feelings of stress flew right out the window, along with her echo.
She soon sent her young daughter away to buy food for the long journey ahead. After five minutes of silent sitting, watching buses come and go, she returned with rations in hand. Not much, some bread, a zongzi, and two hard-boiled eggs. While I watched on, the giggliong woman pulled one egg from the bag.
I was taken aback. I had never been given an egg. I didn't know how to accept an egg. She did, and she opened my hand, placing the rather hot brown ball in my hand. I gave my best look of astonishment, and said the only term I knew of to express my gratitude:
I boarded the bus to Liuzhou with a renewed sense of excitement, and of course, egg in hand.
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