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Published: October 21st 2009
Here in China, all 6 million people get the same week off in October for traveling home to see their families. Great idea...not. It's kind of like the chaos of Christmas travel in the US. Except 6 million times worse.
Of course it was my
time off too and I wasn't going to sit around Suzhou for a week, so I fought the swarms of people to see which surrounding cities still had bus tickets available. I ended up heading to Ningbo a few hours south, the easiest place from which to get to the famous island of Putuoshan. I was dying for a glimpse of the ocean, and had heard that this island contained some awesome hiking, beautiful Buddhist shrines and great beaches. Two of the three were true; I spent the day wandering around the green mountainous island and saw some incredible temples as well as tiny caves filled with shrines to Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. I think I was the only foreign tourist there, it seems more popular amongst the Chinese Buddhists who go as a sort of religious pilgrimage and vacation all in one. It was quite peaceful to be surrounded by chanting monks
and people lighting incense, and the natural scenery of the island was gorgeous. The beach, however, was quite a disappointment. Take chocolate-milk colored brown water, add creepy yellowish green foam and a beach completely covered in litter, and you will get one horrified Californian. So much for swimming. Littering is such a big problem here, I've actually seen a mom instructing her small daughter to throw a wrapper on the ground. I've heard that a big reason for this is that people believe they are "creating jobs." While it's true that I've seen some ridiculous jobs here (like people cutting grass by hand), the idea that it's ok to litter because someone else has a job of cleaning is so wrong. Maybe China will turn me into an environmentalist.
Anyways, aside from the beach being a letdown, my day on the island was wonderful. Next, however, came the task of getting myself back to Ningbo, my hostel, and my backpack. Getting to Putuoshan had been simple enough: one ticket for an hour long bus ride followed by an hour long ferry ride. But as it turned out, return tickets were completely sold out even though I asked the morning
I arrived. I ended up buying a ticket to another island that was closer to the mainland, and with a good-natured spirit of adventure thought to myself that I'd just play it by ear! Fun and exciting right? Wrong. Long story short, I ended up taking 2 different ferries, 2 taxis, 5 hours and way too much money to get back to Ningbo. Not a fun adventure at all, I was cold and hungry and nearly accosted by some hoodlums when I was looking for my hostel on the map in the middle of the night at the Ningbo bus station (the final taxi driver insisted on dropping us off there; since he had a whole car full of people I guess it was easier than taking us to our individual destinations) - really wish I had known some bad words in Mandarin right about then! Just kidding - kind of. I guess I was looking for the "real" China experience, and I sure got it! Luckily the next day I was able to get my ticket back to Suzhou just fine. Ningbo was an interesting town, but two nights there was enough for me. Suzhou almost feels like home...I
can now leave the house without my map and successfully navigate the buses all over the city.
Despite the extremes of my experience, I really wish I had been able to see more and venture a little farther during the October holiday, but the tickets and hostel beds sold out really quickly. I'll have to plan a little more carefully for Chinese New Year, our next vacation over here...I'm counting down the days...
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