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Published: November 21st 2007
The Gongbei Port was a massive, modern complex spanning the Pearl River and connecting tiny Macau to the humungous mainland of China
. And it was up its stairs and thru its corridors that we had shuffled in a veritable sea of Chinese in our quest to access the mainland. The crisp green uniforms with dazzling gold shoulder pips somehow made the officers appear more efficient and unapproachable. Shanna breezed thru immigration but the officers wanted a closer look at Vibert's passport.
An immigration officer led Vibert into a small, barricaded area guarded by tough-looking, crew-cut gentleman. Shanna watched in silent disbelief. The immigration officer was eyeing Vibert's passport thru a magnifying glass as a jeweller would examine a rare diamond. Ultra-violet light went on. Vibert's passport went under the light and then another light. It took all of 10 excruciatingly-long minutes for the authorities to satisfy their curiousity and with the stroke of a pen and the thud of a stamp, freedom was once again his.
The 2 pm was blazing hot when we exited the port building and into the Zhuhai district. We glanced around and realized, in an instant, how 'in over our heads' we were
couldn't understand a single directional sign. It was all Chinese to us. We couldn't locate the bus station and the people around us didn't speak English but after a few 'vroom vroom'
sounds and making like handling a big steering wheel, someone clued in and pointed out the way. The station was a huge square with numerous buses and an innumerable amount of humans and although we had reached the station we weren't out of the woods. Unable to locate the bus to our destination, we started asking around and soon a huge crowd formed around us. The multitude was far more interested in inspecting the 'aliens' than in helping except for this one well-meaning lady who didn't speak a word of English. She was rather animatedly jabbering away in Putongwa, pointing at where a watch would be if she had worn one and signalling away in the distance. We didn't move, not knowing what to make of it.
"May I help you?". The voice was soft and barely audible over the deafening racket of revving buses, the voices of our 'admirers' and our thumping hearts. It belonged to an angel
. She translated to us that our bus departed
from another station a block away and that it was leaving at 4 pm. It was 3:15 pm. Before we galloped, backpacks on our backs, across the broad, busy junction, Shanna asked the young lady to write in Chinese: "We are vegetarians. We eat fish, vegetables, vegetable soup, eggs and potatoes". The bus tickets set us back RMB 360 (USD 46 at conversion rate 7.8) and we, upon instruction, removed and plastic-bagged our boots and boarded with 8 minutes to spare.
The Chinese redefined the concept of a 'Sleeper Bus'. Instead of reclining seats, the vehicle was outfitted with three rows of 6 metal-framed double-bunks. Clean white sheets and a thick blanket covered a thin but soft cushion. The driver eased the bus out the exit gate and we were off. Building after square building flashed by each devoid of a defining architectural style and each unceremoniously clad in dingy bathroom tiles. From this vantage point China didn't look like what China should have looked like. Our energy level was fading as fast as the light and as we passed thru the umpteenth toll station, our last discussion was about our lovely destination and what we'd do when we
And in that instant, simultaneous grins lit up our faces. Adventure, thrills, excitement and some of the world's best nature had beckoned us to this place: The People's Republic of China
. Aaaah China!
The very name conjurs up images of modern, frenzied cities, ultra-rural towns, innumerable people, exotic cuisine, once-hidden warriors, blinding smog and towering mountain peaks. A territory of remarkable contrasts, China revels in its modernity while remaining steeped in its extravagant, astounding past.
With traces of its history reaching as far back as 6000 years, China is one of world's oldest surviving civilizations.
Records show that the Xia and Shang Dynasties were present between 2200 BC and 1100 BC. Master Kong Fuzi, known worldwide as Confucius, philosophized during the Zhou Dynasty (1100 BC - 221 BC). The Zhou were toppled by China's First Emperor - Qin Shi Huang - who founded the Qin Dynasty which reigned from 221 BC - 207 BC. Qin started linking existing city walls thus creating the start of the Great Wall. A ruthless man, he nonetheless managed to decree a uniform currency and standard script when he was not off expanding China's control by force. He is also
credited with the creation of the famous Army of Terracotta Warriors. His successor was a weakling who was easily overthrown by Liu Bang of the Han Dynasty. Several other dynasties rose and fell including the Jin, Tang and Song.
Mongol warlord Genghis Khan wrested control of Beijing in 1215 after penetrating the Great Wall. He handed over control of China to his grandson, Kublai, who named himself emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. The Ming built the Forbidden City in 1522 as a pleasure center for the emperors of their dynasty. They launched enormous expeditions by ships around the world reaching as far as the present day Suez Canal and they also formalized international trade with Egypt. But when in 1521 then Emperor Zhu Houchao delegated state matters to his chief eunuch in order to focus on his concubines, it was the opportunity the Manchu didn't let slip. The Manchu established the Qing (1644 - 1911) and created a more racially inclusive society whereby Chinese, Mongols, Tibetans and Manchu had a say.
China's first and only female Empress was Cixi, a one-time concubine to emperor Xianfeng. Rather conveniently, Xianfeng and his empress died leaving Cixi's son (Xianfeng's only boy)
as heir. She assumed the role of Dowager Empress and outmanouvered her opponents, even her own son. But Cixi was self-absorbed and less focussed on the country. During her time, she refurbished the Summer Palace in Beijing - an extravagant play-park - and hoarded rooms full of treasure. When she died in 1908, public opinion called for the formation of the Republic of China thereby ending the long history of dynasties.
In the beginning there was a working arrangement between the Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party. But when in 1927 capitalist-proponent Chiang Kaishek massacred thousands of communists at Tiananmen Square, public sentiment swung in favour of Mao Zedong. And in a great civil war in 1946, Mao's communists emerged victorious and Mao founded the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949 - National Day. Our sleeping bodies jerked upwards and we awoke in fearful panic
. The bus had hit a crater-sized pothole. Sometime ago we had departed from the endless series of modern flyovers and smooth, broad highways and we were now hurdling down a bumpy, dark stretch of road. The driver pulled up at the first sign of civilization and everyone disembarked. We donned
our shoes and followed. It was 11:26 pm. This was some sort of refreshment stop/bathroom break. Instantly, about 800 pairs of eyes locked on to us. The eyes belonged to the people selling, squating, eating, talking and also to those who noisily and incessantly heaved up phlem and sputum from the nether regions of their chest cavity before launching it way too close for comfort. The place was lit by weak flourescent bulbs which cast eerie shadows. Our better judgment precluded us from whipping out the camera and starting to fire away. We were scared! This one dude struck up a conversation. His English name was Tommy and he guided us to a table inside and beckoned the waiter. We ordered from the paper with our translated eating preference and he scurried into the kitchen. Minutes later he emerged with steaming, towering platters of rice, eggs, fish, potato and soup. Our order had been lost in translation and we ended up with everything on the paper😊. Pretty adept at chopsticks we began sampling the food. It was OK for truck stop food. About a minute or so into the meal, Shanna jabbed her chopstick in the direction of the nearby
Looks like Vibert is ready for the trip
kitchen. Vibert spun around to see what had caught her attention. And then we both lost our appetite. It was the filthiest kitchen we had ever seen. There is simply no describing it. We paid a hefty RMB 50 for the entire order and donated the untouched portions to some other patrons.
No directions to the bathroom were needed. We just followed the smell and, upon surveying the long, filty concrete trough in an open room, we both decided "to hold it". The bus took off again and we drifted off.
The driver was yelling at us. "Yangshuo"
, he said. Groggily we arose, grabbed our stuff and exited the bus. No one else exited. The bus drove off
. We looked around. A big roundabout dominated the four-corner junction. Six motor-rickshaw drivers eyed us. We declined their advances only because we didn't know where to go.
Saddling up with mock confidence
, we picked a road and walked off into the dark. We were in Yangshuo and we didn't have a hotel reservation. We have done it again. The time: 4:25 am
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