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Traveling Companions

Popularity 3Viewed 5592 times 2016-6-30 20:20 |System category:Life| sunshine, Internet, provided, travel, living

While school was still in session, my friend Gary invited me via email to go on a trip to Chong Qing with him and his friend Mask. I immediately said yes… provided the travel days came after my teaching obligations were met.

And then I lost my Internet connection, so I have no idea if Gary sent me a response or not. But we do live in the same city and the same country, so sending a text message, or even making a phone call is not out of the question. Or is it?

The Chinese are rather strange that way. They do not confirm and reconfirm and plan ad nauseam, as I am used to. I actually get unsettled if I don’t have things planned out in advance - quite in contrast to the vagabond I bill myself to be. Conversely, the Chinese are happy to fly by the seat of their pants. In fact, traveling in general exemplifies that that attitude: you cannot buy a train ticket more than a few days in advance in China, and a plane ticket cannot be purchased for more than one month out. Long distance bus tickets are usually bought just hours before the actual departure.

So, when I didn’t hear from Gary for about ten days, I wondered if the casually extended invitation was going to shape up into an event that will come to pass. I finally heard from him a few days ago, when he sent me a text message asking if I was still up to the trip and if my schedule would accommodate a 7-day sojourn. Being as I am now done teaching until September, I replied that I was available and more than ready to go. Gary then tapped out that he would make all of the arrangements. He said he would contact me on June 20th.

He called me on the 19th, asking if I was free to leave on Sunday and if it would be OK to stay in hostels and less than stellar hotels. "Of course", I replied. In for a penny and in for a pound with this adventure stuff. That’s what vagabonding is all about, right? At least, my version of it.

I waited all day on the 20th for Gary to call. Toward sundown I wondered if I was supposed to have met him at the long-distance bus station today and he left me behind, or if he had simply gotten busy and not had a chance to call. Or maybe he meant yesterday’s phone call to be today’s phone call? It is so hard to tell with these 'fly by the seat of the pants' Chinese!

Finally the phone rang at 8PM. ‘Can you be at the bus station by 7AM tomorrow morning?’ he asked. Well, it is short notice, but I’ve been packed all day and waiting for this phone call, so it is no big stretch to leave my bunker and get to the bus depot downtown somewhere close to that time. I agreed to get to the bus station as soon as possible, considering normal traffic woes.

I got up at 5AM, showered, grabbed my trusty backpack, already laden with what I would need for the next 7 days while traveling, and off I go. I thought I would be ahead of the game getting to the bus stop a little after 6AM, but didn’t realize the tenacity of the Chinese traveler. Mainly because I avoid going out on peak travel days.

NOTE: The end of the school year counts as a peak travel day, because that is when all of Wuhan's students go flooding back home. Sometimes, their parents, or some other relative come to pick them up, making things at transportation hubs even more crowded. 

The bus stop outside of campus was so crowded lines of people 5 and 6 deep stood by the side of the road, scanning the horizon for the next bus. Newcomers walked further up the road, extending that line even further. City buses were already so packed that they weren’t stopping. After watching several buses filled to beyond capacity pass our stop without so much as hitting the brakes, let alone opening their doors, I realized I needed another plan. I enlisted some students who were also hoping to get somewhere today to go in with me on hiring a van. We would split the cost and, for 10Yuan apiece, could get to the train/bus station much faster than standing there, waiting for a bus to stop.

The van we hired dropped us off 6 blocks from the depot. Traffic was so snarled there was no hope of getting anywhere near it; walking would get us there faster. No problem. Off we all went, walking while the van driver turned around to help more travelers out (and make a hefty profit for himself).

Meeting up with Gary and Mask did wonders to ease my frazzles. These guys are so good-natured and patient and kind. There they were, standing in the rain, waiting at the station for me, not flustered at all. They greeted me warmly and apologized for all of the stress I endured, and then we battled the crowds heading for the bus depot.

Couldn’t buy tickets for the bus we wanted because we couldn’t get near the terminal for all the people there. Fortunately Gary knows everyone, so he just made a phone call and presto! His friends’ mom, who works at the ticketing agency agreed to buy our tickets for us. Gary would meet her somewhere around 1PM to pick them up. That put our departure time at a little past 3PM. We spent the morning at Mask’s apartment watching movies and sipping tea, even partaking of a delicious lunch, delivered to his door. And then we all got sleepy, but we had to get our shoes on and catch a bus.

Our first stop was Yi Chang, where we spent the night. After about 4 hours on the bus we stumbled into that terminal, already familiar to me from the one trip I had previously made there. Having left myself completely in their hands, I didn’t know that we didn’t have a hotel room for the night until they started talking about where to sleep.

And the whole trip went like that! We had reservations for no place! And, we had no reservations. It was as though the three of us have been friends and traveling companions forever, talking earnestly, laughing, teasing one another, chattering away about just any old thing. Such great traveling buddies are they!

This is the kind of travel I envisioned myself having when I dreamt up this vagabond life. Traveling with Gary and Mask opened doors that I could only wish to open. Asking directions, securing accommodations, arranging transportation… all of these things Gary and Mask took care of in ‘spur of the moment’ fashion while I stood innocently by. I got into cars after they bargained a fare, I slept in hotel rooms they rented, I walked to destinations they planned and took part in activities where there were no other foreigners.

It is not like I was not consulted on anything. These guys are solicitous of me. What did I want to eat? Is this room OK? Here, take that bus seat: it will be more comfortable for you. Are you tired? Do you like this food? There was a hint of deference in their manner that I’ll touch on a bit later, but mostly it seemed that they were being kind and concerned about my comfort, welfare and safely.

Now that the groundwork as been laid, I want to spend some time telling you about the adventures we had. Remarkable adventures, considering that, on the outset of this trip I had only just met Gary a handful of times and had only just been introduced to Mask. Still, one couldn't ask for better traveling companions!

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




Shake hands

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Comment Comment (9 comments)

Reply Report Chengking 2016-7-1 12:30
Read that Wuhan as well as Yi Chang are experiencing severe flooding. Keep an eye on the weather while vagabonding.  
Reply Report voice_cd 2016-7-1 15:19
Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted it.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-7-1 18:07
Chengking: Read that Wuhan as well as Yi Chang are experiencing severe flooding. Keep an eye on the weather while vagabonding.   
Indeed it is pouring down! Thank goodness for weather apps...
Thanks for your concern! I hope it is dry, where you're at.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-7-1 18:08
voice_cd: Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted it.
Thank you! Wish you all a great day.
Reply Report SEARU 2016-7-3 07:45
You are real loyal blogger!  So admirable!
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-7-8 21:35
SEARU: You are real loyal blogger!  So admirable!
You are a real and great brother! So admirable!
Reply Report SEARU 2016-7-9 08:10
Your reply plus my original comment remind me what Chinese couplet is!  Laugh!
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-7-9 09:09
SEARU: Your reply plus my original comment remind me what Chinese couplet is!  Laugh!
I guess I have turned into a Chinese, then!  
Reply Report SEARU 2016-7-9 12:47
I also think so! You are welcome! (Shake hands!)

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