Arriving in China, My first glimpse, Part 3
Note: This is part 3 in a series called Arriving in China.
Crossing the border
I was soo nervous about going through customs because I’d heard and read all about how the guards and customs officers will go through every pocket to look for anything they don’t like. While this might not have sounded like a logical thing to happen when you have hundreds of people crossing the border daily, I was still not convinced that they wouldn’t “pick” on a Western couple. However, my experience was completely anti-climatic compared to the hype that the border crossing had been given. Once we approached the customs area the driver stopped and open up the trunk, then proceeded very slowly (hoping nothing falls out) to the next section where all the documents are meticulously examined while everyone patiently waits in the van. Once we were cleared at that section we went to the next section where they took all the bags out and ran them through an x-ray machine. Any questionable bag was set aside and opened. All the others were haphazardly placed back in the van trunk. We all waited in a line while another guy came and lined up all our documents with their owners. Then, the driver grunted and pointed to the car; we all piled back in. Finally, we passed through one more section and was home free. Welcome to mainland China.
So the driver took us to this very beautiful hotel where a bell boy assisted us. An actual bell boy in an old fashioned uniform came out to get our luggage on some sort of trolley. They loaded up our luggage and gladly took it inside. Upon talking with the very nice people at the desk, we soon discovered our unsaid suspicions true: this was too expensive for our limited budget at $300 USD per night!
Reluctantly, we told them about our budget dilemma. They understood and tried to find something cheaper, but finally gave us directions to walk along the curving street to where we would find cheaper places to stay. They said to be careful because the pickpocketing, price gouging, and scams were worse so we should carefully judge each person. The bell boys helped us back out to the street with a kind but sad smile and watched us walk around the bend.
Of course, exhaustion and disappointment were weighing on us. We didn’t settle for the first yet scary looking place with sketchy feeling people. We walked on and were heading to a place that looked reputable when a couple of guys approached us. They asked if we needed a place to stay for the night and even helped us by grabbing a suitcase each. One of the guys spoke very good English and proceeded to tell use that he knows the hotel we were going to had a room for a decent price. We asked him how much, it was indeed a decent price. In reply to my curiosity, he explained that in certain areas it is very common for people to run small “businesses” in cooperation with hotels. These businesses rent out entire sections, floors, or blocks of room from the hotels at a discount and go about on the streets and tourist areas to drum up business. The hotel has the rooms filled, good references, word of mouth and the men of course make money by raising the price a bit. It is a very interesting symbiotic relationship.
Anyway, Micah and I were able to communicate with each other about whether we had any bad feelings or reservations with them. Neither of us did; in fact, speaking later we both had good feelings about them. Our instincts were verified later that evening when we found out that they had been given a heads up from Professor. How we are not sure at all, but I learned years ago to stop asking “how” as much when it came to our friend.
The men got us checked into a good room on their floor. During the check in process we chatted with them about what we were up to. They seemed really excited about us moving to China and wanted to see how they could help us further. We explained about the travel plan Micah’s boss created. However, they told us that a sleeper bus is what they prefer instead of the trains. After helping us to the room, Micah left with them to the ticket office (3-5 blocks down the way) to buy the tickets. Since the office was closing soon they ran. After successfully buying the tickets, the English speaking man promised to return in the morning to help us to the bus!!
A eye full of soup, supper
Micah returned, so that the two of us could set out at 1030pm to find something proper to eat after two days of airline food. Our first meal in China!! Trepidation started itching at the back of my mind when I recalled videos and images of some of the more strange food people eat here. However, hunger won out and I prepared myself to eat anything that wouldn’t make me queesy. We passed parlors, clubs, and even a 7-eleven! We finally just chose a fast-food style place with a lot of soups and pictures (pictures being the more important part since we didn’t read Chinese).
We chose a less exotic looking soup and chowed down. You know you are hungry when you are half way through the bowl of soup when you suddenly realize with a mixture of horror and hilarity that I had to really look at my soup. To my chagrin what I saw was my very tasty and satisfying soup was looking back at me. Dozens of little shrimp were in my soup! Lesson well learned, in China taste and appearance are not always the same thing.
On the way back to our hotel for some much needed rest, we picked up some drinks and chips at a 7-eleven to company the shrimp now in my belly.
In the morning we woke up, cleaned up, grabbed some McDonalds nearby and waited for our friend. He picked us up and bustled us through an underground walkway, through some other strange rail stations, and then to the bus station terminal where he sat us down. Hey then explained, very thoroughly, that we didn’t speak Chinese, would need help along the bus ride and for the people to make sure that the bus driver and attendants knew to take care of us and make sure we made it back on the bus at each stop. He reported their conversation to us and chatted for a few more minutes telling us that they were very excited for all that we would experience in China and wished they could go along with us. They gave us their best wishes for a good life and safe travels and left in a hurry.
I very much felt overwhelmed by these “guardian angels” that clearly helped us tremendously. They are another set of people along our journey that I will always appreciate.