• Tag Archives traveling to china
  • Arriving in China Part 4, Sleeper Bus

    Arriving in China, Sleeper Bus, Part 4

    Note: This is part 3 in a series called Arriving in China.

    If you haven’t read the previous two then you can do so here (part 1part 2, & part 3)

    Image credits follow at the end.

    Brief respite and back on our “own”

    Eventually, the attendants ended the odd staring game the other waiting people all seemed to be playing with us and ushered all of us and our luggage out to a transition bus. Again were loaded up in this van to go to the next phase. However, there was a little too much luggage and a couple too many people but the Chinese figured out how to cram us all in there with people sitting on luggage, laps, the steps and floor.

    The bus went round and round on roads and ramps and wove through traffic finally arriving at a bus terminal that would have been a 15-20 min walk away from the waiting room.

    These wire baskets are similar to the ones where we could put our shoes and personal belongings that weren't in the cargo hold.
    These wire baskets are similar to the ones where we could put our shoes and personal belongings that weren’t in the cargo hold.

    Attendants loaded up the luggage, checked our documents and ushered us into the bus after directing us to take off our shoes and don little blue hospital looking booties or a small red plastic bag for our shoes. The major luggage was put in the cargo hold below and we kept our personal bags, which for was our computer bags. When we got inside the bus, I was again chagrined. Inside were 3 rows of metal enclosed bunk beds, which reminded me of the weird small burrows in Japan.

    Each “bed’s” foot was tucked under the head of the one in front with a little shelf for shoes and other belongings. My bag was too big to fit on the shelf so I had to hold it. I put my bag on the floor, grabbed the bunk above, and slid into my bed. It was a very tight metal sock made even more uncomfortable by the presence of my bag’s hijacking of usable space in the metal sock. After counting and accounting for each registered person we were off.

    Sleeper bus….dont recommend it

    Imagine the bed inclined and the hooded metal cover reaching up to your hips or past.
    If you can imagine the beds being inclined and the foot area not just being a hood but a fully covered area up to ones waist then that would be similar. (Pic by Ecow)

    The supposedly 8 hour bus ride lasted several hours longer and got us to Guilin by about 6 am Sunday instead of the 8pm Saturday we were told. In hindsight we figured it was probably just a communication issue.

    During this trip, we learned two things. First that we won’t ever invest in a bed like a metal sock; second, that driving in China resembles a day simulation of Nascar more than it does orderly driving. We also learned that unless you want to experience traveling in a cheap and non-luxurious manner then you should not try a sleeper bus, though it was an interesting experience. Everyone on the bus was flung up and down the slanted metal enclosures for each break and gas stomp. When I say “stomp” I really mean that, each application of the gas and break petals were applied with the same finesse and appropriate ease as a blind Cyclops in a china shop. To add to our movements up and down the metal incline, we were also flung left and right at each lane change, car passed, obstruction averted, and each curve in the road.

    I’m a little sad that once we took off, my normal “habit” or sleeping on moving vehicles was in cahoots with my only slightly decreased exhaustion and had me dozing for most of the trip. So I was not able to watch the scenery or take pictures.I was able to watch the scenery for random moments here and there, watching the night sky was a wonderful peaceful time.

    Every so often all the passengers were forced to disembark at gas stations stops for food and restrooms. Luckily we hadn’t eaten much and were dehydrated, so we didn’t need to use the restrooms for very long if at all, which believe me were worse in basically every way then the rest stops along highways in America. I have never been so happy to be dehydrated and low on food in all my life.

    The beds here are slanted and you can see them on an elevated platform. This was where we had to take off and put on our shoes.
    The beds here are slanted and you can see them on an elevated platform. This was where we had to take off and put on our shoes.

    It became routine for each person to crawl out of their metal sock, grab their red shoe baggie, sit on the steps, put their shoes on and pocket or throw away the baggie. I remember getting some food and watching Chinese people magically make warm soups and snacks out of random items at the gas stations. They some how came away with so much warm food. Some had rice and beef, noodles, soups, and even steaming bowls of noodle soups which they quickly devoured while on their way back to the sleeper bus. Sometimes you just have to accept the magic in China.

    Each stop ended with one of the attendants coming to our beds to make sure we were there and not stuck somewhere outside. I am incredibly grateful for this.

    At various stops a few people left the bus apparently reaching their destination. I had heard one woman say Guilin in the waiting room, so I tried to memorize her face and clothing so that we could watch for when she got off.

    At some point the drivers, yes more than one, decided they didn’t want to switch off and would rather nap and smoke cigarettes at the side of the road all night. There were some pretty mad Chinese people in the bus and 2 very confused Americans.

    Eventually, the sleeper bus pulled into a city and into a terminal where that woman got up and ready. We didn’t actually need her because one driver came over and pointed out of the bus and helped me get up.

    Finally Guilin! A sleepy, rainy misty Guilin

    Our taxi ride through Guilin to Sean's boss's house. It was quite rainy.
    Our taxi ride through Guilin to Micah’s boss’s house. It was quite rainy.

    It was raining gently but the line of taxi drivers had umbrellas that they shared with us. One of the bus drivers and a nice taxi driver worked together to help us further. We had the information and a message in Chinese from Micah’s boss written for just such a time with instructions to call his cell phone upon us arriving in Guilin. They called and got directions for the taxi driver. They loaded up our luggage and we waved at the drivers as the taxi pulled us away from the terminal and our moving hotel, our very first sleeper bus experience.

    My first impressions of Guilin, I later learned were somewhat correct. This town seems to have aura of being isolated and kind of sleepy. The rain and thick overcast I’m sure added to this, but there was also just something about the buildings. The buildings are an odd conglomeration of what hinted at a departed—but not forgotten—Old China mixed with the New China. People walked along the streets pulling carts and holding babies. I could see the closer mountains lining rows in and around (though mostly obscured by the rain that day) the city created an image guards standing vigil. This probably yielded greatly to Guilin’s feeling of isolation and mystery. Almost everywhere you looked there was foliage of some sort and architecture I’ve never seen before. It was rather enchanting.

    Soon enough the taxi driver pulled up to a closed gate, made a phone call and waited for a short Chinese man to come welcome us. He spoke quickly, paid the taxi driver and ushered us passed the guard instructing us to smile and wave so he could see that we were kind people. He took us up 2 flights to what would be our apartment. And here in this apartment was where our life in China actually began.

    May the road rise to meet you.

     

    Image Credits of images I did not take:

    Featured image: By Ilya Plekhanov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

    First Image: http://www.dianliwenmi.com/postimg_3108783_6.html

    Second Image: By Ecow (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

    Third Image: Contributor unknown, http://www.dianliwenmi.com/postimg_3108783_10.html

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  • Arriving in China Part 3, Shenzhen

    Arriving in China, My first glimpse, Part 3

    Note: This is part 3 in a series called Arriving in China.

    If you haven’t read the previous two then you can do so here (part 1 & part 2)

    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.

    Expensive Hotel

    Our hotel room in Shenzhen
    Our hotel room in Shenzhen. Nice but a decent price.

    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.

    Angel’s Aid

    So many different types of buildings
    There are so many different building types. I think there is a train on that middle building roof.

    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.

    That long section has underground stores and stations.
    That long section has underground stores and stations.

    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

    First meal in China was this weird soup
    A late night supper. This is the result of pointing at a picture. hehe. Do you see the eyes?

    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).

    Now do you see the eyes?
    Now do you see the eyes? I don’t think I’ve ever had soup that looked back at me.

    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.

    Exhausted night

    SOO many taxis!
    SOO many taxis!

    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.

    Morning view of Shenzhen moutnains
    Mountain view in Shenzhen from our hotel. Beautiful view to wake up to.

    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.

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  • Arriving in China Part 2, International Flight and Hong Kong

    Note: This is the second installment in the Arriving in China series. If you would like to read that section first, click here.

    Chicago’s trippy lights and itinerary changes

    Alternating colored lights moving in a passenger tunnel
    These runner lights had alternating colors actually moving up and down this tunnel. (Sorry its blurry)

     

    Once we arrived in the Chicago airport we immediately scoped out the place and checked the flight board to make sure nothing had changed (as per the advice of the nice woman the previous day). Then we started exploring this new airport. Chicago airport is an odd place complete with displays and even intricate running lights in passenger tunnels.

    During our several hour layover, we periodically checked the flight board verifying we were near the correct gate. However, throughout the day both the gate AND the terminal changed twice—we did a lot of walking. Some of the changes were extreme going from opposite end to opposite end of the airport. Eventually, we were able to board the flight to Hong Kong!

    Dinosaur Skeleton at Chicago's O'Hare airport
    Chicago’s O’Hare airport had several displays. One of which was this very large dinosaur skeleton.

    International flight with international coke

    The inside of the plane is very neat.
    We are finally boarded and I’m surprised that the plane isnt as bad as I thought.

    I remember having a turbulent mixture of both excitement and nervousness–everything was new to me and everything was fascinating to me. International flights, for those that have never been, are very different than domestic flights. For one, it is common place to have your very own headphone jack and a personal TV on the back of the seat in front of you for your own personal viewing pleasure. No more having to watch a single large screen at the front and playing head ping pong with the inevitable tall person in between you and the screen (as was what Micah told me happened on his first flight). We started this flight knowing it was going to be about 14 hours, though it ended up being 16.5, because it had to go around a large ocean storm at some point.

    Chinese can of coke with Chinese characters
    They of course had beverages on the plane. This Coka cola had Chinese on it. Im getting excited already!

    I was a bit anxious on how I would do with the air turbulence. Logically, turbulence makes sense and thus is not something I would see as a point of worry. However, I’m not the bravest person in the world and so was not sure how I would react. When it first happened it startled me but I didn’t have much of a reaction. It was very similar to riding in a car when it crossed from a paved road to a washboard road and back to a paved road. In other words it was no big deal for me; there were screams or gasps around the plane.

    Flight Path from Chicago going West to to Hong Kong
    The TVs had updates on time, distance, altitude, and temperature.

    The selection of entertainment was amazing. There was TV shows, movies, music, some sports and news casts, and even some basic games (i.e. solitaire, Tetris, and zumba). However, I have to say the food was a little less than desired. I think a packed lunch from a quick store would have been better, but we were able to drink Chinese Coca Cola! My biggest problem with the meal was that since I was gluten free at the time I couldn’t eat about 70% of the miserly food they supplied us. The biggest meal was a small bag of chips with a sandwich made of cold deli meat on a small bagel. All the snacks except the peanuts were bread based and so I couldn’t eat them either. Micah got to eat what I couldn’t, he was well fed.

    Flight path shows we are leavning the country.
    Leaving the country now! Crazy! Not yet the halfway point.

    Though all in all the flight wasn’t bad except one minor incident between myself and a very rude steward. I tried to obey the seatbelt signs, so I waited and waited and

    waited to use the restroom all the while watching a dozen more people over several hours get up and go. Finally, after reaching the point of decision wherein I had to decide between disobeying the never changing seatbelt sign or having an accident in my seat: I chose to disobey the seat and follow the others to the queue. A steward looked straight at me and screamed at ME, only ME “Can’t you read?! Get back in your seat!” He never even looked at the others; it was like they were invisible. I was so shocked by being screamed at in such a public place that I went back to my seat. A woman walked by and I felt sorry for the chewing out I was sure he would give her. So I listened…nothing. Again a man walked by and the same thing happened, which is to say nothing at all. So I screwed up my courage, which wasn’t too hard considering I was edging into a boiled indignation. Why would he yell at me and no one else? I was angry now.

    Flight Path shows we are almost to Hong Kong
    Almost to Hong Kong! We are ready to get off this plane!

    So when I passed him to stand in line. He looked at me and took a deep breath to, I presume, yell at me further. I cut him off telling him something like “If you’re going to chastise people for getting up while the seatbelt sign is on, then do so but don’t pick out the one person you feel you can kowtow and scream at her. Now if you don’t want me to use the restroom when the sign is on then have the sign changed more often. I have been waiting for HOURS. Or would you prefer to have to do some cleaning?” He stepped back, glared at me and huffed, but never said a word to me for the remainder of the 9 hours. Once I turned back to face towards the front of the line I was surprised with a few smiles and nods from the others in line. Though, I can’t say that the matter was closed since he repeatedly skipped over me if he was unfortunate enough to be assigned as the server to my area for a meal, snack, or drink. The first time it happened I had to ask for my meal. One of the stewardesses caught on and served me when she’d pass by. I made sure to thank you as much as possible.

    Hong kong arrival, So much luggage and no one to help the Americans

    Finally, we have landed!
    Finally!!! We are have landed!

     

    After we arrived in Hong Kong, we found our way to the luggage area. At this point, I deeply regretted almost every single item we brought. Since we were moving our entire lives to China we pushed our bags to the limit and took advantage of the maximum allowed luggage per person. It was exhausting pulling all those pieces of luggage through the airport; thankfully early in our commute across the airport we found a trolley cart to ease our burden.

     

    The Hong Kong Airport's atmosphere is surprisingly light and cheery.
    The Hong Kong Airport is very open and airy creating a light atmosphere

    We followed the signs directing us to Mainland China transportation. Hong Kong is famous for their hospitality, so we didn’t worry about not speaking Chinese Mandarin or Cantonese. We also didn’t worry because it is an international hub making it necessary for there to be English speakers and because were English signs everywhere. So we were safe in assuming someone would speak English, right? Wrong, oh so wrong. For whatever reason, NO ONE spoke English and no one wanted to help the stupid Americans by finding someone that could speak English. After 2.5 days of traveling and having just disembarked a 16.5 hour flight we were exhausted, and my patience was thin at best.

    After my attempts to find an English speaker failed and even my attempts to use my Chinese-English dictionary on my phone to communicate also failed, Micah went off to try and figure out how to use the pay phone in order to phone his boss. I watched the luggage and kept trying to communicate, but each attempt and each HOUR was draining me more and more. By the time the second guard started his shift and his repetitive staring at me while walking past yet again and watching the clerks talk about me, I silently broke into tears. I tried to hide them but it was no use. Micah had no luck figuring out the phones. We were just stuck there in the lobby with English signs that taunted us with messages which told us we could buy a ticket for Mainland transport in that lobby from their kind clerks. Our only hope was a new shift of clerks in the morning (12 hours away), who could and would help us. We’d have to sleep in the lobby.

    Finally, a new woman came in to start her shift. She took one look at me in all my pitifulness and Micah’s frantic look while trying to use the internet to figure something out and she decided we needed help. She came over to us and pulled us over to her desk where she amid very few English words, some dictionary look ups, and a lot of charades finally figured out what we needed and wanted and helped us get on our way. As we were standing in the line waiting for the shuttle to come pick us and others up, I heard and watched her yelling at all the others and pointing at us.

    I do remember her very kind smile when I looked up the word for “thank you” on my phone and showed her. I put as much emphasis in my eyes as possible, but I’m sure the fact that I was still occasionally brushing away tears expressed all she needed from me. She spoke softly to me and smiled, waved and headed back to row of desks where she started to yell at the others as I watched unabashedly.

    I know I’ll never see her again but I won’t soon forget how kind she was toward us. She was one of the positive people I thought back to in the following weeks.

    Welcome to a dark HK, Micah’s relief and my excitement.

    Hong Kong twinkling as we drive by on a highway bridge
    Hong Kong twinkling as we drive by on a highway bridge

    So finally aboard the shuttle, luggage loaded, documentation stacked on the dash board and everyone seated, we started off. I remember thinking that I was sad my very first glimpse of a foreign country would be at night when I wouldn’t be able to see much of anything. Micah was wide eyed and taking in as much as he could. He had his arm around me and sat so close to me. He was also pointing things out for me to look at because I don’t see well at night. Despite not having too much to see, Hong Kong still showed us some of its luster. I remember just being dumbfounded with how beautiful it looked even in the limited sight of night. Micah whispered promises of coming back to Hong Kong to explore its beauty someday, a new adventure in the midst of another. I made a similar promise as well.

     

     

    This series, Arriving in China, continues with the next leg of our journey: Part 3, Shenzhen.

    If you have not read the first leg of our journey and would like to see what happened, check it out: Part 1, My first International

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  • Hello, Welcome to China

     

    Ni hao,

    I wanted to open this blog with a little bit about who we are, where we are, what we’re doing and how we’ve gotten to this point. My name is Genta Hurst. I am a scientist (out of work right now), book lover, aspiring author and aspiring artist. Micah and I got married back in December of 2010. Even before dating, I knew that Micah had a dream of not just traveling to, but living in China. At first I thought it bizarre, but the more he talked about it the more I found it endearing and oddly intriguing.

    Now before ya’ll start thinking he brainwashed me (it has been accused) let me tell you my half of this decision. Even as a child I had a casual interest in Asia. Then, when I went to college and my best friend convinced me to learn Japanese with him, I fell deeply in love with Asia and specifically Japan.

    So, later, after we had been married a year and a half, Micah started talking casually, at first, about how he really wanted us to think about moving to China. I wasn’t surprised and wasn’t completely against it. Then he and a very dear friend—who long ago was aptly nickname “The Professor”—started talking about it happening sooner than later because the timing was right. To say that I was not a happy grad student is an understatement. I was working on my PhD in Clinical Psychology and just started realizing that I had a deep love for neuropsychology. Of course as anyone could imagine I was not on-board with this until I had my PhD in hand.

    Yeah so long story short, I didn’t graduate and we up and left a few months later. I’m sure you will see more about my subsequent academic journey in future blogs.

    So bottom line is that we are living and working in China and are finally able to share that with you after a few (horrible) attempts previously. I am excited to see if this blog takes off and I am hoping that I can create a community of interested people of all walks of life that desire to see what life is like for an America couple (and their wanderlust dear friend Professor).

    You will soon see that we are quirky and strange and I hope you enjoy seeing the world through our eyes. Please let me know if you ever have anything you would like to know more about or would like to see. There so many rich and deep topics to talk about in both general and specific ways.

    May the road rise to meet you.

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