Wednesday, 18 February 2009

From Yangshuo to Macau

This was definitely my least favourite part of the trip! We had arranged through our hostel to book sleeper bus tickets to Shenzhen, where we could take a ferry to Macau. The bus in the pictures was fitted out with bunk beds, and was described as ‘a luxury sleeper bus’. However, we were told that, as it was around the Chinese New Year, instead of catching the bus directly in Yangshuo, we would have to take a coach for 40 minutes to meet up with sleeper bus somewhere else.

What they didn’t tell us that the coach would be so full that when we went to get on, the only seats left would be tiny plastic buckets in the aisle. And when they said 40 minutes, they actually meant three hours. By dint of leaning on someone’s arm rest and stretching my legs out at odd angles, I managed to make myself tolerably comfortable, but after an hour or so I blatantly stole someone else’s seat when they got up at a rest stop.

So by the time we arrived at the sleeper bus, after an inexplicable break in the journey where we spent an hour in the middle of nowhere, I was more than ready to stretch out on my bed and go to sleep. And then I got on the bus.

I can assure you that this was nothing like the photo on the leaflet. It was filthy, and smelled decidedly unpleasant. I also got shouted out in Chinese for wearing my shoes onto the bus. The beds were incredibly short: at five foot four, I fitted in quite comfortably, but the taller members of our party had to lie with their feet in the aisle. Thankfully, I had my earplugs and eyemask with me, so I was able to sleep on and off for most of the journey. I was woken up periodically by honking or people getting off, and once for our toilet stop, in which no toilet actually featured. At one point I woke up and stretched, and then realised I was accidentally caressing the feet of the person behind me (fortunately it was someone I was travelling with).

I have probably never enjoyed getting off a bus so much, although this enjoyment was tempered by my realisation that instead of getting dropped off at the main bus station in Shenzhen, as I thought we were going to be, we had actually got dropped off near the entrance point to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) border point. A SEZ is an area of China that is allowed to operate under somewhat more liberal laws than the rest of China, and ordinary Chinese citizens need to have a special pass to be able to enter the Shenzhen SEZ, explaining why we got dropped off across the border, although this doesn’t stop Shenzhen being stuffed with illegal internal immigrants.

Disconcertingly though, this meant we had no idea how to get to the ferry port. We were also in Cantonese speaking territory, meaning our limited Mandarin and our phrasebooks were totally useless. My Lonely Planet China guide contains a small Cantonese vocabulary section, and by pointing at the word for boat and making arm gestures that looked like waves we managed to convey to a very helpful member of staff at the border point where we wanted to go. He escorted us through the border, and showed us to the bus we needed to take.

Whilst we were waiting for the bus, a man approached my friend’s father. I’m not sure if bus stations at ten in the morning are normally the best places to ask foreign strangers who are clearly travelling with their family if they are interested in a little prostitute action, but this guy obviously thought so, as he whipped out his mobile and scrolled through his photo menu of naked girls. It took a good five minutes of ‘Nos’ and general remonstration to get rid of him.

Fortunately the rest of our trip across Shenzhen passed without incident. At the ferry port, I was so happy to see the sea again, that I nearly cried. I have spent most of my life living on the coast, and missed the sea during my university terms, when it was a half hour bus ride away. Living in Shijiazhuang, which is hundreds of miles away from the sea, I miss it terribly. It just feels like something is wrong, and I’ve decided that I’m never going to live this far inland again.

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