I’m asleep I think! Everything seems a bit surreal! I must be still in Hong Kong, dreaming that I’ve sucessfully been granted a 4 week visa for a 6 week plan to travel China, and I have just alighted the train at my first stop – Guangzhou.
The train station is more secure than most airports I’ve been too. No words are spoken but my bag and passport are checked 3 times before I get to my platform. The scanner units beep each time I drift through them, it but no-one comes to check me or pat me down……the guy sitting at the desk doesn’t even look up from his phone. I can’t see his face behind his blue cap.
As I walk along the platform a group of 3 Chinese guys in their early twenties say something to me in Mandarin and offer me a red and gold cigarette. I try to make a gesture that I do not smoke and he laughs, and pushes the cigarette to me again. I politely decline (hope), I have my backpack over my shoulders and don’t have the spare hands for gestures (or to get the out my phone which has some handy translations apps) so I just smile, shake my head, step aside and walk by. The laughter continues behind me as I trundle down the platform until it abruptly turns into an echo. I turn around and the platform is empty.
The dream continues as I move up in the escalator to a buzzing crowded hall. People are spiralling around each other in the attempt to make a train, or a taxi, or to generally just be somewhere else.
I need some cash as a starting point so I make my way over to a bank of ATM machines. I traverse through the menus until I find the English option and try to withdraw – card declined! Not too surprising, I informed the bank where I was travelling, but sometimes it takes a few attempts to kick in I’ve found. Next set of machines – card declined! Hmmmm………
“Don’t you even have a plan?”, a soft voice drifts over my shoulder from behind me. I turn around and see a smiling chinese woman.
‘A Plan?….For what?’ I think. ‘For this ATM machine?….this country?….this life?’
“Pardon?”, I say
“I said……’don’t you even have a plan?'”, she repeats. “Come to China? No Money? No Phone? No Plan?”
“I have a phone…..” I start, confused.
“Come with me”, she interrupts, and she then spins on her heels and starts walking away. I follow.
She leads me up and down another set of escalators and through a station walkway to a third set of machines. “Here you go”, she says and immediately follows up with “Goodbye”, as she performs the same heel turn and is walking away.
“Thanks!” I call behind her, “Wait, what’s your name?”
“It doesn’t matter” she says softly and continues walking, without turning around.
I make my way through the subway system to the riverside where my hostel is. I walk through the street food vendors and the dark parks, where people are skating around with LED-lit up roller blades.
On the road to my hostel, the bag across my shoulders is starting to get heavy…..surprisingly, even in a dream you can feel weight.
I pass a bar where the karaoke on the inside is being pumped out onto an otherwise pretty quiet street. I look through the window to see 2 guys in business suits singing a Chinese power ballad (and I do mean power ballad!), I walk by in time for the 3rd key change to the song.
I check in and finally get to my room. I can’t wait to drop my bag……I open the door and step into the blackness. It must time to wake up, as I feel the weight get taken from under my feet in a moment and I feel I’m drifting, weightless, into the darkness…and falling…….
I don’t wake up, I’m still in Guangzhou. I’m just flat on back, which is now slightly bruised, with my backpack underneath me like a turtle that has been flipped. I scramble up and find a light switch. It wasn’t a dream after all, I’ve just took a strange and disorienting journey, with little sleep, into the country….which has culminated with me stepping on a loose skateboard in the hostel room. In fact, the room is full of boards….and pieces of broken boards.
I don’t dwell on it too much….it’s been strange enough for one day. I grab a shower and head out back to the street food vendors. I’m starving and ready to try my first ‘proper’ Chinese meal :-)
There is very little English spoken in mainland China, definitely compared to the majority of the places that I’ve been on the rest of this trip. But with a few handy phone apps, and a bit of help from the nearby table pointing at the dishes they had, I get the order in with the friendly store owner. I may have been influenced as it was the end of a long day, but it was one of the simplest and best meals I’d had in a while – Cheap noodles, veg and a beer! It’s amazing how much more human you can feel after a bit of food and a shower :-)
It’s only a quick stop in the city for a day or 2 as I’m keen to get moving around the Chinese countryside…even keener since my visa is short. So I spend a day scooting around the city and just taking in the change of pace, people and culture.
The skateboard mystery was shortly solved the next day also. I was sharing a room with an American skateboarding group (I seriously didn’t know there were ‘groups’ for this) who were doing some promotional work for a skateboard company – photos and videos in various cities in China.
“Why China?” I asked.
“Best place to skateboard, bro” As, expected, all sentences ended in ‘dude’ or ‘bro’ when chatting with these guys :-) “Have you seen the streets and squares? It’s all marble and totally flat!”
They showed me some vids that were a work in progress. Very cool and impressive stuff! The height of the jumps explained both, the broken boards in the room (One guy went through 8 boards on the same day trying to get a jump right), and the groans they all made when waking up in the morning for another day on the boards :-)
Nice group of guys, we even went along to the local karaoke and took some turns along with the rest of the girls and guys in business suits.
Time to shoot and get on the train to the Chinese towns and Countryside. And by, looking out the window on the way there…I’m excited :-)