Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guangzhou with friends.

My journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou was a stressful one.

I have a friend in Guangzhou who lives more than an hour away from the city center. The plan was to get on a bus to the downtown, and then make several additional bus connections from there. The problem was, right before the bus got into Guangzhou, it started storming severely. By the time I arrived, half of downtown was flooded. I had to walk in the torrential downpour with my huge pack looking for a way to get on the bus connections, which involved wading through knee-deep water, only to realize that no bus was stopping to pick up passengers because of the flooding.

So there I was with nowhere to go, no way to get to my friend, no hotel to stay in, and un-navigable streets, with all my luggage in tow. It was probably the most alone I've ever felt in my life.

Then as I was standing on the street, a stranger approached me and asked me if I need a hotel room, and realizing that I really had no other option, I reluctantly agreed. A subway and rickshaw ride later, we arrived at this dreary place, where the receptionist guy hit on me, my room had no windows, and every time I wanted to get in my room, I had to ask the receptionist to open it for me because I didn't get my own key. The fact that everything I owned was wet and I couldn't make any outgoing phone calls didn't help my mentality. I pushed my dresser against the door and went to sleep in a nervous state.

It was a lesson learned the hard way: never go to an unfamiliar place without knowing exactly where you're staying and how to get there, and for the love of god, invest in a waterproof pack cover.

The day after, things looked way up when I left that hotel in a hurry and finally met my Polish friend Janusz. He and I met in India, and after having said goodbye there with only a meager hope of meeting again, I was very excited to see him again so soon. We spent a lot of time reminiscing about the past year - the parties and the people and all the sensations of living abroad.

Guangzhou is an industrial city, and by definition, drab. There isn't much here except a marginally pretty river front and some great food. Janusz introduced me to some of his Chinese friends living just outside the city on an enormous college campus of - get this - 300,000 students! Ten schools joined onto one campus, with all the amenities and provisions any student would ever need - shopping, food markets, a small lake, bars. Not surprisingly, these young people rarely step foot into Guangzhou proper.

New friends and Janusz on the right.

For two nights, I slept in a female dorm, which was an experience in itself. Four people in a cramped room on wooden beds lofted above desks, no air conditioner in the heat of summer, no laundry facilities, and ravenous mosquitoes. Looking out from their balcony at the rows upon rows of adjacent dorm buildings made me think about how much privacy is a western concept and space is such a rare luxury.

After a few days with hospitable Janusz and friends mostly around the campus, I said goodbye again and boarded a sleeper bus for the riverside town of Yangshuo.

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