Saturday, September 20: My student assistant, Angela, goes above and beyond the call of duty this morning when she offers to help me get train tickets from Nanning to Guilin for the upcoming National Holiday on October 1-7. My ultimate destination is Yangshuo, where I will be in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery in the south of China.
The niece of a former classmate of mine lives in Yangshuo; Audrey has offered to meet me in Yangshuo. She even has gone so far as to offer to let me stay with her, but as I enjoy my privacy, I have decided to get a hotel in Yangshuo. It will be outrageously crowded during the National Holiday, and I’m fully prepared for that. It’s the only extended holiday I have until February, when I have about 5 weeks off, so I must take advantage of this time to travel, even if the rest of China will be coming along on my journey.
I’ve communicated with Audrey through Facebook and by WeChat, and she tells me while in Yangshuo I must take the boat ride down the Li River, and I also should visit Xingping, the picture of which is on the back of the 20 Yuan bill.
I’m excited about my trip, but also nervous, especially because of the crowds that I’m likely to encounter everywhere. As this is my first time traveling in China alone, I’m worried about not being able to communicate, not catching my train on time, not being able to get a bus to Yangshuo, or not having the proper documents I need for travel.
On September 17, three of us teachers who need a resident visa were escorted to the police station, where we had to turn over our passport, medical results and the application for the resident visa. All of us believed when we went there that we’d have our passports back from the police by October 1. After all, the police had nearly 2 weeks to get our documents back to us. However, we were all shocked and upset that our passports would not be returned to us until October 13, well AFTER the National Holiday.
One of the teachers had already bought a plane ticket to Indonesia for the holiday. The university administration had full knowledge of her plans, and had even allowed her to rearrange some of her classes. When this teacher found out our passports wouldn’t be returned until October 13, she took her passport back and said she would not turn it over to the police. As we don’t have multiple entry visas in our passports at this point, she wouldn’t be able to return to China. This created some very tense moments.
The other teacher and I have plans to travel within China, but this is also problematic as hotels always require a passport. The police assure us that within China, all hotels, trains, etc. are required to accept a copy of our passport and the receipt issued by the police as identification. We’ve heard mixed stories about this from teachers who have been here awhile. It makes me nervous, but at least I do know Audrey in Yangshuo and she has offered me a place to stay if I have a problem. Hopefully I won’t be sleeping on the sidewalk.
Today, when Angela comes to help me get my train tickets, she’s surprised to find that I don’t have my passport. She tries to book the tickets online, on a Chinese-only website 12306.cn. But then she finds out that she needs my actual passport to book online. She makes a phone call to see if she can buy my ticket at a ticket office right outside the main gate of the university and she explains the situation. They tell her we must go to the train station to buy the ticket if we don’t have the original passport.
So we get on the bus and head to the train station where every queue is about 30 people long. First we stop at an information booth, where Angela has to fight her way to the front as there is no queuing here. She’s told to go to the English-only ticket line and talk to them. We go wait in line. And wait. And wait. What I don’t understand is why these non-English speaking Chinese are in the English-only ticket line!
When I get to the front of the line, the ticket person tells Angela that she cannot sell tickets for Guilin until 3 days before the date of travel. As I want to travel on October 1st or 2nd, it’s too early for her to sell the tickets. However, she says there is a way around this. Angela can buy the tickets by phone and then pick them up at the ticket office within 24 hours. We’re not sure at this point if I have to come back to the train station or if I can go to the ticket office directly across from the front gate of the university.
All of this takes several hours in the heat and humidity, as of course, no place is air-conditioned. Angela and I agree to go by bus back to the university, where I’ll treat her for lunch at my favorite dumpling restaurant. We enjoy a leisurely lunch at my expense. She deserves to be treated for all her patience in dealing with my dilemmas and for spending half of her Saturday helping me.
Finally we return to my apartment; by this time it’s 2:00. We started this process at 9 a.m. At my apartment, Angela calls the train office and orders my tickets. She tells me I must pick them up by midnight of the 21st since they haven’t been paid for. The round trip tickets will cost me 222 yuan ($36.23).
We head back out again into the heat. Angela walks with me to the ticket office across from the front gate of the university, but there is another long queue. I tell her she should go home and relax and I’ll return by myself early tomorrow morning to pick up the tickets.
After 5 hours, I still don’t have my tickets in hand!
Sunday morning, I go to the ticket office across from the university, hoping they’ll let me have the tickets without having my passport. I have the copy of my passport, my Chinese entry visa, and the police receipt. When I get to the front of the line, I phone Angela and she speaks with the ticket lady. I have already shown her the confirmation number and my documents. For a nervous few minutes, I dread her telling me she can’t sell me the tickets, or almost worst, that I have to return to the train station to pick them up. Luckily it goes without a hitch, and I leave with my two train tickets in hand.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly on my first trip alone in China! 🙂