Wednesday, November 19: This morning, I leave at 7:30 a.m. for my long day’s journey to Ping’An, a Zhuang village nestled in the folds of the Longji Rice Terraces. As always in China, travel is not straightforward and I have many connections to make. I begin by taking a taxi to the Nanning Railway Station for a 9:35 fast train. Trains always leave on time and I arrive in Guilin at around noon, a little faster than the normal 2 hour and 40 minute ride.
I’m often too lazy to try to figure out the local buses to the bus station, so I ask a taxi driver at the train station to take me to Qin Tan Bus Terminal, where my student assistant Angela has advised me to catch the 2-hour-long local bus to Longsheng, getting off the bus one stop early at Heping. When I ask the taxi driver how much he’ll charge to take me to the bus station, he says 50 yuan. I wave him off. That’s outrageous and I know he’s just trying to rip me off because I’m a tourist. I ask another taxi driver, who tells me 25 yuan, still too much. Angela advised me to take the #88 bus to the station, and it just so happens the #88 bus pulls up just as I’m waving off the second taxi driver. I hop on the bus for 2 yuan.
Angela told me to get off at the CUI ZU LU stop, but luckily the girl sitting next to me on the bus speaks some English. She asks the bus driver, who tells me to get off at the stop AFTER that one. They wave in a general direction across the street and then deposit me at the next stop, but I don’t see anything that looks like a bus station.
I prepare to cross the road at a busy intersection, but I still see no sign of a bus station. I pull out my Chinese notes from Angela with the name of the bus station and show the name to two Chinese ladies standing beside me on the street. They motion to follow them and they start walking rapidly down the street perpendicular to the one where the #88 bus was traveling. We walk about a half mile and finally we’re at the bus station. It seems the 88 bus was not really the correct bus to get to the station as it was quite a walk to get there from where I was dropped off.
Next I ask at the terminal about “an ordinary bus ticket to Heping (final destination Longsheng) for 21 yuan.” The people at the bus terminal are cheery and helpful; they sell me the ticket and before long I’m on the local bus to Longsheng.
All goes uneventfully, except for the constant stomach cramping and discomfort that I’m feeling. I started feeling sick on Tuesday and I hoped it would clear up by today, but I’m still feeling quite miserable. At around 3:00, the bus driver drops me along the side of a road at Heping. I saw that we passed a busy tourist office downhill prior to where I was dropped, but it’s hard for me to gauge how far back it was. A man with a van tells me I’m welcome to wait for the bus to Ping’An, but it will be a TWO HOUR WAIT! Angela didn’t say anything about a two-hour wait, so I’m dubious. However, there seem to be no buses in sight. I call Angela for the one and only time on my five-day journey, and she doesn’t answer. I call her friend Jack, who talks to a shopkeeper in Heping; the woman confirms that the next bus does not arrive for two more hours, but it’s possible to get a car for 70 yuan. There is no way I want to sit alongside the road for 2 hours, so I tell the original man he can take me to Ping’An in his car. But I say, “The shopkeeper said 70 yuan.” He sheepishly agrees, and off we go.
We drive about one minute down the hill, where the driver tells me to go inside the big ticket office I had seen earlier from the bus and buy the entry ticket to Longji Rice Terraces for 100 yuan. At that point I see there are buses galore. Hmmm. I go ahead in the guy’s car up a long and winding mountain road for about a half hour, passing numerous middle-sized yellow buses coming down the mountain. These must be the 10 yuan buses Angela told me about; I realize that I’ve been ripped off royally. If I had only walked down the hill to the ticket office, I’m sure I could have easily caught one of those 10 yuan buses up the mountain to Ping’An.
The van driver drops me at the gate to Ping’An where a man tells me I can pay 150 yuan for a porter to carry my bag up the hill into the village of Ping’An. I wave him off, thinking I can just walk up the hill, especially for that outrageous sum. Another man offers me the porter for 100 yuan. I shake my head. “I’ll just walk!” I say, as if they can understand a word I’m saying. Finally another man punches a number into a calculator: 30 yuan. Okay, for that price, I’ll take him up on the offer!
At this point I think it is the big burly man who will carry my bag up the hill. But he calls up a little old lady, about half my size and quite spry and chipper; she dumps my bag into a large basket with shoulder straps. My bag is a carry-on size but quite heavy because it’s stuffed with winter clothes. The lady puts the straps of the basket over her shoulders like a backpack and starts walking briskly up the steep hill to the village. The same man who offered up this little lady also offers me a sedan chair. I can’t bring myself to take him up on the offer because I don’t want to feel like some memsaab on the Indian subcontinent!
I’m exhausted from my day of travel and my stomach is still hurting. It’s probably a half mile walk up the steep mountain and I’m huffing and puffling while the little old lady carrying my bag isn’t even panting or breaking a sweat. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, she drops me at the Longji International Youth Hostel, a place recommended by one of my colleagues. By this time it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’ve been traveling for nine hours.
Longji International Youth Hostel
I check into a room that has a squat toilet; I’m not too happy about that. Neither does the heater seem to work. It’s so cold that the hotel receptionist is bundled up in a down jacket with a furry hood. Despite my stomach ache, I’ve arrived and I can finally settle in for the evening. I order a Tsingtao beer and sit on a porch chair to watch Ping-An’s busy residents scurrying about on various building projects. They’re clever enough to keep their labor costs low by employing horses to carry building materials, logs and bricks, through the narrow cobbled streets.
After I finish my beer, the receptionist wants to know if I’d like to change rooms. She has one on the 4th floor with a working heater and a Western toilet. I move into the new room. Then I hunker down in the chilly dining room and eat scrambled eggs with leeks. While there, I have a long chat with an Indian girl from London, Maria, who is traveling solo all over China. She’s been in China for 3 weeks and has been studying Chinese with a tutor on Skype. I tell her I’ve been taking Chinese classes for a month now and all we’ve covered are the sounds. She can’t understand why it’s taking us so long to learn the sounds, and neither can I!
Maria asks if I’d like to take a walk through the town and we do so, even though I’m still not feeling well and it’s quite cold. It’s fun to see all the arts and crafts made by the local Zhuang people and to see the rice being cooked and tended to.
My new room is quite cozy, even though the heavy down comforter feels a little damp. I think it’s just so moist in the air here that things never get completely dry. I have the heat on full blast. I also note that the bathroom ceiling is leaking all over the bathroom floor and on the carpet outside the bathroom. It even leaks on my head when I use the toilet. However, I don’t want to go back to the room with the squat toilet, so I settle in for a restless night to a serenade of of drip, drip, drip.
I’ve arranged to meet the little old lady at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. She’s going to guide me on a two hour hike to explore the rice terraces around Ping’An.