At four in the morning, I’m startled awake to the sudden chattering of an oncoming crowd. It must be time for the morning flights. I roll over to face the seat and get a few more hours of sleep, but I remember that luxury isn’t available right now. I sit up with the last few remaining other sleepers in this section. I think everyone just had the same realization.
I gather my things and head down to the bathroom where I shave and brush my teeth. Since I’m in the heart of Chengdu, a very big city, I decide just to get public transportation to get out of here and away from the pollution that comes with these big cities. Waiting to hitchhike on the side of a rural country road sounds much more appealing than in a hazy city street.
First I try the train station in the airport. At the ticket desk I find out that the ticket to the closest city doesn’t leave until the afternoon, so I try to ask him about the ticket for the next closest city. Before I can finish a man behind me starts to push me out of the way because apparently I’ve been taking too long. I’m not looking for a fight and I have time to figure this out, so I just let them go by. One of the guys in line hangs back after getting his ticket and asks me, in English, if I need help. I explain my dilemma and then he talks in rapid Chinese with the ticket guy for a few minutes. I don’t pick up on any of the cascading sounds. He tells me that if I want to leave in the morning I should go to the bus station. He wishes me luck and I thank him for his help. If I had gotten caught up in my anger for that impatient old man, I probably wouldn’t have discovered this much more patient and helpful person.
I get to the bus station just after it opens to buy my ticket to a city called Mianyang. I have a few hours until it leaves, so I put my bag down on the seat next to me and catch up on a little more sleep. Then, on the bus I try my best to get a good view of Chengdu, but soon fall back asleep.
We pull into the bus station and now my next step is to find a bus that goes to a town called Jiuling, which is where I’ll be staying on the farm. I can’t even find a station among all the buses and people, so I head straight to an office with the only English lettering in the whole city, which says “transportation relations”. I don’t know what that even means, but I do have a piece of paper with Chinese explaining my destination.
Immediately after I enter the small bungalo, two men stop what they’re doing to look at me. I tell them in my broken Chinese what I’m looking for. They look at me puzzled, so I give in and hand them the paper. The guy who grabbed the paper asks something, but I don’t understand a word, so I just laugh and give him the same blank stare back. Then he says something I do understand, about me hearing him and not understanding. I confirm and tell him I don’t understand. I’m hoping they’ll just point in a direction, so I start to wave my hands around to try and continue the momentum. The guy with a paper gives me a look like he’s too busy for me and hands me the paper back. The second guy, a young man in a police uniform, steps up and grabs the paper.
He speaks to me in words and hand gestures, telling me to follow him. I follow him out the door and in a half jog as we quickly pass through a swarm of people and buses. He takes me into the station and walks up to the front of the line, and leans across the counter and yells to the woman behind the desk. He turns around and says something that I guess is about the price. I ask him to repeat and think he’s saying it’ll be 40, so I pull out a 50. He shakes his head and pokes his head into my wallet himself and pulls out a 10. Ooh he was saying 7 in Chinese, which kind of sounded like the combination for 40 in Lao. This transition phase between switching my brain from hearing one language to the next is really difficult for me. I can go between a new language and English quite easily，but between two languages I’m learning makes things really confusing. During my time with the truckers in Laos I kept thinking I was hearing them speak Lao and got excited, before realizing it was just a similar sound drowned in the unfamiliar Chinese.
We leave the ticket desk and he walks me all the way up to the bus and tells the driver where to drop me off. I thank him as he busily fades back into the passing crowd. I get a seat up front to make sure I can easily talk to the driver and see the road, not that either of those things could actually help me, but it makes me a little more comfortable.
Now I’m fully alert as I think about a plan to find Lin, the guy who I’ve been talking to from the farm. They stop the bus and the driver tells me this is my stop. Now I’m standing on the side of a busy road with no idea where to start. I walk over to an old couple at a shop next to me, but they’re not interested in helping.
I cross the street and instead of continuing down the big road, I walk down the side street, headed to the mountains. I figure the big road will take me to the next town, where as the small side street will take me deeper into this current one. Hopefully it’s Jiuling.
I walk straight, my favorite direction, down the side street, with the slight feeling of doubt scratching at the back of my mind. A few blocks down I start to peak into stores trying to assess who looks most like they’d help me. I find a woman with her son in a phone shop, bingo. I get in and try to explain myself, but I’m really not doing well with this Chinese thing. I hand her the paper and say “I go friend” and beat on my chest with a simultaneous grunt. I think I’d do better speaking Chinese to monkeys.
She tells me to sit down and to use her phone to call the number so have written down. I talk with Lin and he tells me to stay there to wait for a motorbike to pick me up. The woman’s son brings me over a cup of water and she tells me to sit and wait here. A few minutes later an old man with a dirty sport coat is here to pick me up. I thank the woman and head across the street to get on.
The bike is completely different from what I’m used to. The seat in the back is actually big enough for my entire butt, the foot part is like a giant pedal that supports my entire foot, and there’s an upright cage part in the back that gives me the support of feeling like there’s no chance I’ll slide off the back on a quick acceleration. Those are all pretty much the opposite of every bike I’ve ridden in Laos.
We drive over rolling hills, through a beautiful country side. No skyscrapers or smog in sight. This is exactly the part of China I was hoping to discover. We go through a big property, some farm area, through some gates, and stop in front of a few small houses. Immediately I’m greeted by a dog barking and charging me. A young man and a middle aged woman react instantly to stop the dog, and greet me. Judging by his great English, the young man must be Lin. I find out the woman is his mom. They show me into a kitchen area where five other foreigners are eating around a circular table. My heart sinks.
By the ad I had a feeling this place would have some foreigners, but I was still hoping I’d get past that and spend my time immersed in the life of the Chinese family. Trying to get over the crushing feeling in my heart I get to know everyone around the table. There’s another American, Englishman, Hungarian, and two Italians. I eat some wonderful rice and pumpkin mixture with some really juicy apples and pears. Mmm pears, oh how I’ve missed you … Okay, maybe I can get past the foreigner thing.
Lin shows me to where I’ll sleep, in a straw house with the other foreigners. Then we walk around the farm and he explains to me their vision. They want to create a place where they farm in harmony with the environment. That means that there’s a lot of space around the farm that isn’t pushed as hard as it could be for maximum yield, but in return it’s improving the health of the land and the entire local ecosystem.
I spend the rest of the day settling into the place and getting to know my international roommates. I get a great feeling from being here, around these kind people and natural environment, but I can feel deep down this isn’t what I’ve been looking for. I’m not quite sure I understand it yet beyond the feeling. I’ll spend some time to make sure before I consider moving again. At least for now, I’ll have to suffer through an unlimited supply of perfectly ripe pear and pumpkin rice. So far, life is really hard here in China.