The next morning starts slowly. I know they’re going to pick me up at ten, so on my schedule that’s like a whole day’s worth of time after I wake up. At least my room has its own modem and wifi connection, yes one not shared with anyone else, I know this is fancy, so I can watch videos and indulge in that for a bit.
With my room, I get a buffet breakfast as well, so I’m excited to see what that could possibly mean in China. In the capital of Laos, that mean two scrambled eggs and two pieces of Wonder Bread. Based on the fancyness of the hotel, I know this will be much better, but probably still misunderstood cross culturally.
Well, on the elevator doors I can see I was at least right about the fancy decoration. However, I was very wrong about the buffet. First of all, it’s just past starting time and it’s full stocked and waiting for me. It’s starts with soups, steamed buns, dumplings, and foreign pastries, goes through the regular meals like eggs, meat, and vegetables, all the way down to the fruit, yogurt, pancakes, and smoothies.
After trying a bit of everything at breakfast and some more relaxing, I head down to the lobby to meet the young couple. We go across town and I soon find out the wife isn’t going and instead one of the guys from last night’s dinner will be driving the husband and me. They are passing by Beijing for Business in Mongolia.
About 100 km outside of Beijing we stop for lunch and eat these wonderful little sandwiches with meat and peppers. There’s a plate of veggies in the middle of the table that we all eat with our chopsticks hand, opposite of the sandwich hand. The guy driving is holding the sandwich with his chopsticks and I just I laugh as that’s way past my ability. I’m pretty good, but not that good.
Since these guys don’t have a Beijing license plate, they can’t enter the city, so the husband buys me a bus ticket and talks to the driver to make sure they drop me off at the subway station. I thank both guys and head off, on my own again, to Beijing.
I squeeze down the rows with my bags and then of course I get the one seat in the back with the least amount of lap space, so my bags are stacked on my lap and spilling into the people around me. The old guy to my right is clearly pissed off and tells me to put my stuff in the tiny little purse sized overhead compartment. I tell him in Chinese it won’t go, but get no more than a snort. I’m making city friends quickly it seems. Maybe I’m meant to stay out in the farm area. They’re playing a Jackie Chan movie on the screen, so I’m captivated the whole ride and barely forget to look at the scenery. I knew Jackie Chan was famous first in China and then second in the US, but it’s strange to see him speaking Chinese with my new perspective on the language. I just know him as the goofy Chinese guy with the accent from Rush Hour.
An hour later and the bus assistant tells me to get off the bus and points straight. I understand them talking to each other trying to guess if I’m from England, they talk about me not being able to understand, and then…I’m not able to understand the rest. I guess they’re right about one thing.
I get off and go down the direction he pointed, but ask a woman at the news stand to make sure. I get out “I want to go to the subway” and then she ushers me off before I can finish my sentence. This is going to be harder than I thought to practice this language. I get to the end of the street and ask another man who actually takes me a few blocks over over to the doorway and tells me to go inside for the subway.
I have the directions to the farm printed on my paper in Chinese and English so I can just show people and let them figure out how to help me. That’s exactly what I do with the subway person and they ask for seven Yuan, which is just over a dollar. Sounds about right to me, but what do I know?
It’s about three in the afternoon, so I pick up the pace to make sure I miss the awful sounding rush hour situation here. I’ve been scarred by those Internet videos of people being shoved into trains.
I get off and on several lines and ask more people than I can count and several hours later make it to the last stop on the subway. Now it’s time to figure out which bus to take. I ask the first people, who look like students, but they’re so embarrassed to talk to a foreigner that they can’t even face my direction and can barely manage to make a sound. A taxi driver comes over and asks if I want a ride and I immediately get into my mode to deal with them of not paying much attention to them at all. To my surprise he actually tells me where to wait and which bus to take. I’m so used to the overly aggressive taxis in Ghana and tuk tuk drivers in Laos, but at least this one in China is totally different.
I ask another young guy and he confirms that same bus number as the taxi driver. I have to chase the bus down past the crowd with several people, but I manage to beat them there and squeeze into the crowded bus. I ask more people and eventually get the bus driver on my side to let me out at the right stop.
The scenery is going from suburbs to much less sparse farm-style housing. On a not-so-populated corner it’s my stop and I get off with another guy from the bus. I still don’t have a SIM card to make calls so I call to him with “hello” and then “neehow”, (Mandarin for hello) but get no response. I get closer and he looks over his shoulder like I’m the killer in a scary movie and picks up his pace. Alright, I’m not playing this game. So, I stop on the corner and see another young guy waiting on the curb. I go up to him and he gives me a much warmer welcome. I call the person I’m supposed to be meeting, but he’s speaking so fast that I hand the guy his phone and tell him to tell the person on the phone that I’ve arrived here already.
He hangs up the phone and then tells me to “deung”. Okay, that either means that things went well or he just told me he’s about to kill me. I take a step back as the new victim in this horror film and then remember deung means to wait. So, I ask “should I deung here?” and he confirms.
I talk some more with this guy and before aI know it someone pulls up on a scooter to get me. I start to walk before he pulls up in front of me and tells me to get on. Right then I realize how obese this guy is and the laughably small scooter I’m about to join him on. With some wobbles we make it down the road and then turn off behind some gates onto a dirt path. At a bend in the path, he falls to the left, but my rigid lack of trust already had my left leg ready to catch us before we both fall in the mud. I get off and suggest walking, but he doesn’t listen, or understand, either way I’m back on this damn bike.
Just a few more feet we stop and get off to enter a giant greenhouse roof with smaller rooms and a courtyard underneath. The guy shows me to my room, gives me bedding, a big thing of hot water, and a cup. Then I follow him to a room where an old woman and middle aged man are sorting vegetables into boxes. My guy sits down and starts reading things off as the other collect vegetables and throw them in the boxes. Work starts quickly here.
I grab some lids and help as much as I can without really understanding anything that’s going on.
We finish and now it’s time for dinner. I follow the old woman over to the kitchen and watch her boil some potatoes and fry some vegetable dishes. She and I sit down and are alone together. She gives me a shallow pasta bowl of hot water and we’re set to eat. This is certainly more simple than the last farm. That’s exactly what I was looking for though, so I’m feeling very satisfied.
I go to my room and get quickly under the covers of my bed because it’s already much colder than I’ve felt since being here. The quilt is thick though, so once that heat pocket is formed I’m out like a light.
I can’t believe that I made it the whole 1,700 km to Beijing city by hitchhiking. In total I spent one Yuan, which is about fifteens cents. I don’t think I wrote it, but at the toll booth where those police gave me the oat food and apples, an old woman came up to me and gave me a ten yuan bill. I couldn’t understand her, so I have no idea what she said when she gave it to me. Maybe she said, “Here young man. Take this used toilet paper that looks like Chinese money and carefully dispose of it. Or you will die.” Then, I spent two Yuan on water and the rest on that subway and bus ride. Other than that, I had plenty of water and food for the entire four day journey, stayed in a five star hotel, enjoyed a Beijing duck dinner with fancy “wine”, traveled one hundred kilometers by bus and the other sixteen hundred by hitchhiking, all off of the generosity of total strangers. This really is a special place and my luck is unbelievable. Sweet dreams.