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When Traveling Solo

"Xiao jie! Xiao jie!"

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View Beauty and the Freeze on automidori's travel map.

Chengdu, December 24th 2011

When I say "traveling solo", I mean two things. First, I mean traveling without joining a tour. Second, I mean traveling just by myself. On this trip, I was doing both.

Thus, I was left on my own to find my way to my hostel from the airport. Thinking practical, I took a taxi. Thus again, no one to share the fare with. Well, for everything there is a price. In my case, spending more for a fare can mean receiving more of a peace of mind.

I soaked the part of Chengdu City I hadn't seen during my first visit. Ah, there are shops that sell mountain gears. Nice place to find snow shoes, I thought to myself.

Then I felt my taxi slowing down. My driver turned his left and right. He looked at the piece of paper with my hostel's address on it, and said, "This is the right street already." I didn't understand everything he said, but I guessed that was what he was saying.

Whenever I travel, I always have with me a list contact addresses, including phone number and email addresses, of the accommodation, travel agency, driver (in case I rent a car) that I will get in contact with. Then I have another copy of the hotel addresses on a small piece of paper, one sheet per address. I use that to give to e.g. a taxi driver, to tell where I'm going to. As far as information provides, I print out the phone number(s) also. If there are 5 of them, I print all 5 of them. Who knows which number might not be constantly busy or even not in use anymore. Hence, just like a time like now, I can immediately make a call to the hostel I have booked with and ask for direction.

"Can you tell my driver the way to your hotel, please?"

"Sure."

I gave my cellphone to my taxi driver. Huahahaha... he laughed loudly when he was done. "We passed it already!" Huahahaha...

We were back on a road we already passed by before. My taxi driver slowed down again. Still there was no sign of a hostel. So once again I called the hostel, and once again I let my driver talk through my cellphone.

Huahahaha.... Now he was laughing even louder. We have stopped in front of a house-like building. "The hotel is so small that I missed it just now. Huahahaha.... " said my taxi driver.

I stepped inside wondering whether I was going into the right place which turned out I wasn't.

"We have 2 hotels," the sweet girl at the reception desk explained to me in fine English. "This hotel," she pointed on my printed out email, "is our other hotel. You can stay here, if you'd like. But, we don't have a room with a private bathroom."

"No private bathroom? Wow... Is the other hotel far away from here?"

"No, it isn't."

"How can I get there?"

"You can take a taxi."

"How much will it cost?"

"Only about 10 yuan."

"Can you help me tell the taxi driver the address. Just now my taxi driver had a rather difficult time searching for this place. I'm afraid it will happen again," I requested.

"No problem. Let's find a taxi." the sweet girl assured me.

So this was my mistake. I had printed out the address and phone number of Mix Hostel whereas the hostel I booked with was Lazy Bones. I knew they both seemed to be ran under the same management, but I was careless when I copy-pasted the address.

Lazy Bones from the outside looked more like a place for public, less like just somebody's house. Yet, the environment was homey. I loved it. If by any chance I get to visit Chengdu again, I'll definitely return to Lazy Bones. Next time I'll rent their bike. Yippiee! And next time, I think I won't take a taxi again from the airport. I'll take the airport shuttle instead. I know the way better now and through the experiences I'll tell you later, I have grown more confident. Ah, after all, being smart is a process. Similar thing happened when I first visited Kuala Lumpur.

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Here's my room for 120 yuan per night exclude breakfast. It's about third the rate of my hotel on my first visit to Chengdu.

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And here's the bathroom.

I tried to call home to tell Mom that I've already arrived in Chengdu. But the message I heard through my cellphone said (in English also) that I haven't registered for an IDD Call. So I asked the front desk staff to help me do the registration.

The respond I got was not at all I had expected for. At first I was told that no SIM Card in China can be used to make an international call. I argued saying that I had made it clear at the airport this afternoon that I wanted card which I could make an international call with. I showed the body card I had purchased. She read it and then asked me again,

"Where did you buy this card?"

"I told you. At the airport."

"What airport?"

"Hey," I started to get impatient. "You know I've just arrived from Kuala Lumpur this afternoon. Of course I mean 'Chengdu Airporrt'."

"The thing is, this says that you can only make an international call when you are in Xi'An. That's why I asked you where you bought this."

"I didn't say I was going to Xi'An when I bought this. I mentioned nothing about Xi'An. How could I be given a Xi'An card? Then those ladies at the airport had fooled me?"

"I'm sorry to say so."

Aaarrrgh.

I wanted to book a T126/127 train ticket to Wuhan through Lazy Bones. But I was told that there's no such train. The train to Wuhan they can book for me is only the K train. I don't want that train not only because it's slower than T trains, but most importantly the time schedule doesn't fit my itinerary. If take the K train, I won't have enough time to join the volunteer program at Panda Base. But on the other hand, I will have to get to Wuhan, because I have already bought a plane ticket from Wuhan to Chengdu. I was pretty sure I saw T126/127 on the internet.

"On which website did you see it?" I was asked. I didn't remember.

I decided I would go to the train station and buy the ticket myself like I did in Kunming a year ago. But there was another task to do.

The manager of Lazy Bones suggested me to buy my bus ticket for Jiuzhaigou the following day right away. I hesitated, because I thought it was low season anyway. She said that to buy the bus ticket, I had to go to the bus terminal now whereas I was thinking I had go to the train station to ensure I get a ticket to Wuhan. According to the map, the bus terminal where I was suppose to purchase a ticket to Jiuzhaigou and the train station was exactly on opposite directions. Moreover, it was already evening.

The manager of Lazy Bones told me again that they could buy me the bus ticket for Jiuzhaigou with an additional cost. I don't remember how much she said it was, but I calculated roughly that I could afford that. Since Lazy Bones can't book me my train ticket anyway, it would be perfect, I thought, if I go to the train station while they book me my bus ticket.

So she made a phone call. However, unfortunately, the man who use to buy the tickets, she said, was currently not in Chengdu. "You just take this bus, number 48," she pointed on the map. "It's easy."

"I'll do that tomorrow morning. I'll leave very early," I replied.

"The bus only leaves in the morning. If you miss the bus, you won't be able to go to Jiuzhaigou and you'll loose one day."

I was still reluctant to go to the bus terminal. If there were a subway or train to that bus terminal, Xin Nan Men Bus Station, I would have gone at once. Since ever I started my craziness for adventures, I have always been unconfident with city buses. I'm fine with tourist buses or buses that run out of town from one city to another. In such buses I just need to pay a ticket, get on and then get off.

Maybe it started when I was in Japan. I got onto a bus and then I got confused about how to pay my fare and how to get off. If you know the city buses in Jakarta, my hometown, maybe you can understand my confuse. Then when I thought I had already mastered the rules of Japanese buses, I got on a bus that had a different method of payment. I wanted to pay my fare, but it turned out that the fare is to be paid upon getting off. And you know what, in a bus, whenever I act awkward or clumsy, I feel like the whole bus is watching. It's not like that in a train. Nobody would care. All the time in Japan, I had avoided as much as I could, taking a city bus. I would either ride a bike or take a train. I was such a train-fanatic that I never bought even a sheet of tissue paper in Japan, because I had lots and lots from the train station. (Advertisements are folded inside a pack of tissue paper and given away to passengers at train stations.) When I had to return to Indonesia, I had to give the rest away to my friend. She only saw the leftovers and yet she was surprised. "Where have you been?? You must have traveled a lot."

A confusing thing with a city bus happened again to me in Singapore. Once again I expected something similar to the bus system of Japan. I was totally wrong. Worse than in Japan, I even had trouble to get onto the bus. I didn't know that I had to wave my hand or else the bus will just pause for two seconds to study my confused face and then... wooshhh... gone is the bus. Eventually inside the bus, the driver was the exact opposite to 'kind'. That's in Singapore where everything is written, and spoken, in English. Let alone Chinese city buses.

"It's up to you," I heard the manager of Lazy Bones again. "It's just my suggestion."

Well, well... I began to think further, if the bus ticket for Jiuzhaigou turned out to be sold out tomorrow and I won't be able to go to Jiuzhaigou which is what I had come for, it would be the stupidest thing I would ever make in all my history of traveling. Someone had already reminded me and I actually had the chance, but I simply didn't take the advice. Even if I pray, maybe GOD will just smile. HE had sent someone to tell me already. If GOD just looks at me and smile, whom else would I turn to? Hah... I sighed.

"How did you say I can get on that bus number 48?" I asked.

"You just go to the right."

"And then?"

"And then, cross the crossroad, and wait for the bus there."

"And I get off here?" I pointed on the map.

"Yes. That's the last stop."

"Oh so I just follow the bus until the bus stops?"

"Yes."

Thinking that I would have to prepare the fare before getting on the bus, I asked, "How much is the fare?"

"Two yuan."

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This is what the bus stop looks like. I took this picture a few days later. I just want to give you the picture

Before getting on the bus, I examined how people pay the fare. But all I saw was people swiping their card on a machine next to the driver. I waited for someone to pay cash, but nobody did. Well, there's a box also there. Maybe you can put the cash into the box, I thought. I couldn't examine further, because I saw bus number 48 coming.

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Bus number 48, to Xin Nan Men Bus Station.

"Should I put this here?" in English I asked the driver while pointing to the box. He just looked at me. So I let loose my money into the box. The driver looked back straight to the street. I assumed I had done the right thing. Ah... at least the expression of the bus driver still contained feeling, unlike the Singaporean bus driver I encountered in the previous time. That Singaporean driver's face expression was just like a deformed Asimo: careless, expressionless.

My bus got more and more crowded. It was quite awhile until at last I saw someone putting in cash into the box. Ah, so either I was right or this passenger is also a foreigner like me. LOL. When the bus was really crowded, people would get on the bus from the back door also. Normally people get on from the front door and get off from the back door. Interestingly, I saw, people would gather their cards, have them pass through and the person nearest to the scanning machine, would kindly swipe the cards one by one, although he doesn't know whose there are. Later, I saw someone holding a handful of crumpled money. "Excuse me, can you pass this on please?" Then the money traveled from one hand to another until it reached its destination inside the box next to the driver. All the way I had been searching for signs about the bus fare, but could fine none. At that time I didn't understand that regardless of distance, the bus fare is the same: 2 RMB. So I was wondering, how would the system know that one has paid the right amount?

Suddenly it occurred to me that I don't know the name of the bus station I got on. Now I just follow the bus until the last stop. But how about the way back. Where I got on wasn't a bus station. Ah... I sighed again. Shall I take a taxi? Ah... let me save that worry for the next hour. Now I must get the ticket to Jiuzhaigou first.

I got off at an obviously big bus terminal. There was an office which looked like the entrance into the bus terminal. Inside there seemed like a ticket counter. "I want to go to Jiuzhaigou," I said in Mandarin. The lady behind the counter rambled which I understood nothing. So pointed to her right.

An elder woman was standing there checking tickets while passengers went through. "I want to go to Jiuzhaigou," I said again in Mandarin.

This time I got a louder ramble plus an irritated look. I didn't understand what she said, but it looks like I'm in the wrong place. There was a big schedule hung on the wall. Jiuzhaigou was written on it, too. But I can't buy the ticket here? So what's this place? Ah...

Outside, I saw the sign "Travel Agent". Ah... they must know where to buy the ticket for Jiuzhaigou or maybe I can buy it through them. I decided I wouldn't try to speak Mandarin again, because by doing so it seems that people less understand that I'm a foreigner and thus get irritated quicker. Moreover they answer me in super rapid daily Mandarin just as they would talk with another local.

"Excuse me. Do you speak English?" I asked a young lady at the table in English. Her arms were folded on the table and her head laid flat between her arms. She lifted her head a bit and answered, "No." and then buried her head back under her arms. Phew.

Am not going to see Jiuzhaigou just because I don't speak the language? What a stupid thing it would be.

I went to the other travel agent. She was a smiling lady. "Excuse me. Do you speak English?"

"A little," I heard. I wanted to jump and hug her.

It turned out that she really meant 'a little'. However, although I clearly wasn't going to buy anything from her, she tried real hard to me where to buy the ticket to Jiuzhaigou until I understood that I should turn around the terminal and go inside. Stupid me, I forgot what 'inside' was in Chinese and she herself didn't understand the word 'inside' in English. Anyway, through her gestures I felt sure it must be inside there.

Next to her office, I saw the sign "Train Ticket Booking"! In English. My heart leaped.

"Can I ask you another favor, please? I need to buy a T126/127 train ticket to Wuhan for December 28th." I pointed on the train number which was printed on my itinerary. She examined my itinerary.

"The rest is my own writings," I tried to explain to her. I thought she won't understand the word 'itinerary' anyway. "I just want to show you the train number. I want to book a ticket for that train and I would like you to help me tell that to the man there." I pointed to my left where the train ticket booking counter was. I was preparing for something like in Kunming Train Station when the train ticket agent refused to listen to any word of English from me.

She kindly walked with me to the train ticket booking counter. It turned out that the ticket agent guy was kind. Very unlike what happened in Kunming. He too, apparently knew 'a little' English. I started to use my 'a little' Mandarin to explain the kind of seat I wanted. As they both tried their best to provide me with what I needed, my spirit was lifted.

And then the guy tried to explain something to me which I didn't understand. In her broken English, the sweet travel agent tried to explain. It turned out that they wanted to explain to me that the amount I'm paying is 5 RMB more expensive than the official fare, because the 5 RMB is for booking fee. I was touched by the effort they made to explain about just 5 RMB. Actually being treated that kind, I wouldn't mind to pay a commission of 50 RMB. The train ticket itself, a soft sleeper on first berth, was 523 RMB.

We returned to the travel agent's office. I handed her my handmade fridge magnet with my photo-work on it. She didn't understand a fridge magnet. Behind her desk was a microwave. I pointed to it trying to explain that she can stick my fridge magnet on her refrigerator or anything made of steel. Instead, she put my fridge magnet inside the microwave.

"No, no! Don't do that!" I panicked a bit.

I took out my Berlitz Mandarin handbook and searched for the word 'refrigerator'. While sticking the fridge magnet on her microwave, I said, "You stick this on your... (pointing to the word 'refrigerator') like this." She nodded but still didn't seem to fully understand.

"I made this myself," I tried to say that in Mandarin and she seemed to understand that. She held my piece of work in both her hands, rub her finger gently above it. I felt like being the greatest artist in China.

"Thank you. You are great," she said to me. Then she looked at the clock and seemed shock. She looked at me and pointed at the clock.

"The ticket counter closes at seven, doesn't it? There's still enough time," I said.

"Yes, but... errr... "

"But what?"

"But... errr... you... You go, go, go!"

"Okay, okay. Thanks for being so kind to me."

The hospitality of her and the train ticket agent built up my courage. I went inside the terminal and got a ticket for Jiuzhaigou without much difficulty. Later on I understood that the first small office I had went into was for certain destinations. All the rest of the other destinations should be purchased from this main building.

The Chinese characters of Jiuzhaigou shone like gold on my ticket. I was so happy and satisfied that at last I got the ticket. Once again I made sure my train ticket to Wuhan was tucked safe in my purse as well.

Now, shall I take a taxi back to Lazy Bones or get on bus number 48 again? Hmmm... how about getting on the bus until several stops and if I still don't recognize the place, I'll take a taxi from there. Logically it would be anyway closer to Lazy Bones than from here. Thus, the taxi fare, if I have to take one, would be lower.

My bus driver seemed to be a nice guy. So while we stopped at a traffic light, I walked to his seat. I showed my map and tried my best to put my "a little" Mandarin to the test.

"Excuse me. I want to go here. Would you please tell me when we arrive here?"

He switched on a light, examined my map, nodded, and then said a few words which I didn't understand at all. I just repeated "Would you please tell me when we arrive here?"

"Okay," I heard.

Suddenly as if someone reminded me, "Why don't you just count how many bus stops are there on the map?"

Oh yeah! This is not Jakarta where buses don't have fix stops. Come on, count! I started to count the bus stop signs on my map. The map from Lazy Bones is really a good map. As long as you aren't blind, it's very helpful. Six stops, I counted. But it can be seven, too. I wasn't sure, because it looked like that we had left from the first stop after Xin Nan Men Bus Station. Well, I said to myself, either the 6th or 7th, it won't differ much. It would still be cheaper taking a taxi from there than directly from Xin Nan Men Bus Station.

Along the way as I concentrated on counting the bus stops we passed, my bus got seriously terribly crowded. I couldn't see the driver anymore. I began to worry. How would he tell me when we arrive at the bus stop near Lazy Bones? He can't even see me and there are many people pressed between my seat and his.

Six, I counted. Is it this one? I peeped through the window. I wasn't sure at all. Ah, maybe it should be at the next bus stop.

Suddenly I heard, "Xiao jie! Xiao jie!" meaning 'Little Sister'. I saw a face popped up among the crowd. It was the driver! He had deliberately climbed on his seat to tell me that it's my destination.

I was about to push myself through the crowd to get to the back door when I heard the front door opening. My seat was closer to the front seat. Everyone standing near the front door seemed puzzled.

Huahhh... I managed to get off the bus at last. Once out in fresh air, I was about to walk away. Oh, no... no... I ran to the front of my bus that was still stopping. I caught the driver's attention. I said "xie xie" while bowing down my head in front of him like a Japanese would do. He smiled back.

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With this favorite Sichuan cuisine of mine from Lazy Bones' cafe plus a cup of free hot coffee meant as a welcome drink, I called it a day. It really has been a day. A day in China.

Lord, bless the travel agent and the train ticket agent at Xin Nan Men, bless the bus driver just now. Bless them with good health, success, and happiness.

Posted by automidori 03:50 Archived in China Tagged china chengdu lazy_bones Comments (0)

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