On the bus through the Pearl River Delta, where 1/3 of all Chinese exports are assembled and shipped from. From Hong Kong to Shenzhen to Guangzhou, city never stops. Just city—buildings and parks and towers and buildings and more towers. For five hours, city passes. Going sixty miles per hour, it feels like being caught in a time loop. Signs display that we have been in Guangzhou for over two hours. So why hasn’t the bus stopped? I ask a local in Chinese.
“Because we haven’t reached the center yet.”
Shot down in Zhongshan Road. Walk around to see old people exercising all over the parks, in slow dance, tai qi, hip hop grinding. Locals slug muddy yellow and green burlap sacks that split open whenever a truck passes too close. Libraries full to capacity, with kids and teens reading on the floor, sitting back to back, pinching each other’s hands to keep from falling asleep like soldiers in a trench.
In the hostel I meet Adam from Portland, Oregon, doing pushups on the hostel floor. He works in outsourcing. The Brazilian man Gaupo also works in outsourcing, helping run a factory that assembles leather from Brazil into shoes and seat covers. Mike, a Greek who has escaped the turmoil in his homeland, helps build houses in China using solar energy. But he’s done with that noise—outsourcing, he says, is where it’s at.
Three drunk Germans arrive at the hostel at 4am. I just woke—jet lag and all that. The sky is blue but I can still see the Big Dipper. “There’s no lower class in this country,” one says after poking his belly and chanting “I’m a fat fat tubby tubby” in the key of C (so he says). “What is lower class? Lower class is the guy you blame for the fart stink even when you’re the one who dealt it.”
This Australian man who cannot remember his name has lived in Thailand for over a year, and loved it, but the child prostitution killed it for him – seeing children just like his English-learning students try to woo him off the street. One day he attacked a child molester on Soi Cowboy, beat him pretty bad, but woke up in Thai jail and was told never to return to Thailand. He claims to know Thai near-fluently. He does not work in outsourcing.
The man finds his passport. “That’s right,” he says. “My name is Blake.”
I take Blake the squat Aussie and Mike the bearded Greek to a 清真(Halal) noodle-house. Since I speak ok Chinese, travelers tend to latch onto me. Blake shares his disdain for how Aussies are perceived overseas. “The laws for alcohol in Australia are draconian,” he says, slurping the noodles I ordered in my passable Chinese. “So when Aussies travel to Asia, they get drunk in legions. I’m sorry in advance for everything my countrymen will do to you while drunk.”
“What about all the things they’ve already done?” I ask. We’re both unsure if that was a joke. In my fiction writing, drunk Aussie tourists have played convenient antagonists. So far I haven’t received an angry letter.
The next day Blake and Mike follow me around the city, perhaps, simply because I can speak some Chinese. We stand in line for a train ticket, and all the haunting memories of Shanghai lines spark back to life (see pai dui). We spread our legs to keep people from passing us. After the first hour, we try to outsmart the line.
Mike: There is science to this line. Two people go quick, then one extremely slow. Can we take advantage?
Blake: I met a bloke in Bali who gave me the secret to Chinese lines. Always go to the teller on the far right. Chinese hate being on the right side of things.
Kawika: [spaced out]
We leave the train station an hour later, having watched the line move slower than grass grows.
“This is an adventure,” Mike says. “Part of travel.”
“Clearly we are not on an adventure,” I correct him. “We are on a quest.”
“A sexy quest,” he corrects me back. “There is something about angry commie women.”
Apparently, Mike has a thing for red China. “Something about commie women,” he says. “Something about the red sash around their arm.”
We look for one of the fabled train ticket stalls inside the city. Two hours later, after a quick trip to UniQlo, we find one.
“Three tickets to Guilin,” I tell the teller in Chinese. None available. The next day? None. How about Kunming instead? Nothing. How about…
As the line behind us grows, a petite female Buddhist monk from behind us offers to help. She talks to the teller for about ten minutes, until we realize that the monk just wanted to cut us in line.
Blake shouts though no one seems to understand: “That head-shaved liar is buying her own ticket!”
Watching the monk talk to the commie teller makes Mike give a strange grin—the grin of a man in the back of a strip club, gin in hand, bar stool at a cool 30 degree angle. Blake, on the other hand, loses his shit. He turns toward an old guy squatting in the street, picking his nose, and screams: “What’s wrong with you?!”
I tell Blake: “Lower class is the guy you blame for the fart stink even when you’re the one who dealt it.”
Back in the hostel, one of the German men starts snoring like crazy. Mike beatboxes to the rhythm. I start singing a Chinese song. Blake makes squeaky bell-noises.
We agree to wake up at 7am the next day, but after I shower at 7:20 I’m the only one up. So I head to the bus station without them, use my savvy Chinese, and get a ticket to Yangshuo.
Some things are easier done alone.