|Chinese Bus Travel.
||[Jun. 27th, 2009|11:23 pm]
I arrived at the south bus station about 15 minutes before 7pm, with the bus due to leave at 7. Waiting room was as always, but at least it was only for 15 minutes, or rather, as it turned out, just shy of 2 hours.|
I'd been promised a grade 1 bus, which has a small number of longer/larger beds, but such was not to be. The bus was just about watertight, but had little else going for it. It was old. The beds were battered, ripped and itchy, and very very short. And narrow.
Oh well. 9 hours. One can take a lot for just nine hours. I asked what time we would arrive in Hong Kong, given that we were leaving two hours late. Lie number 2. Scratch nine hours. Predicted arrival in Hong Kong was 14 hours away.
Well after dark, and with rain beginning to fleck the windows we got underway. The bus was sparsely populated at first, but filled up gradually as we spent over 90 minutes touring Fuzhou to find more bed-occupiers. As the minutes passed the weather worsened steadily, and lightning began to feature as we finally left the city.
Unsurprisingly the individual lights and AC features were non-functional, and once the main-lights had been cut (at 10pm precisely, before leaving the city) reading was no longer an option. I listened to NightWatch (Pratchett) for the next few hours until at about 1am I could no longer hear the book over the sounds of rain and thunder, as the weather had deteriorated to full Tropical storm status (Tropical Storm Linfa I later learned) which may not sound too exciting, but means (at least in this case) lightning strong and steady enough to read by.
It was around about this point, as I maneuvered to watch the storm out a window, that I noticed the driver was driving without the benefit of such useful facilities as either headlights or windscreen wipers. Now technically I suppose the lightning was sufficient to drive by, but still...
I returned to my minuscule bedding area, inserted some earplugs and attempted to doze. Futile for me on any vehicle at the best of times, and these were not the best of times.
I rolled to my side just as a chain of lightning strikes back-lit the luggage of the passenger between the window and me. And froze in shock, bordering on horror. Something. Something with many legs, all of them far too large for anything with that many legs was inside a heavy translucent plastic bag on the top tier of her luggage, actively struggling with the knot at the top of the bag. The owner (host?) of this lovecraftian horror was somehow sound asleep and blissfully unaware of the horror she was relocating across China.
Time passed, slowly. I alternated between audio books and watching the bag containing the... thing. Somehow I dozed. Sometime near 3am I was awakened, along with everyone else on the bus, by the wailing, shrieking, shoe-wielding, anti-many-legged horror teenager who had been asleep in the bed in front of the bag in question when something had finally triggered its break for freedom. It was pitch dark apart from a few straggling strands of lightning so I don't know the exact details, and given how little was left of the horror when the savage shoe-based beating came to an end I still know not exactly what it was. A carapace was involved, but not regular crab shaped.
After an extended stop at the next way-station during which some cursory mopping was done, and the horror's failed keeper had the rest of her luggage inspected and some of it confiscated, we were rapidly under way again. It seems most folks were happy to laugh it off, though there were some hella nasty glares going on until the lights were cut again. I resumed audio-booking it, stuck on the thought that this was one-heck of an ill-fated trip from the get-go.
I somehow dozed through dawn, but awoke when we left the motorway for reasons unknown and proceeded more or less cross-country for about an hour bouncing all the way, before joining another motorway, which we followed for another 2 hours before entering Shenzhen, where it was time to play the paperwork game (With extra flu-related bonus mini-games).
It was actually much like going through a very poorly maintained airport which is reasonable enough. The signs however, were not fair. In the majority of cases they pointed completely the wrong way. It seems that when it came time to last reorganize the place whoever got landed with sign duty applied half of them according to Feng Shuai rather than accuracy of content, and decreed that English and Pinyin were demonic evils that would attract dragons of bad luck and plane-crashes or something. So all the English signs point to a nonexistent location somewhere off to the left, while the actual foreigners queue is to the right, over a foot-bridge, up another footbridge which has a crossroads at the top where you turn right and go past the BIG glaring red and yellow no-entry signs, into a building, out of the building again, down what is clearly an old fire-escape and into the immigration hall. There you smile, proffer papers, try to look innocent and hope to get a non-belligerent attendant. Interestingly they've set up those electronic "Rate-Your-Clerk" devices for the customs and immigration people.
Then you discover that actually that was the Chinese Emigration gates, now get back on another bus, and travel 3 kilometers down the road and do the same Headless-Chicken-Dance routine for the actual immigration facilities.
The final stretch was then completed in a rather nicer third bus, taking almost another 90 minutes to reach the heart of Hong Kong, stopping every 3 minutes right up until I spotted the offices I needed to go to immediately on arrival, and then the street where I was to locate my hotel. Both these locations were passed as part of a thirty minute no-stopping-here-because-the-foreigner-clearly-wants-to policy implementation.
When we next came to a halt I pondered asking where I could get a ticket for the return journey, but decided I'd had enough bus related stress for the time being and went seeking a taxi. At which point the rain started again.
Thankfully my actual business in Hong Kong was quick, painless, well organized and indeed polite and uncluttered.
The bus journey back was worse, but less interesting, and shall be recounted another night.