Brian in China

Brian Fennig, a senior lecturer in the Wellness Department of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, is traveling to Yangshuo, China, for spring break 2013. While his ultimate destination is a Tai Chi school in Yangshuo, his trip will take him through Hong Kong and Guilin as well.

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3:30 a.m. in Yangshuo

It’s 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, March 9, and I’m wide awake in my hotel room in Yangshuo. It is somewhat of a miracle that I actually made it here, as my earlier jaunt from the Guilin Airport had me wandering lost and pulling my large suitcase around the city streets for some time.

I’m sure that my early stirring has much to do with my body still being set to a Dallas clock and, like many travel situations dictate, I anticipate adapting just in time for my departure back to the States. I’m convinced, however, that the rooster, which crowed outside my window about 3:28 this morning, might have contributed to my being awake. I might not have expected to hear this bird calling in the middle of the night, but after the last 48 hours of travel, I can only imagine what might be coming.

I left Dallas on Wednesday evening at approximately 7 p.m. and landed at the Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) on Friday at 5:30 a.m. local time. The flight was uneventful, and I felt ready to hit the ground running, which I did (the rooster just let me know that it’s 3:39 a.m.).

I had about a 10-hour layover, so I planned a full day that included courageously leaving the airport for a whirlwind tour of two specific destinations: the gigantic Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery and the bustling city of Hong Kong itself. The day did not disappoint me.

Traveling always includes some unexpected kinks in your plans, and attempting to leave the airport provided plenty of them for me. My few, poorly constructed Mandarin phrases did not help me much, but four frustrating and humbling information booths later, I made it out of Terminal 1 and onto a local bus bound for the monastery. Many of my well-traveled friends have counseled me about asking for help when lost in a foreign country, and I heeded their advice for the rest of the day. Kindness, generosity, and compassion are universal, and they have their own rewards beyond my simple travel destination.

A cup of Starbucks coffee at HKG airport will cost you $25 HKD, approximately $3.25 in USD. A city bus ride to a hub with connecting routes is about .60 cents USD; go figure. I enjoyed both the ride and the coffee as my bus driver casually sped upward on winding, mountainous roads toward my first stop. I had seen only pictures of the mammoth statue, and from a distance, the first sight was very impressive.

The large metallic structure sits alone at the top of a peak that provided a great view of the ocean and the city of Hong Kong, minus the incredibly thick layer of smog that so many had warned me about. The pollution didn’t taint the first excursion at all. Most of the visitors simply walked up the expanse of steps for a closer look. A few individuals would stop every few strides and bow or prostrate themselves on the ground. The sight was moving and the Buddha was beautiful.

(Taking a break in writing here as my computer is dying; NONE of my travel adapters fits the outlets in this hotel room. Not my first surprise of the arrival. The rooster just told me that it’s 4:24 a.m. I can tell you what I want for my first dinner in this city … chicken…more specifically, rooster.)

I left the Buddha around noon and headed back to the airport with my second quest of the layover: take the train to Hong Kong City. Thankfully again, an airport official guided me to the right place and I was quickly headed for the land of skyscrapers. My excursion had an additional purpose that I had not planned. Before leaving the D/FW airport, I pulled out my camera to snap a quick pic of the airplane. No response or flash gave me the sinking reminder that I had left my camera battery in its charger in my kitchen; the camera was useless.

Thus, my first job upon arrival in the city was to find an electronics store, which seemed like a simple quest in China. My Canon camera, after all, was made here. Leaving the train station was easy enough, but negotiating the masses of people and dense traffic became a challenge. Two hours later, I was walking out of a camera store and furiously heading back to the train station, which I did not find so quickly. The maze of city streets and endless side alleys with goods for sale confused me.

Arriving back at the train station, I ended up on the wrong level, trying to enter gates for which my ticket did not provide access. Looking lost and hopeless has its advantages as the sympathetic gate attendant gave me special admittance and I raced for my train.

I experienced a strange déjà vu while I was traversing the city streets. Before leaving Dallas, I had “Googled” some ATM and money exchange locations to make the unknown a little more “knowable.” At one particular set of crossroads in Hong Kong, I looked up and saw the same large blue LED screen mounted to the huge building that I saw online; déjà vu in a city that I’ve never visited.

I made it back to the Hong Kong Airport in time to get lost, yet again, as I searched for the terminal where I had stored my luggage. The airport looked very different at 3:30 p.m. than it did at 5:30 this morning; the building was bustling with travelers now.
I made it on the plane in time to begin the next leg of the journey, and my flight took off for Guilin (KWL). I’d argue that I walked about eight miles in that 10-hour period, not to mention that I had been traveling since Wednesday evening. My bobbing head proved it.

I’ll abbreviate this last segment and repeat that getting to my hotel from the Guilin Airport was nothing short of a miracle. As humble as I attempted to be in asking, finding the right bus and direction was not always easy. A finger point in a general direction answered most of the requests that I made. Again, I ended up wandering down some city streets looking for a bus station that I had apparently missed a half mile earlier.

I rolled my suitcase into a hotel and asked for help yet again. The desk clerk actually pointed to a recognizable object this time. I looked in the direction that she indicated and saw a bus attendant, who was closing the luggage compartment on a large blue city bus. I rushed outside and yelled “Yangshuo”, and she waited for me.

An hour and a half later, with what seemed like 25 stops in between, I sat on some steps in the middle of downtown Yangshuo. More déjà vu, as the pictures that I had seen online were very real now. I used a phone in a local shop to call my hotel, and eventually one of my Tai Chi instructors arrived by taxi. Oh yeah, I came here to practice Tai Chi. After such an epic day, I realized that my trip was just beginning.

I remember what I had romantically written a few days ago before leaving; that “…the point of the journey, is not to arrive. Anything can happen.” The “anything” did happen, and it is what makes exploring an unknown world worth it. Coincidentally, right now it’s 3:32 a.m. on Sunday morning, and I just heard the rooster call again. I’m wide awake, and I have an entire Saturday under my belt now. More on my first day of Tai Chi in the next segment.

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    One Response to 3:30 a.m. in Yangshuo

    1. Drew Boyce says:

      Enjoying keeping up with your adventure Brian-looks like you’re having a great time!!

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