Traveling In China – Troubles And A Lot Of Fun – Ch.7
In May, meaning 3 months after the Chinese New Year and me being sick, my mum came to China to visit me. I needed this break. My body and mind each time seemed to get tired faster. The last weeks of April were a big struggle to motivate myself to train.
When I was still in Poland my mum and sister declared that they will visit me in China. At the end, my sister didn’t have money and my mum was scared to go alone. But she was willing to overcome the fear and come anyway. We were speaking about it in March 2017:
– Mum – I spoke – it would be really good when you come to China now in May, instead of September or October.
– Well … it actually could work – she said slowly – You know, I met one girl in the course I am doing right now – which was Natural Therapy and Herbs – her name is Marta and she was studying in China 10 years ago. Maybe she would like to come with me?
Next time we were all three (my mum, Marta and me) planning the two and a half week trip across China. Marta was very happy that she could visit the places of her memories and show them to her 7 years old son – Ignacy.
We chose around 6 cities we wanted to see. Despite our best efforts to avoid troubles, they couldn’t pass us by.
But let’s stay positive and call all the troubles adventures. At the end we had a good time and we had learned from our mistakes.
It started simply. One month before their arrival I bought normal tickets for all of us, namely my mum, Marta, Ignacy (child) and myself.
After two weeks my travel companions changed their minds and I had to cancel one trip and buy tickets for two new destinations.
If they would tell me that a bit earlier, I could get a full refund. Who would have known? Anyway, I was still happy to get money back at all.
HOW MUCH MONEY THEY GIVE BACK
WHEN YOU CHANGE OR CANCEL A TRAIN TICKET IN CHINA
- If you cancel a train ticket more than 15 days before departure, you receive a full refund.
- 15 days till 2 days (48 hours) before departure, you lose 5 % of the original price.
- 48 hours to 24 hours before departure, you lose 10%.
- Less than 24 hours before departure, you lose 20%.
The other factor I have learned
– if the trip is limited in time and we don’t want any surprises, it is better to buy all tickets at least one or two weeks before.
Finally, my mum, Marta and Ignacy arrived to Beijing on 26th of April. They didn’t make any reservation for the train from Beijing to Qufu. Last time, when I was with my dad, we didn’t have any problems to buy these tickets. The trains from Beijing to Qufu were available every hour. In my head it was impossible that all the trains could be full.
No in China !!!
They arrived in the morning around 8 o’clock and all the trains to Qufu, even the one going to the nearby cities were already booked. The earliest available tickets were for the next day.
It was very inconvenient for all of us, if they would stay in Beijing. We had planned only two days to see my school and Qufu city – a confucius origin.
Luckily or unluckily, somehow with Marta’s knowledge of chinese language, they manage to buy 3 tickets to Jinan – a city situated around 200 km from Qufu.
I said luckily or unluckily, because:
Firstly, they bought the tickets “on the side” from illegal sellers for the price way too high. Secondly, they didn’t know if there will be available train from Jinan to Qufu.
Everything took a lot of time to organise. They arrived to Jinan around 9 p.m. They stayed on the same platform. The train to Qufu, luckily for them, was just in 5 min. They didn’t have time to buy tickets. Probably, if they try to get them from the counter, they would have to face the same problem as in Beijing – no places available.
Instead, they just got in the train, hoping everything would end up positively.
They didn’t have any bigger troubles. They arrived very late to Qufu, took taxi to the hostel and went sleep. Was the decision to come to China a right one? They were tired and a bit disappointed with the first hours in a new country.
And this was just the beginning.
On the day they arrived to Qufu and we all met in the hostel, I found out – by accident, while talking to the hostel personnel – that the tickets for Ignacy (7 years old child) I could have bought with a discount.
DISCOUNT TRAIN TICKETS IN CHINA
The rules are very interesting. The age doesn’t really matter. It is height what they are looking at. Accordingly,
- If your height is no more than 120cm, you travel for free (in train, however in buses sometimes you have to pay 50%);
- between 120 – 150 cm you get 50% discount;
- above 150 cm you have to pay a full price;
Ignacy was 123 cm high.
Other useful information: It was impossible to change the tickets in the small counter in the city. Instead, I had to drive 30 min to the main railway station.
IN THE RAILWAY STATION
Not all tickets were available to change. In some cases the trains were already full.
For me, it was not clear at all. “I had a ticket, meaning a place. I didn’t want a new place. I just wanted a discount.”
… However, in order to make it happen, they had to book a new place and afterwards cancel the old ticket. If the train was full, they couldn’t give me a discount …
I was standing at the counter. Behind me was a line of chinese people staring at me with impatience. I was trying to understand the guy behind the window. Despite my best effort, I couldn’t get any of what he was saying.
I knew, I had to call a translator from the school. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use my phone. I looked around. I saw a young guy closeby. I showed him with my hands that I would like to make a call.
I could feel the tension in the line building up. I felt uncomfortable.
“What can I do?! I am not chinese, guys !” – I screamed to them in my thoughts.
Luckily, the young man gave me his phone and I was able to call Joy – the chief of the school.
Now I understood. If they cancel the old ticket before buying a new one, somebody during this few seconds could book that place and I would end up with empty hands.
This is how it looks in China. Whole country is a big net, which works super fast.
I received four tickets out of six with discount. It wasn’t bad. The new places were of course far away from the old places. We didn’t care though.
Now, we really hoped everything will go smoothly.
南京 [Nán jīng] NANJING
Pic. View of Nanjing city from the tourist atraction called “Yuejiang Tower Scenic Area”.
The first city we have visited in China was Nanjing. The place of Marta’s memories. She had studied in Nanjing University, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in China. Indeed, worth to see (see the photos on the right side).
She said that a lot have changed. Not as much in the University alone as in the town. She couldn’t recognise the streets. She told us about huge trees along the streets, giving a shadow for people to rest and play board games. Now, they were all gone.
Walking around the city, we stopped in the nearby bar. We ordered a coffee. Marta told us that 10 years ago, there were only few places in the whole Nanjing serving coffee and you could see almost no chinese sitting there. They didn’t like it at all. The smell was too strong and the taste too bitter
Nowadays, it is not a problem to find a place with coffee filled with citizens.
Also, you can see in the streets many chinese rushing to work with a plastic cup of a coffee in their hands.
Pic. Garden in the Japanese Hotel.
Close to the University, Marta recognised a few tall buildings. Her favourite was Japanese Hotel. As a student, she went there often to study in the garden on the top of the roof. Nobody dared to stop her. She was white. They definitely thought, she was their client.
We decided to go there. Nothing had changed. The hotel’s personnel welcomed us like guests. And here we were again, in exact the same place on the roof of the Hotel, having a photo session.
苏州 [Sū zhōu] SUZHOU
Happy that our trip finally looked like vacations instead of troubles, we sat in the Nanjing Railway Station waiting for a train to Suzhou. It was late afternoon.
The travel with the fast train was suppose to take no longer than 2 hours. We arrived around 10 p.m. It was already dark outside. Without rush, we walked in the direction of exit. There were many chinese offering a ride or a place to sleep. We knew, it is always cheaper to take a bus or subway, or even a taxi than drive with these guys.
It was Marta’s turn to ask somebody how far from the hostel we booked was the train station. She showed an address to a guy standing nearby. His eyes widened and he looked at us confused. He spoke to another person. They started to discuss something. Marta’s face went white.
“What is he saying?!” – me and my mum spoke simultaneously.
Marta answered with a shaking voice: “It’s not in this city. We are in the other Suzhou!”
Just to clarify, there are two Suzhou close to Nanjing, one 宿州 [Sù zhōu], where we arrived, and the other 苏州 [Sū zhōu], where we were supposed to arrive.
The first Sù zhōu is 300 km north from Nanjing in the Anhui province. The second Sū zhōu is around 200 km south from Nanjing in the Jiangsu province. Meaning, the travel time with a fast train to both cities was very similar. How would I even think something like that could happen?
Well, this was China!
We didn’t have a lot of time to analyze it. The man took us to the counter, where they were selling tickets. He explained our mistake to the lady from the window. She looked for the trains to Nanjing and from there to the Sū zhōu.
We were lucky. They still had places for us. The lady prepared the tickets and when it came to pay, Marta gave her a credit card.
“You can pay only with cash” – the lady said.
We looked at each other. We were out of cash. We were supposed to withdraw money in Suzhou.
We didn’t have time. The train was departing soon. We told the lady that we could withdraw money in Nanjing and give it back to them.
She made a call. After few minutes of talking with somebody, she told us to go to the second platform and just get on the train.
Without asking, we run to catch the train. On the 2nd platform a man in the uniform was already looking for us. He told Marta which compartment we should get on.
Surprised how organized they worked, we did what the man told us. There were already people waiting for us in the train. They were discussing, if they should give us the train tickets now or later. At the end we didn’t receive any ticket. Our travel back to Nanjing seemed much quicker than the one before.
We got off the train in Nanjing. The young man in the uniform was waiting for us. Marta started to explain him the situation and that right now we should find a cash machine to withdraw the money. The guy didn’t seem to put attention to what she was saying.
He looked at his phone and asked.
“ So, now you have to go to Suzhou …” – it was difficult to guess if it was a question or a statement – “ the train to Suzhou is from different railway station” – he continued.
He looked at us.
“You have to take a subway” – he pointed the direction – “Hurry! In few minutes they close it.”
“But …” – Marta tried again, but let up quickly seeing the man turning his back and walking away.
I couldn’t believe. We didn’t pay for train tickets for four people. We were grateful and surprised how kind and helpful was the stuff from the railway station and how organised they were.
Pic. Night train from Nanjing to Suzhou, standing places. I was lucky to sit on my bag for a while.
The adventure didn’t finish though. As we arrived to the other train station, it was already very late, meaning after midnight. There were no fast trains or couchettes available. The only places we could book were standing places in a night train.
We had no choice as to accept the situation.
And this is how we end up squeezed by all kind of chinese people, standing almost four hours in the train, tired and humble, laughing and cursing at the same time the mistakes that led us to that point.
Pic. Zhouzhuang Ancient Town.
Suzhou is famous for its beautiful parks. Although we had good intentions to see them, it never happened. Instead we drove through the whole Centrum in order to find Bank of China, change dollars into Yuan and withdraw money.
When it started to get dark, we went to eat dinner. On the way back to our hostel, we pay a visit to a physiotherapist. Marta and me had a massage. It was not the best one, but felt super relaxed after it.
The next day early morning we took a bus and went to one of the most beautiful places so far – a small water town Zhouzhuang Ancient Town 周庄古镇.
杭州 [Háng zhōu] HANGZHOU
Hangzhou was our next stop. We spend there only one day. It is a perfect city for romantic walk along the Xī Hú lake at night as well as during the day. The lake is surrounded by mountains.
Marta shared with us that before it was full with couples sitting in gondolas, putting lampions into the water.
“It looked like in fairytale” – she said.
Now, the locals informed us that this custom was prohibited because of few incidents with fire.
Still, the place is worth to see. The alleys along the lake light up at night creating a cosy environment. During the day we couldn’t miss a boat cruise.
Pic. Me and my mum on the boat in Hangzhou.
From Hangzhou we took a night train with couchettes to Zhangjiajie – city close to the famous Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. The ride was very comfortable and interesting. In the compartment, where Marta was sleeping with Ignacy, was a group of five chinese people, four girls and one man, who were making a business trip.
The product they were promoting was a medical material made by … stone! This special stone is rich with important for human body minerals. In the contact with skin this material works as a prevention against cancer, inflammation and so on. The company wanted to produce underwear using this material. In this way helping to cure all kinds of breast or genital diseases.
Sounds interesting? Still not for me, till … I heard them shouting together some chinese sentences. I asked Marta about it. She explained.
The company in order to insure the mental well being and self-confidence of their employees, created a task for them. Everyday each worker had to record them self speaking affirmation sentences, which goes like this:
I was astonished that in China this kind of care from the employer towards employees existed. How clever and motivating was that!
The girls didn’t hesitate in speaking loud the affirmations in the middle of the train full of people. The young man was not so open yet, but as they said, he was new in the company.
张家界 [Zhāng jiā jiè] ZHANGJIAJIE – THE AVATAR MOUNTAIN
When we arrived to Zhangjiajie, we were surrounded by dozens of chinese trying to sell all kinds of services. I don’t know how we end up sitting in a closeby travel agency, listening to a lady offering us different tours.
There are two places worth to see around Zhangjiajie city. One is Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and the other TianMen Mountain National Park. The first one is around 30 km north from Zhangjiajie city, the second around 6 km south from Zhangjiajie city.
The lady claimed that it is inconvenient to overnight in the city. The best option in her perspective was to book a 3 or 4 days tour, which would include free entrance to the Parks, free buses at the place, overnight and meals in a five stars hotels just 5 min away from the Parks. 2 days in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, afterwards we would move to the other Park and sleep in the other hotel. The prices were not less than 600 $ and some of them reaching 1000 $ per person.
“We already booked a hostel! Why are we there?” – I asked myself – “and of course, this kind of companies, however kind they look, always want money.”
The lady told us (a liar) that there are no direct buses going from the city to the National Forest Park and that taxi is very expensive.
I still was wondering why are we listening to this bullshit.
Finally, we went out from the place and catch a taxi. The driver confirmed the information about public transportation.
Why did he say that … ? … I will never know.
My mum insisted, for our sake, to just go to the hostel and ask there. She booked that place based on the stories of other travelers, who assured that the place was cheap and close to the railway station, from where the buses were driving directly to the Avatar Mountain every hour or less.
The taxi driver took us to the government travel agency. The information obtained from there didn’t make any difference.
We drove to the hostel. We spoke to the owner – very kind and good informed person. He showed us a map and recommended how we should organize the next 3 days. The hostel was indeed close to the station and there were buses driving to the Mountain. For no Chinese speakers it would probably be difficult to guess which one was the right one, but not impossible.
ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL FOREST PARK
The one way BUS ticket costs 20 yuan (~3$).
The entrance to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was 245 yuan (~40$). Important. The ticket is valid for 4 days from the date of purchase. Inside the area of the Park the buses are available for free. However, their reach is limited.
The hardest part the tourist has to walk or use cable cars. The one we took to go only up costed around 70 yuan (~10$).
Here you find more information about the fees and opening hours.
If I would have ability to go back in time, I would probably change some of our decisions. Firstly, we had only 3 days. The plan was to spend 2 days in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and 1 day in TianMen Mountain.
Later we agreed that it wouldn’t pay to purchase another ticket equal to the sum of the one before, just to spend one day there, when we had more things to see at the first place.
Accordingly, anyone who would like to visit the south-central of China, I would recommend to spend at least one week there. The entrance fees, plus buses, plus cable cars, plus other attractions (like glass bridge) are all together pretty expensive. To do it in a rush and do not explore fully the places, makes it a bit unworthy the money. Meaning, if you bought four days ticket, use it for this period of time.
In that way if you are a sport type person, you can walk around the mountain and enjoy the most beautiful scenic areas. If you don’t like climbing the stairs, there are still plenty of places to discover.
I was with my mum, Marta and Ignacy. I had to adjust to them. As we arrived to the bus station close to the Wulingyuan Gate (see the map on the right side), bought tickets and organised ourselves, it was already almost noon. We decided to take cable car up and go down by foot.
In order to arrive to the Tianzi Mountain Cable Car we took two buses.
Being on the top took our breaths away. Although the weather was not very appealing, the landscapes still were incredible. I was all over amazed how the nature could create something so unique.
In the afternoon it started slightly raining. We were going down along the green track as the map shows. We planned to go till 10 Mile Natural Gallery and from there take a mini slow train to the buses. Who would have known what was awaiting us?
It was already late, after 5pm and the stairs seemed to go on forever. We had no idea how much walking was still left. The opening hours were from 7am till 6pm To make matters worse, in the middle of the walk my mom’s knees gave up. She supported herself on my shoulder and slower than before we tried to go down.
The thought that we will have to overnight in the rain in the middle of the forest was making me trumble.
All way down we didn’t see a living soul, till … in the middle of nowhere, in the moment of crisis, I saw an old chinese man sitting on the stairs. He noticed us and went away to come back with his friend and carrying chair.
He proposed my mum to take a ride. The price swept us off our feet. 200 yuan. Just to remind, we were unsure how much distance we still had to walk. At the end we agreed. My mum was getting worse and each time we thought we are closer to our destination, there were more and more steps.
It was a right decision. Without these guys I have no idea how we would make it. In front of the mini train station the men took money and left us. I couldn’t suppress a laugh, when I saw that the station was closed. The rain kept getting stronger. I left my travel companions and went to look for some help. In retrospect, I have to admit we had a lot of good luck within our bad luck.
It didn’t take long till I found two people in uniforms. They were just taking the mini train to its origin station. I explained using body language and broken chinese that I am with other people and that they should wait. I run back to my mum, Marta and Ignacy. The workers agreed to take us with them.
From the last station of the Ten-mile Natural Gallery train we took bus (see red line on the map)and happily arrived to the main gate of the Park. However, our concerns didn’t end here. We needed a bus back to the Zhangjiajie city. We were again not sure if there were any left. Fortunately, we catch the last one.
In the city, Marta, Ignacy and my mum went to the hostel and I went to the closest apotheke. I found and bought bandage and spray for joint pain. In the hostel I massaged my mom’s knee and this is how this day full of adventure finished.
Next day we stayed in the hostel. My mum still had difficulty to walk. Also, it was raining the whole day. We ate properly and enjoyed our company sharing the stories of our life.
In the third day we went to the west side of Avatar Mountain, taking cable car (yellow line on the map), this time both ways, up and down.
凤凰 [Fèng huáng] FENGHUANG
If you would like to spend time in a colorful, ethnic surroundings, Fenghuang is a place. It’s scenery reminds the one from the old Chinese movies or Chinese paintings. In the most touristic and beautiful part of the town, small houses with “hanging legs” can be found along the Tuo Jiang River. What makes it even more unique are the mountains ascending from each side.
We arrived to Fenghuang in the middle of the day. We took a taxi. The driver dropped us in front of the narrow street, which led us to the main attractions and our hostel. The moment we entered the old part of the town, I was amazed with its beauty.
However, there was a surprise as well – a loud techno music coming out from the nearby club. That was just a prelude to what was awaiting us later. In the evening and night, the town transformed into a party area with bunch of young people ready to flirt and have fun. It reminded me Paceville clubs in Malta (small island of the Mediterranean Sea close to Italy).
Who would have guess that such a historically rich and cultural town, turned out to be a place of clubs and parties.
Mainly, we spend the next two days buying cheap souvenirs and exploring the beauty of the city.
北京 [Běi jīng] BEIJING
Our trip was at its end. On 11th May 2017, on Thursday, after more than two weeks since my mom arrived to China, we took a slow train with couchettes to arrive the next day in Beijing.
We felt like this trip went way too fast. There were so many things I wanted to talk about with my mum. We had one and a half day left to enjoy our company in the capital of China.
We arrived to the hostel without any problems. We checked in. The lady from the reception asked for the passports …
Here comes a bit of retrospection.
Few weeks before travelling with my mum I gave my passport to the translator in order to extend visa for the next six months. The process goes as follows:
I go with the translator to the office in Qufu, where I have to sign a document. This documents together with the passport go to Jining, the city 80 km away from Qufu. Of course it is me, who covers the transportation expenses. Luckily, only one way. In order to reduce the student’s costs of visa application, the school picks up the documents at next tour, with new students. Sometimes, the person has to wait even a month or more to get the passport back.
The waiting time doesn’t matter when the student is at school. In my case, I had two options:
one – I could pick up the visa by myself, which I really didn’t want to do
the second option – receive a paper, which would substitute the passport for a short period of time.
The translator told me that I can travel with this document. Well, the whole trip I didn’t have any troubles, neither with buying train tickets, nor with checking in with hostels, till I came to Beijing.
The woman from the reception looked at us confused and said:
– I am sorry but we cannot accept this paper. The real passport is required.
I explained her the whole story.
– I can show you a photo of my passport and actual visa – I added and in the same time I wrote to Daniel to send me photos. My passport was already at school.
– Please – I said. – I traveled whole this time without any problems. Everybody accepted this document. If you want, you can call the school and talk to them.
In order to convince her even more, I added.
– Listen … This is my last day. Tomorrow, I go back to Qufu, to my school. I have already a train ticket. – I took it out from my bag and showed her.
She looked at me even more confused. She talked with her friend and after few minutes her answer sounded:
– I am really sorry. We cannot accept it. There is an important conference right now in Beijing and these are the regulations. It is just very inconvenient moment. Maybe try to find a hostel on the borders of the city.
– How can I find right now a hostel?! – I almost screamed, annoyed with the situation.
– I am sorry – was her last word.
I decided to call the embassy of Poland. The woman, although very kind, couldn’t help me at all. We were calling each other few times, both trying to find a place for me to overnight. Without success.
Even the lady from the reception called her friend asking if I could sleep in his flat. Everybody felt uncomfortable with the idea that the person without a passport would stay at their house.
All this was taking hours. It was getting late. We didn’t eat, not to mention we didn’t see any place in Beijing. Whole day wasted dealing with this ridiculous issue. We decided not to care anymore.
– We will find some solution later – said my Mum.
– Maybe I will get through to the room without someone seeing – I answered.
– But before that let us go to the room, get shower and repack the languages – my Mum concluded.
We said to a lady that we found a room for me in the other hostel. As we turned towards a corridor, the woman stopped us and said:
– But she cannot go – she aimed in my direction.
Our good attitude reached its apogee.
My Mum started to shout to the woman in the reception (in polish), which was pointless, however it made the situation very dramatic.
My Mum’s words, that she has only few hours left to spend with her daughter, that she won’t see me again for a long time and that their stubbornness is just inhuman, made my heart sink. I started to cry, thinking: “They treat me like a criminal and I have done nothing. How unfair is this world.”
The whole drama worked.
We went to the room and spend as much time there as we needed. Afterwards we went to eat dinner. At 7 p.m. we drove to the famous RED THEATER to watch Chun Yi The Legend of Kung Fu.
The show was in english. I enjoyed it very much. I think I could relate more to what they were presenting than my Mum or Marta. I could understand how difficult are the jumps, the kicks, the punches … I admired their skills from experience. I also liked the way they presented the story, giving the audience time for reflection.
I definitely recommend the show.
RED THEATER Chun Yi The Legend of Kung Fu
It was around 11 P.M. when we decided to come back to the hostel. We still didn’t know what we should do. 100 meters before the hostel, I come up with an idea:
– Give me a key – I looked at my mum. – I go to the room. I will leave the door open, so you can enter. Wait 10 minutes before following me.
I wear a hood and walked towards hostel.
There were many young people hanging out outside the building. I entered quickly without looking at them. My room was on the ground floor. After passing a bar again filled with many guests, I went into a corridor. On its left side was reception and on the right side my room.
I entered to the room without hesitation.
Relieved, I waited. After loooonnnnng half an hour my mum, Marta and Ignacy come back.
– Why it took you so long? – I asked both angry and happy.
What had happened … As agreed, after couple of minutes they went to the hostel. However, EVERYTHING WAS CLOSED! There was a note left on the door. “The entrance. Go behind the building.” It took them a while till they found it. The entrance was through the reception.
“We were so LUCKY !!!” – I thought.
– Did they ask about me in the reception? – I looked at them holding my breath.
We manage the most difficult part. However, it wasn’t over.
Around 2 o’clock AT NIGHT!!! we heard knocking.
– Excuse me – the voice from the door froze our bodies.
No sound would come out from the room and it was not because we were sleeping.
The knocking repeated. After few minutes we heard the steps receded.
“Will they come again and open the door with the other key? Or call the police?” – the questions bothered us the next hour. Each time we heard the steps in the corridor, we hold the breath. Eventually, we fall asleep.
The next day I went out from the room alone and bought breakfast. I come back, pretending I just came from the other hostel.
In the train station I said goodbye to my travel companions and we parted.
This is how the trip ended. Now was a time to come back to the school and train again.
Was the traveling the expected resting time?
Was it an adventure worth to experience?
Adventure may hurt you but monotony will kill you.