The theme for this past weekend was faith in humanity, and the good workings of life in general.
Sounds like I had a good weekend, right? Meh.
I’ll start off on the upside of things. Saturday I had planned to go up north of Beijing via bus to see the sunflower sea. It’s on my bucket list to see a sunflower sea — I can’t even fathom how awe-inspiring it would be. At the last minute, Nathalie decided to join me, which I was happy for since the adventures ahead are definitely better enjoyed with company. Although Beijing’s public transit network is expansive, it sure isn’t easy to research or plan by. I got all the transportation info about the sunflower fields from forums online and such. Bus 919 to the Yanqing station, switch to 925 branch 2 and get off at Hongshiwan. Finding 919 wasn’t a problem, but confirming that it was the right one was where our confusion began. The workers at the bus station downtown suggested bus 883 when I asked them about Yanqing and the sunflowers. I found it strange that I hadn’t read anything about 883 in any of the forums, but Nathalie and I checked it out anyway. For these buses that depart every 20 minutes, 883 looked to be at least an hour and a half’s wait. Mouths agape, gawking at the line to infinity, we caught a glimpse of a 919 pull up nearby. Its line consisted of a few backpackers and some other locals, so we figured we’d just take that bus, see where it goes and try to figure things out from there. This 919’s line initially seemed benign, but as soon as those doors folded open a swarm of people flung themselves inside, pushing and shoving and grunting. The Chinese are merciless when it comes to public transit.
A little more than an hour’s ride brought us to Yanqing, our transfer stop. We waited there for a solid two hours before the unmarked 925 branch 2 arrived. Seriously, this bus didn’t have any marquees or plaques indicating its number or terminal stops and there was no route map inside, either. Most inconvenient indeed.
Boarding 925 was a story in itself. This tussle made boarding 919 seem effortless, even enjoyable. Nathalie managed to propel her way through (the locals always seem to be either intimidated by or respectful of her blonde hair, height, and generally more Western appearance — that’s what we suspect anyway), but I got a little overtaken by the crowd. Everyone was yelling “别挤了!” (Bié jǐ le, don’t shove) and squishing my arm against the door and gliding against each other’s sweat-veiled skin. There actually was a point when I started to worry I wouldn’t make it on the bus. That’s when I activated survival mode, used my pointy elbows (thanks mom) as weapons, and bolted my feet to the ground, enabling a rather uncomfortable, but successful board nevertheless. Needless to say, no seats were available and the people who were lucky enough to have squeezed onto the bus stood in the aisle.
The mountains and villages were beautiful, a much appreciated change of scenery. Since there was no route map in the bus, I just asked a couple people if they’d heard of Hongshiwan. They hadn’t. We caught a few glimpses of the 925 route as we stopped at some of the stops along the way, but alas still no sight of Hongshiwan. Everything out here was absolutely stunning, so we just figured we’d get off at whichever stop we felt like, judging on the surrounding scenery and whatnot (to my family reading this: you guys know I have good judgement, this all was safe—no worries). We got off at stop in a small town nestled in some small mountains, rocky hills and lush greenery.
We strolled around for a short bit until we saw another, entirely different stop for 925 branch 2 going in the opposite direction from the one we were just on…confusing. An older couple (early 70s?) were waiting there, so I asked them about the sunflower fields. They said the flowers probably still weren’t in bloom and they were even confused as to why I’d travel all they way out here “just to look at flowers.” We continued to talk more and to my surprise, the man, I’ll just call him yeye (grandpa), spoke a bit of English! He has been teaching himself via TV and radio. I was so impressed, he was quite good. The couple suggested we go check out this park that they came into the area to visit. So, we waited around for this other 925, bought some peanuts in case we ended up getting stranded somewhere, boarded the bus and journeyed onward. I thought I heard yeye say that was the only bus for the day, but that this park’s surrounding village had places to stay for cheap. I was honestly [mentally] prepared to spend the night out in some field, which would have been really fun, but we later found out the there was actually one last Yanqing-bound bus at 6:00 PM so we just took that one back.
Had we not bumped into the elder couple, I really would have no idea how the rest of the day would’ve unfolded. It was so nice of them to help us. I kind of felt like they were our adopted parents for the day. Oh, they were so adorable. I still don’t know the name of the geological park we ended up exploring, but it was stunning!
And we encountered a sweet cave on our ascent.
Climbing a mountain you never expected to even see in the first place makes for a pretty good Saturday, I’d say.
We then caught the last bus back into Yanqing at 6:00, but found out from these other people waiting for the bus that the Yanqing-Beijing bus stops running at 3:30 PM and that we’d have to take the train. No problem, except we didn’t know how to get to the Yanqing station.
When you get off of any bus anywhere in China, there’s usually taxi drivers who’ll try to convince you to hire them and I’ve read to not trust them or pay attention to them, as these approaching type aren’t from legitimate taxi services. As soon as we got off the bus in Yanqing, this happened, as expected. One of the drivers started talking to us, or rather “at” us, about the train station, etc. So I lent him half an ear as he offered to drive us to the station for ¥10, less than $2. Nathalie and I decided this guy seemed fairly trustworthy and the situation seemed stable, so we hopped in the back seat, exchanged a few cautious/wtf-are-we-doing-right-now? looks and made our way to the railway station (again, family reading this: I have solid judgement). The guys was nice and we had fun letting him guess our nationality. He guessed European, Russian, and “Reika” which was actually him trying to say “America,” but we initially understood it as “Africa.” I asked him a few questions along the way to let him know that I was wary of this situation, but he said he honestly just wants to help us, seeing that we’re foreigners and we had apparently stepped off the bus with “WORRIED” written all over our faces. He was a good guy. We boarded the train just in time, and for only ¥5, too! So, that was Saturday and it totally shone a big ol’ optimistic light on the innate goodness of humanity, yadda, yadda.
And then there was Sunday. My camera got stolen on Sunday. Nathalie and I were walking to the antique market when I saw the cutest, chunkiest little Chinese baby. So, naturally, I whipped out my camera and snuck a golden photo. I wanted to be ready just in case I saw another cute baby or a matching couple or any of the other numerous daily happenings of China life that I like taking pictures of, so I just slipped my camera in my backpack’s side pocket, the water bottle pocket. Ten minutes later I see a REALLY chubby baby and go to grab my camera only to find it missing. And I don’t need to drawl this out any longer, but I basically went into cardiac arrest which ignited a mental hatred of humanity spree in my tiny little brain that already felt like it was going to explode. Yes, I was mad about the actual camera being gone, but even more so the pictures on it! I hadn’t gotten a chance to upload them for a while because of some computer issues and now they’re gone! Luckily my friend Barbara grabbed the Mongolia pics off my memory card earlier that week, so all that I’m really missing are the geological park photos and some other random, but still special ones. And that photo I so sneakily snapped of the baby just moments before the theft.
So, a big thank you to Nathalie—all the photos in this post are hers. I’m getting a dSLR later this week or early next, but I won’t have it for this weekend’s adventure of hiking Hua Shan.
Also, a note about Mongolia: it was unbelievably awesome and I’ll post about it once I get my pics from Barbara and my life simmers down a bit, which should be next week.