Planes, Trains, Automobiles (and a Sleeper Bus)

A couple of months ago I was able to spend a little time in the south China metropolises of Shenzhen and Hong Kong.  One of the things I most regret about my time in China is that I haven’t really had much time to travel.  China is vast, and similar to the US, in that each region has its own uniqueness.  I have been to Nanning, Guilin and Feng Huang with one-day trips to Yangshuo and a Miao village thrown in for good measure.  The landscapes, culture and feel are somehow all the same, familiar, yet distinctly different.  When I changed schools this year my schedule opened up dramatically and I now have the time (if not the money) to do some traveling.  Of course I want to see all the places that any tourist would want to see.  Beijing, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Shanghai all come to mind and Hong Kong was high on the list as well.  Understandably, I was very excited in the days leading up to the trip.

Travel in China is an adventure.  For me, the process, the actual traveling, is usually a disappointment.  Admittedly, maybe I am just getting too old and soft for the adventure. I needed to travel on the cheap and it was recommended that I take what is called a “sleeper” bus.  A sleeper bus is exactly what it sounds like, a bus one can sleep on while traveling.  I was to get on the bus around 7 PM on Wednesday evening and arrive in Shenzhen the next morning at about 8 AM, sleeping all the way.  Wow, that sounds great right?  Well the “idea” is great.

When I climbed aboard the bus I was a little surprised to see that there were no comfy reclining seats.  You see that was my vision, something like a fully reclining business class seat one might find on an airplane.  I don’t know what I was thinking, instead there were three rows of three-high bunk bed type things.  I first realized I was in trouble when I discovered my shoulders were too wide to walk down the “aisle”.  I turned sideways, and carrying my camera bag on my right hip, shuffled my way down the right aisle on the driver’s side of the bus.  I found my bunk easy enough, number 6 on the bottom, but I couldn’t get into the bunk.  You see, these buses are not laid out for a man 6’2″ and 200 pounds.   I could not even turn around in the aisle and I had to somehow bend down, stretch out and wedge myself into the bunk in a space no wider than a foot.  To complicate the procedure I had to maneuver my lard butt through  some strategically placed steel bars.  I got into the bunk on my third attempt as the line of passengers grew behind me.  It was at that moment that I realized I probably would not be sleeping at any point during  the 13 to 14 hour trip.  I could not lay on my back in the bunk, as there was not enough room for my shoulders to fit between the window and the steel bars.  When I laid on my side facing the window, my butt was sticking out into the aisle ( I can now say I’ve had my ass kicked from Liuzhou to Shenzhen).  When I tried the other side, my knees and feet were in the aisle.  My constant jockeying for some kind of position to offer any relative level of comfort was a great source of amusement for my fellow passengers.

The next shock to the system came once we actually started moving. My bottom bunk was literally on the floor, the mattress nothing more than a thin pad and I swear to you this particular bus had no shocks!  I felt every bone-jarring, teeth-rattling, mind numbing pebble, speed bump, and pothole for the next 13 hours.  Now I am a very light sleeper to begin with, but to add insult to injury, I was also treated to every cell phone conversation at the usual ear-splitting volume.  A short time after leaving Liuzhou, with the scenery changing to the familiar rural farmland, the announcement came over intercom that we would have a pee break, a chance to stretch our legs, at about the half way point of our journey.  That would come a full 7 hours later. Oy vey.

This is my first post without any photos because I have no photos of the bus debacle.  I wanted to take a shot but honestly, trying to retrieve my bag and change to a wide angle lens was more trouble to me than it was worth.  I had made the decision, before ever leaving the bus station, that I would be flying home.

Despite the ominous start I had a great visit.  I spent the time in Shenzhen and Hong Kong with my good friend Robert Lio.  He let me stay at his apartment in Shenzhen, which is how I was able to afford to go in the first place.  Bob also fed me for four days (the food was one of the highlights of the trip).  I was a man on  a mission(s) and I’ll post more on my south China excursion over the weekend.

Thanks to all of you who have already offered to help with the project for the kids.  Please bear with us as we are still ironing out some details as to how to pull it all together.  Basically it involves helping the under-privileged children in the rural area near my college.  These kids are not orphans, not homeless, but the life they lead and the hardship they face would bring many of you to tears.  I hope to introduce the project in the next week or so.

I have a lot to write about, a lot to get caught up with.  I’ll try to get as much in posted as I can before Monday noon rolls around.

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~ by Expatriate Games on December 6, 2008.

5 Responses to “Planes, Trains, Automobiles (and a Sleeper Bus)”

  1. You know I just saw something on TV about that here…various people were going home for Chinese New Year’s from Shanghai and to reach this particular destination they used a sleeper bus and it took about 30 hours! I feel for ya… but yeah….eat drink and be merry to make up for it!

  2. Great adventure! Well written! Clearly, we share the same travel perspective. Life is about exploring and new adventures!

  3. Still, a sleeper bus sounds very cool! 🙂 But I can imagine the discomfort you experienced during your trip. 😛

    Is it safe? For your belongings, etc.?

    • Well, for me it was pretty safe because I never went to sleep! I have heard some stories of people getting ripped off but I think for the most part it’s OK. All the big luggage is locked away underneath the bus and I actually had my camera bag strapped to my ankle under my feet! I forgot to mention I couldn’t stretch out my legs completely either!

  4. Sounds like a terrible journey on the sleeper bus. Your words have painted the image in my head. I have already made a mental note not to travel on any sleeper bus!

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