… or train, or plane, or any way else
3-3-3 Tour: Day 1
I’ve said it before, and if this were the search for the Higgs Boson we were talking about, we’d almost be at our five-sigma point by now, such is the level of inevitability. Because seemingly without fail, whenever I travel in China, the adventure begins pretty much as soon as I leave Hong Kong.
By “adventure” I mean well-laid plans unraveling almost immediately upon crossing the border. It happened last time when I was heading to Beijing. It happened not quite without a little oversight on my part on my Hong Kong to the UK by train trip last year. And now it’s happening again.
I’m calling this my 3-3-3 tour. That is, I’ve got 3 weeks to go up 3 mountains in 3 different provinces. The plan is loose as I’ve had little time to prepare any sort of itinerary between work and all the evenings I’ve spent putting it off, but I’m hoping to make Putuoshan in Zhejiang Province, Jiuhua Shan in Anhui Province, and Tai Shan in Shandong the climbs around which to base my trip, though in what order and when I’ll visit each is still to be decided.
I’m currently on my way to Shanghai, or thereabouts, and from my increasingly frantic search on the internet last night for the trains to get me there, the situation I anticipated when I arrived in Shenzhen this morning was far from putting my mind at ease. When I finally did arrive at Shenzhen station and made my way to the ticket office, I was told – or rather, the electronic timetable told me – exactly what I’d feared – that there were no tickets to Shanghai today or tomorrow; nothing to my alternative city of Nanjing. Maybe the high speed rail, or something else to Wuhan, would get me within connecting distance for the following morning. But I wasn’t holding my breath.
The girl behind the counter had left her position with twenty-five people waiting and with me just three from the front. The longer I waited, the more limited my options became. When she hadn’t returned for at least ten minutes, a guy touting long-distance coach tickets asked where I was going. “Guilin?” he asked. I told him I was going to Shanghai, and yes, he could get me to Shanghai if that’s what I wanted. I decided to wait and see what the train situation was first, but when the ticket girl still hadn’t returned after another ten minutes, I abandoned the queue, tracked down my man, and Shenzhen to Shanghai by bus it would be.
Two hours later, sixteen of us were panting like dying dogs somewhere in a traffic jam in the middle of Shenzhen. We were taking a small bus to our bigger bus. A Chinese version of the Starship classic “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” was playing on the radio with some rather splendid irony, while the girl sitting next to me was ]whining like a princess that, as far as I could make out, she’d paid Y480 instead of the Y50 less that everyone else had paid for their tickets.
But that was then. Right now, we’re rolling a steady pace through the last breaths of Guangdong, 200km from Guizhou. The sun is setting to our west, while up ahead, the mountains that frontier Jiangxi Province jag a purple swathe between road and sky. We’re four hours out of Shenzhen and our alleged 6am arrival in Shanghai isn’t looking likely. The train would have travelled a fairly direct route of 1684km in around 18 hours had I been on it. The 16 hours we have in order to travel what I suspect is roughly the same distance would have us travelling at an average 105km/h. It’ll soon be dark. We’ll see where we are tomorrow, then pick it up from there.