After living and traveling in Europe and several different States in the U.S., I regarded myself as an extremely savvy traveler.  However, I am about to tell you a story that I believe is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

First semester had ended and I was headed to Hong Kong (yea!) for spring break.  I was so excited because I was going to spend a month in civilization.  Traveling to HK with some other teachers was very easy without any problems.

That month in HK was WONDERFUL!  The only negative thing I remember was being offered a Chinese treat by the woman who was allowing me to sleep in her guest bedroom.  She really built it up as something very special to eat in China, a popsicle.  I had always liked popsicles, so I was looking forward to it…until the first bite.  I tried to keep a straight face (while desperately trying not to gag) and wondered what to do next.  She obviously must have read my face and said “Don’t you like it?”  I asked what it was and was told that it was a red bean popsicle.  This meant that kidney beans had been mashed, formed into a popsicle, frozen and placed on a stick.

To this day, I wonder why anyone would want to eat such a thing, let alone consider it a treat.  She gave me permission not to eat anymore, but I felt really bad.  The Chinese people are so kind and mannerly that they would have eaten the entire popsicle with a smile.  Not being rude (about anything) was huge in their culture.

While in HK, I spent lots of time sightseeing, soaking up the comforts of a modern city and shopping for food to take back with me to China.  Living without dairy products was quite a challenge since they had no pasture land for cattle.  But what I missed most was butter, so I bought as many cans of that as I could.  I also bought boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, lots of Ramen noodles, tuna fish and mayonnaise.  My goal was to have enough to last me the entire second semester.

When I got all packed up to leave, I had 5 baggage items (between suitcases and boxes).  Fortunately, I had brought an excellent luggage carrier from the states that could handle 350 pounds.  I managed all of that stuff very well, once I had it loaded and bungeed onto the carrier.

A couple of days before I was to return to school, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t figured out how I was going to get back to the school.  All of the other American teachers had left, but I wanted to savor every day and waited until the last possible moment to leave.

I did not have enough money to fly, which would have simplified everything.  (I should probably not have bought so much food.)  My only choice was to take the train.  Taking the train to Guangzhou was easy because I could buy the ticket in HK, but I could only buy the ticket back to school, from Guangzhou, inside of mainland China.  And I couldn’t speak Chinese.

When I arrived at the train station in Guangzhou, it became very evident that I had some big problems.  First, there were 300,000 people trying to get to their homes, returning from Chinese New Year celebrations with their families.  I had never seen so many people in one place.  The best way I can describe it is that many, many groups of people were sleeping in what appeared to be small hills (on top of their luggage).  Some of them had been waiting 3 days to get a ticket.

 

 

 

 

Why I didn’t panic at this point, I don’t know.  But I got in line to buy a ticket and literally could make no headway. Hardly anyone  was waiting in line – it was sheer desperation to get tickets and Chinese people were climbing on the shoulders of us who were standing in line.  Then I realized that I didn’t know the language to be able to purchase a ticket, if I ever did get to the ticket window.  (Keep in mind that I had A BUNCH of luggage.)

So I went and stood in a spot that my luggage and me could fit into and try to figure out what I was going to do.  I didn’t see one other American.  After a few minutes, a student walked up to me and asked me if I needed help (with the few English words that he knew, but I was accustomed to this from my students).  I told him that I needed to get to Nanchang that day and he looked at me like I was from Mars.  (Still no panic on my part.)  He told me to wait right there in that spot and he would see what he could do.

Approximately 30 minutes later, he came back and handed me a ticket.  He asked for 3 times the normal ticket price, but I didn’t care, and I still had some money left.  I thanked him profusely and got in a cab to spend the next 6 hours waiting for my train, sitting in a 5-star hotel lobby.  It also occurred to me that since I couldn’t read Chinese, I didn’t even know what ticket I had purchased.  The concierge at the hotel verified that I indeed had a ticket to Nanchang, leaving at 9 p.m.

The concierge put me and all of my luggage in a cab about 8 to go back to train station.  It appeared even more crowded, but I (and my mountain of stuff) waited for the train with thousands of other people.  About 50 feet away, I noticed a very narrow turnstile that I was going to have to get through to get to the track.  (Almost panicked at this point, so started praying harder than I’d ever prayed.  It went something like this, “Lord, you parted the Red Sea and saved the Israelites, I know that You can get me on that train.)

I thought that maybe when I got to the turnstile, the sheer force of all of those people would force me and my luggage through.  Something even better happened.  A Chinese man, on the other side of the turnstile, saw my predicament and waved to me.  He picked up my entire carrier and took off running.  I went through by myself, and ran after him.

People have asked me why I didn’t think he was stealing my stuff, but that never occurred to me.  He got me on the right train, stowed all of my baggage and turned to me with hand held out.  I gave him a week’s wages and was happy to do it!

Then I rode for 17 hours in a compartment with 5 Chinese men who smoked heavily and sat on my bottom cot, playing cards most of the trip.  There were 6 cots to each compartment, 3 stacked on each side.  Every once in awhile, one of the men would get off the train and my fear of lung damage was reduced.   By the way, I want to mention here that some of my students had to travel 56 hours by train to get back to school, standing room only/no seat.

Finally, the last 3 hours, there were only two of us.  He told me his English name was Kyle and he knew enough English for us to have a conversation.  Why he had not disclosed this earlier is still a mystery to me, but oh well…  He helped me get all of my boxes and bags off the train in Nanchang, waved and walked away.

I really did want to drop down and kiss the dirt at that point, praising God for taking care of me once again.  I discovered that it just doesn’t matter how foolish I am; He’s there when I need Him.  (But I have kept the vow to never travel by myself in a country where I didn’t know the language again.)

 

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