“What time does the bus leave?”
“But it’s so crowded!”
It was only ten-past four. Her tone was anxious. We were not that far from the packed intersection and the close-by bus station.
I am not exactly sure why it is the most used in Wenzhou. Probably because it is the beginning of expressways out of the city. The bus would be coming along the other side of this road, too.
I had booked a sleeper inside a bus – more like a recliner – across China to Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Province in the south-west of the country; a journey of 24 hours. A bit hit and miss due to stops, road works, dropping people off.
I settled for the bus option. Being the start of the Chinese New Year Holiday, getting to travel in bed-style by train is either exasperating or at worse, non-existent. Everyone else besides you will possess the urge to quickly buy up all the tickets. I did not feel up to standing all the way or squeezing into someone for a slither on their seat. The plane felt an unnecessary rush. Travel by plane is never about travel, just the quickest means of getting from A to B.
In any event, I was glad to be leaving a boring college campus that would become even more boring once everyone had gone home and a city in eastern China that is presently cold, wet and bleak, not forgetting isolated.
Wet humidity brings a winter cold in China that chills and shivers you into your bones. You struggle to stay warm underneath thermal underwear, layers of clothing and thick coats. As homes and buildings are made from inches of cement, the cold is trapped, not released, making it feel twice as cold inside as out.
A yellow cab did a diagonal trick darting into space in front of her car and others in the next lanes. Her car was also forced to halt behind a truck; spectacles of the Chinese drive to slip-in, queue-jump, find space. Luckily for her, she is a cautious driver.
“There is the bus station,” she announced.
“I would never have known it was there. It’s not quite opposite the railway station, is it?”
Chinese bus stations are usually squeezed in enclosures of higher dominating buildings. It is harder to guage where they are if you cannot read the signs in Chinese characters for ‘Long-Distance Bus Station.’
Having found the bus to Nanning, one of the drivers hurriedly hurled in my rucksack. Then began the pitiful process of unlacing, removing and putting your shoes, depending on their size, into an orange plastic bag to prevent the aisle floors between the bunks becoming foot printed and the bedding getting soiled.
Crowded situations in China: buses, major cities, trains, means economy of space.
The driver looked at my ticket and pointed dismissively to a spare bed near the front – more like a top bunk. Being near the front would lessen the ordeal of squeezing down the aisle, stepping over fallen bedding, avoiding kicking bins used for tossing cigarette buts, redundant packaging and empty bottles.
Snuggling into the duvet, once the bus had snatched at space to get onto the traffic-clogged road outside, it was off.
Gathering speed through dismal mountain tunnels, I tried to avoid watching the minutes then hours, flash by on a digital clock as night took over.