Our train wasn’t due to leave until 6 p.m. so we didn’t check out of our room until 11:50 then we sat in the hotel coffee shop for most of the afternoon.
At 5 p.m. we caught a bus down to the railway station and boarded the train. Our seats were grouped with three young girls leaving home for the first time, and there were pitiful scenes as they said goodbye to their families before the train pulled out.
In the light of evening, the train speed through a tranquil landscape of rice paddies, hills and small mirror-calm lakes, the sun a limpid drop of fire in the west. As night passed, we dozed a bit, read and listened to our walkmans. We pulled into Guangzhou at 6:30 and as the train was carrying on to Shenzhen [pronounced “shen-jen” this is the border crossing between the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong] we stayed on it for the leg down to the border hoping to get cheaper tickets then we would have if we had good off and bought onward tickets from C.I.T.S. [the China International Travel Service].
We went down to the railway station to try and buy tickets to Canton but all we got was “Meiou” [ the Chinese word for no] from the hard-faced woman behind the bars at the ticket counter.
We walked up to the museum near Martyrs Park where there was an exhibition of a corpse with all its entrails removed, said to be over 2,000 years old. However at the entrance, the attendant tried to charge us 15 Yuan each when the locals were getting in for ¥5, so we left it and when and have a look at Martyr’s Park itself. At the top of the hill, there was a tower with steps radiating out in four directions, one lot leading down to a largish lake where pedal boats splashed around an island at its centre and the edges of the water were littered with polystyrene containers.
We sat amongst a stand of conifers and watched groups of school children dressed in tracksuits of blue red or green playing with hula hoops and cavorting about on a grassed area fenced to keep people off. At a sidewalk noodle joint, we ate a bowl of noodles each and some dumplings while we entertained passersby then we went back to the hotel.
In the evening Marco, Sharon, Linda and I went out for a final meal together.
A steward woke us up at 6 a.m. and we left Marco and Sharon asleep and stepped out into the blue/grey dawn.
The river was a sheet of polished glass and the air was cold and fresh. A thin mist drifted across the water, and through it, on the riverbanks, the occasional glimpse of poplars and people fleetingly appeared and disappeared. Sky, land and water were one until the burnt orange disc of the sun showed through the mist beyond the trees, throwing a shaft of gold across the water from the shore all the way out to the boat.
We docked in the dirty town of Yangshuo – where factories spewed clouds of grey and black into the air and the river was a noxious soup of rubbish and waste – at 7:30 a.m. The four of us found a bus going to the railway station. The conductor tried to charge us ¥5 each when everyone else is paying ¥1-50. At the station, we bought a Changsha-bound train and the trip took 2 hours. When we reached Changsha, we made our way to the opulent Xiangjian Hotel where a three-bed room with a shower and TV including a satellite Sports Channel cost us just ¥25 each.