A good day, one of many recent such experiences, rewarding and new.
The Adventures of Complexion Boy and Language Girl are in hiatus, as Garrett and I part ways for the rest of the trip, at least in principle (there being only one hostel in Suzhou means we will likely run into each other in a few days anyway, but, 'in principle...'). Garrett left for Ningbo (����) today, enroute to Putuoshan (����ɽ), while I stick around in Hangzhou (����) for a few days longer, tying up loose ends and seeing a few more things.
In much the same way I got nervous butterflies before G and I first left the city on our own (for adventures around Guilin (����) and area), I left the hostel this morning a bit a jitters. I'd fallen asleep last night unsure of my plans today - out of town daytrip or musical instrument shopping being the options - and only settled on my final decision as I walked out the door. Really, what settled it was that no one at the hostel knew where else I could look for the erhu (����), the two stringed gorgeous piece of chinese musical instrument, that I wanted, as I'd already ruled out the fancy-looking, but snake-skin and ugly and tourist-oriented, ones I'd previously found in the area.
So, off to Anji (����), to find me some bamboo. It's funny; I wouldn't say I was nervous about getting lost or anything -- that fear seems to have dissipated with the sheer number of out of town trips ("adventures", often) that G and I have been on. After all, our trip together didn't faze me at all, despite my saying to G in the morning, and I quote, "so, just so you know, after we get off the bus in Pingyao (ƿҤ), I have absolutely no idea where or how we go next."
It's just that, despite being the one with all the research in my head for this trip, and despite being the one with the awesome language powers of awesomeness ("uhm, what do you mean by that?"), there's something more nervewracking about the idea of being dropped off by a bus at the side of the road, at a highway onramp and told to hail another random passing bus, WHEN TRAVELLING SOLO (oh, I suppose I haven't told you folk about those adventures yet, but suffice it to say that it took us FIVE different buses to get to our destination yesterday, and FOUR coming back... NOT even the same 4. sigh).
So, I was a little nervous going into another out-of-town trip that I basically had the first stop on my route planned out, and absolutely no information other than "I'm looking for some sort of large bamboo forest... Could you help me out?"
HOWEVER, that being said, it worked out beautifully, all told, and makes for an unbelievably and almost stupidly self-satisfied me.
So, I take off reasonably early (only around 8:30-9) for the north bus station, and take a long-distance express bus (���) to Anji (more about Zhejiang (�㽭) province's buses later -- a big contrast to everything else we've seen). Get there around 11, have a little lunch at the bus station for super cheap (bonus seaweed soup of goodness), and then ask the restaurant folk how to see some bamboo.
Literally, that's about what I asked. "I'd like to see some bamboo. A forest, maybe?" You see, I knew that somewhere near Anji was the largest bamboo forest preserve in China (apparently where they'd also filmed some of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, if you're into that sort of thing - not a movie high on my list, rant rant), but that was basically it. No name, no town, no anything.
They direct me somewheres out front of the bus station, and I steer clear of all the cabs and pedicabs, and find myself at a loss. I ask at another restaurant, and she says I have to take a "medium" bus to get there (�а�). Still confused, I ask at the bus station, and the ticket lady is singularly unhelpful, but directs me to the bathroom (which, ps., was definitely in need of better plumbing). I notice in my wandering a tourist/tour booking building, and wander in. It seems no one is in. At all. So, I leaf freely through their selection of pamphlets and pick, nearly at random, a destination: The Big Bamboo Sea (����), thinking that 'big' seems like a good way to see a pretty awesome bamboo spot.
I finally find someone, travel-agent-esque, and ask, through multiple questions, how to get to this sea of bamboo -- apparently I take this bus from inside the bus station, but buy a ticket ON the bus, not at the ticket window (hence why the ticket lady was shooing me off). I wander inside again, back through the area that's supposed to normally be 'tickets only', and find a big orange public-transit looking bus (#205, if you were wondering) that has my destination on it -- I ask again, and yay, hurrah, after some waiting, we're off (and for only Y4, no less!)
The conductor-lady is wonderfully helpful, and tells me to get off the bus at the last stop, where I have to change buses, but, wonderfully enough, don't have to pay again (this is very NEW to me). Getting off the bus, I'm a little sketched out by the empty white minibus I'm supposed to get into, and definitely pointed at it and asked her again, "you mean, this one?" - thankfully, the conductor of that one, a sweet and very skinny old chinese man came over, and all problems were solved. Again, some small amount of waiting, and we're off! I figure out where and when the last bus leaves to go home, having learned an important lesson from the TWO last buses G and I missed, and I wander into the bamboo sea.
More accurately, I scramble through the chinese tour group sea, and finally get to some paths through the bamboo. Gorgeous stuff, as always, and going backwards through the paths, I find that I manage to avoid more of the tourist hordes... Lots of pretty to be seen.
Only two troubles.
One, it is afternoon now. It is 37 degrees out. It is sunny. I am sweating BUCKETS. Like dripping freaking sweating, bandana now being used as facecloth/sweat-absorber kind of sweating.
So, why not flee to the gorgeous shade of the bamboo woods, you ask?
This brings me to, Two, freaking mosquitoes. HORDES OF FREAKING MOSQUITOES. As I tend to be a tasty enough individual that I seem be the only one to get eaten alive even when there's only one moustique and 6 other people in a room, HORDES = BAD.
Hordes = killing lots of mosquitoes, splattering my blood and probably others in little star-patterns all over my legs, and itching like there's no tomorrow. Wishing I'd been smart enough to bring bug spray to the WOODS. I somehow forgot that bamboo FOREST still means FOREST still means BUGS.
Anyway, so, I didn't really get to enjoy the woods so much, between the heat in the sun, and the "OMG I can't stop moving for even a second or I'll be eaten alive" in the shade (I'm not even exaggerating one bit. I swear), but it was pretty while it lasted, and mostly just very rewarding, the getting-there-all-on-my-own.
Anyway, to top off my wonderful day, I had dinner at an old fave, a noodle place in the neighbourhood that does GREAT soup, and then saw a SPECTACULAR sunset reflecting off the West Lake waters.
And, as an unexpected bonus, I even got my long-awaited scooter-ride, though the scooters in this city are all not only electric, but have bike-pedals, being sort of a bike-scooter hybrid. Scooter in appearance/design, electric bike in practice. I didn't get to drive, though, which is sad, and I did have to fend off the somewhat over-enthusiastic "oh you speak english, and understand when I say things in chinese! what are you doing tomorrow? can we hang out? I'm free. I'll walk you home." reaction of the guy I met on the bridge at West Lake to get it. :P But, that's the price I seem to pay for scootering. So be it.
Indie me begins here, I say. AVAST. YARRRRRRRR. =)