The initial plan was leaving Hangzhou around 7am so that I could make it to Tunxi Ancient Street before noon then book myself a tour to nearby Hongchun (where Lee Ann’s Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon was filmed) and Xidi villages. But when I woke up at 8am, my stomach was not feeling well (suspected gastric pain due to irregular meals or food poisoning). I then dreaded the 3 hours bus journey ahead where I might need a toilet. So when I finally checked out, it was already past 10am. The girl working at hostel told me to use subway line 1 to get to Passenger Transport Center (12 stations away) to get direct bus depart to Tunxi. But when I got there, I was told that there was no bus to Tunxi. I had to get to Hangzhou West Bus Station instead. Lucky for me that not far away there was a waiting area for bus departing to West Bus Station. So I spent up to more than an hour waiting impatiently for the arrival of the said bus and for it to be filled up with passengers! When I looked around, I realized I was not the only foreigner as many of the locals were also new there as they were seemed asking around for directions and whatnot. Being the homogeneous country, I naively expected the people all looked the same but that was obviously not the case – China is a massive piece of land spanned across geographical diversities and migrants from the countryside were everywhere in the bigger cities. Police or security officers were stationed at all the transport hubs, mostly young and expressionless.
When the last passenger finally got up the bus, a quarrel broke out between the bus driver and one of the passengers. That passenger was instructed to remove his farm products packed in a box away from the seat next to him to keep at the bus luggage compartment to make room for the last passenger. He refused and went on justifying his act of hogging the vacant seat (which was common in China btw). They got louder and louder that eventually other passengers chipped in to support the bus driver. When I worried in fear that the driver might finally loss his temper and walk away, the middle-aged Cantonese lady seated next to me could take it no more, started yelling at the man to go get his personal coach. Others cheered supportedly. Lol. That was how it was resolved.
By that time, I was running late. When I finally got to the West Bus Station, I actually followed the men shouting for passengers leaving to Tunxi by the roadside to the opposite side of the bus station. That was a mistake I made – instead of taking my time to process things and surroundings by asking around, I took the first offer that came to me when I was in a rush. True that there were legit buses waiting at the opposite side, but it didn’t look like we (me and a few other elder passengers) would be boarding any of them. When I wanted to leave, the men guarded there stopped me and insisted that bus to Tunxi would depart soon. Then they started herding us to a small run-down van. I pointed it out, they said they would fetch us to where the bus was at as it was trapped in some traffic. At that moment, I was panicked in fear sitting in the van but tried to calm myself down, thinking that I had very likely just run into a syndicate cheating people’s money by taking passengers to their destinations using van rather than an actual bus. However, the van stopped and dropped us halfway by the roadside to wait the bus. The bus to Tunxi eventually came and we were ordered to get in. The Cantonese-speaking lady I met earlier on was also in the bus with her family. Bet they purchased their tickets at the counter legitimately. I sighed in relief and happy that there was no bad ending.
Tunxi district as I approached was seemed to be filled with lots of road banners. No kidding. The messages were usually harmless stuff like “drive safely” or “be a law-abiding citizen”. But they were unmistakably backed by the traditional Chinese cultural values like courtesy, harmony, loyalty etc. The more I read them, the eerier I felt. Take for example, if I drive safely without breaking any laws, its because I am aware of the dreadful consequences to everyone involved if an accident ever happens, not because I am constantly brainwashed, I mean reminded of my roles and responsibilities to my family, society and country. It was a very strange feeling. Anyway, the bus dropped me by the roadside where ancient street was nowhere in sight. I asked the men around, they told me ancient street was walkable but quite a far distance away. A tuk-tuk driver appeared and I was happy to pay 10 yuan for him to take me there. It was indeed quite far!
After checking in and having my shower and early dinner nearby, I found an empty bar that served both coffee and alcoholic drinks. Turns out that the tour to Hongcun and Xidi villages arranged by the hostel would be a day (not half-day) trip so that only meant I had to give these villages a miss due to a lack of time. I was kinda happy of how things turned out because a visit to both villages required an entrance fee respectively (which was not cheap). So there I was, sitting in the empty dimly-lit bar (attended by a friendly female bartender) by first ordering the overpriced coffee followed by cold beers until it got dark outside. Hehe. Three Chinese girls later came in – drinking, smoking and chatting among themselves about their lives.
Easily one of my best evenings in China. Lol.
Later that night, I made friend with a girl from Guangdong who traveled alone to climb Yellow Mountain aka Huangshan. Gotta admire her as the idea to climb the mountain didn’t even cross my mind when planning for this trip. More impressively, she has started a career with the Chinese government with her law degree (note the stiff competition faced by Chinese graduates every year to get a job in the market, what more a job with the government) but she told me they are only entitled of 5 days of annual leaves (I was thankful of mine then). We talked about interesting places to visit in China, the Chinese in Malaysia, China’s one-child policy, so on and so forth! That aside, I actually enjoyed the ancient street in Tunxi more than the one in Hangzhou, especially after dark. There was an entire street filled with coffee shops and bars. Too bad I just got out of one earlier on. Secondly, there were a lot MORE displayed items in the shops that actually caught my attention than anywhere else. Wished I spent the extra one night in Tunxi rather than Hangzhou. Oh well.
Fascinating Anhui style architecture – the main reason I was there. Told brother that it was like in the TV, at the scene where some of the series were filmed.
When the night fell.
Left: How I was fetched to the bus station the following morning. The lady driver laughed at me when I asked would I fall down with my backpack. Right: Tuk-tuk in Tunxi.
Things I was buying home for myself and family
Traditional Anhui style architecture – how the houses in Hongchun village shall look like