This city is only fifty kilometers from Wuhan and at one time was the seat of government for Hubei province. A quick glance online showed several sites worth visiting. In all it looked like a pretty town.
I took a bus. Theoretically it should have only taken me an hour to get here but for some reason we drove around Wuhan for an hour before even hitting the highway. Far be it for me to question the driver. Besides, I got to look at some stuff I'd not yet seen in my home of 4 years. Some of it even bears closer scrutiny. That will be for when I return.
We arrived at Ezhou around 5pm, just as I'd figured. True I could have gotten there earlier, gotten up earlier, left the house earlier, but I'm just not an 'earlier' type of person. I had to see to my dear nephew Matthew, who was in a car wreck a few days ago and is still in ICU. Fortunately he was wearing his seat belt so, when the car he was in flipped, rolled and smacked into a tree he was securely strapped in. Not so his friends in the back seat. One of them is seriously injured while the other escaped virtually unharmed.
Besides, I figured: by getting there late afternoon I would have plenty of time to find a hotel and look around a bit.
Speaking of looking...
as you might know, I make it a point to not cyber-sightsee. Usually I pick a destination, look for ways to get there (train or long distance bus) and scout for possible accommodations. This travel season I have to be especially frugal because I did not behave in a fiscally responsible manner all this year. All of the other hotels in Ezhou seemed to be rather pricey but the one I had my sights set on offered rooms for less than 150Yuan per night. That's my kind of place!
Generally, if I can locate the train station I can find my way around any town. Usually the bus station is not far from the train station. According to that inn's site, it was located 4.5km from the train station, and the directions were simple. I figured I could easily walk that distance. Famous last words.
There is a lot of 'abandoned' in Ezhou: buildings, factories and the like, and long stretches of water and wilderness interspersed with islands of population. Through it all, pavement. There are 'ring roads' – loops around the city, the name of which only changes according to the direction of travel. None of that showed up on the map I consulted. Furthermore, the bus station was in a desolate part of town. I had yet to see the train station. (When I did, the next day, I was impressed!)
Despite the less than encouraging surroundings I started walking. And melting. Though not quite as hot as Wuhan, Ezhou is still a suck oven. It took me no time at all to trickle and my back, bearing my pack, was uncomfortably wet. “It is all a part of the experience” I thought, grinning through my sweat.
The wide boulevard could be safely crossed via tunnel. In this tunnel that also featured a furniture shop with a row of chairs set against the tunnel wall I met 2 gentlemen, from whom I asked directions to the train station. In spite of the heat I was determined to 'adventure'. They couldn't get over my speaking Chinese, so we bantered a few minutes before they told me I should take bus #5. It would be a long walk, they averred. Climbing out of the tunnel and back into the heat, I agreed with them and looked for a bus stop.
Then, I reasoned: if I was going to ride a bus, why not straight to the hotel? I asked some waiting passengers which bus to board for Feng Huang Lu. One kind fellow said #9 would be the bus for me. So far, so good.
And then not so good. I carried the memory of the map I had consulted online and hotel's name and address on a piece of paper. Nothing looked like what I saw online and everyone seemed to have a different opinion of where the hotel was. I tried walking for a while after the latest instruction to debark and not being where I wanted to be.
By now it is after 6PM. I'm hungry, super sweaty and can only think of the solace an air conditioned room would bring. Standing at a bus stop, scratching my head over all the listed itineraries, none of which listed the street I was looking for, I finally decided to hail a cab. Five air conditioned minutes and 10Yuan later this kindly driver let me off at a stunning edifice next to a park. It didn't look a thing like the place I saw online. After a short debate on whether to just book a room there and cost be damned I opted to throw myself on the kindness of strangers once again.
This time I approached a man in 'belly air conditioning' mode (his shirt pulled up to expose his belly) who seemed to be waiting for something. I showed him the directions I had written down and asked if I was at the right place. He said something I didn't quite get. Then he added that there is a better hotel just a few minutes away. Within a minute a cab pulled up and he urged me to get in with him.
Turns out he was a cab driver and was just starting his shift, waiting for the off-going driver to bring the car. There was already one passenger in the front seat. The first driver relinquished the wheel to my 'belly man' and got in the back seat. We then rode around, dropping the two other men off.
I checked the meter: it was not engaged. The three men chatted like old friends and some money exchanged hands. They were speaking the local dialect so I didn't get much of their conversation. However, they doled out praise for my language skills, a kindness I got a lot of while I was here.
In fact, the people here are very friendly! More on that later.
We are now down to just the driver and me. The meter is still in rest mode and I'm remembering the humiliation of getting stiffed by sly drivers who seek out bumpkins (or foreigners) who don't know any better and charge them a flat rate, usually steep for a short ride. And are you wondering about my jumping into a taxi whose meter is not ticking with 3 men? Frankly, I never gave my safety or being cheated a thought. After the other passengers alit I did get a bit concerned and asked where the hotel was. The driver reassured me we would come right to it. Now thoughts of being cheated assail me.
I needn't have worried. A few minutes later we were in front of the hotel I had scouted online and the fare was only 10Yuan. I had paid nearly that much in bus fare trying to find the place.
An hour later, cooled and refreshed I hit the streets. During the day there were a few people out and about, and they seemed purposeful. Come sundown, everyone ambled around the streets! To my joy I discovered the street my hotel is on hosts a night market where you can buy anything from purses and hats to shoes and novelties. Of course there was food, which I was decidedly ready to partake of. I spied a young idler snacking on a batter cake: a wrap stuffed with egg, meat, sesame paste and a leaf of lettuce: dinner! Too bad I burned my tongue on it. Other than that discomfort it was absolutely delicious.
I have to comment on the kindness of the people here. All of those who (mis)guided me on the buses, those elderly gents in the tunnel, the woman operating the batter cake stand. As I came back to my room today a man rode the elevator with me and remarked on my Chinese. Not just the fact that I could speak it but that I know such colloquialisms as 'ma ma hu hu' – literally translated: 'horse-horse tiger-tiger', meaning 'only so-so'. Everyone who meandered through the stalls come evening time... they all seemed so friendly!
Time for sleep now. Tomorrow we'll go see the rest of this place.