Oh, bloody hell, I’m pretty sure a homeless Chinaman snuck into my room while I was asleep and shat in my mouth. I woke up shortly after passing out, feeling rubbish and needing to quickly pack my stuff and get out of there. My train was at 3:44pm and I wanted to check out the Beijing National Stadium first, hangover or no hangover.
I made it out there without much trouble and, while the stadium was fantastic, it was also kind of like a mausoleum. Since the Olympics it’s only held a handful of events, and these days the whole precinct is blasted with sound effects to make it appear the Games are still on. It’s truly weird. Homebush Stadium might be rubbish, but at least they’ve moved on and use it for other events – this place is like a grave.
I got out of there and along to Beijing West Railway Station, the biggest in Asia with up to 400,000 people going through it a day. Having not eaten a proper meal in a day, I grabbed whatever they had there – McDonald’s. Shit, I’m keeping those pricks in business. After eating my burgers I rolled onto the train with visions of a 22-hour booze-fuelled party with a bunch of slutty European backpackers. What I got instead was a cramped, dirty crypt to sleep in and three elderly Chinese peasants for roommates. They hated me and I soon learnt to hate them, because they sat around eating seeds from a huge bag and yelling at me. It was like sharing a room with a bunch of mean-spirited parrots.
The trip got underway and I settled in for 2500km of awesomeness. I had no food and there was nowhere to buy any, so I just sat and got hungry while cities and towns and villages sped past the building. As the world outside darkened and we sped into the wild heart of China, I felt myself becoming increasingly shell-shocked by the massive cultural divide between me and the other passengers.
Hangovers leave me feeling scared and weird at the best of times, but this was something different. This trip is changing me in wonderful ways, making me a stronger and more independent person, a more worldly person, a more interesting person (well, I think so), a better person. But I feel I’m changing at such a speed that sometimes I wonder who the fuck I am, and that’s hard. I’m over the other side of the world with no-one I know, and I can’t even recognise myself sometimes.
At one point I felt so detached from the world around me that I actually started talking to myself, just so that I could hear someone speaking English. Luckily, before I could go completely mental a Chinese bloke came up and started talking to me in perfect English. We ended up chatting for three hours, mainly about Australia, and by the end of it I was in a much better state of mind. Thanks, Greg (dunno if that’s his name, but let’s pretend it was).
Being hungover, eating Maccas and hurtling through the Chinese countryside wasn’t great for my guts, and around midnight there was something very troublesome going on. I needed to take a shit, and badly. I made it to the toilet without a problem, but there wasn’t a bowl there, just a damn hole in the ground, with the ground flying by underneath it. It didn’t go well. With the train rocking from side to side, I was spinning around and squirting like a busted hose. I hit the wall, I splattered the floor, I probably even got some on the roof. There was shit everywhere. When I got out the dunny there was a line outside the door, and the first bloke who walked in started yelling at me and chasing me through the carriage, as if it was my fault they still use stupid bloody holes in the ground rather than toilets.
I finally fell asleep, but something very, very strange happened during the night. I woke up and the Chinese people in my cabin were taking turns photographing each other in front of me. When I opened my eyes they immediately jumped back into their beds and pretended to be snoring away. It was weird and creepy, and I couldn’t help wondering what else they’d been doing while I was asleep. I can only assume they all sucked me off or something. Shit happens.
The hours rolled by, my roommates kept eating their seeds, until finally the boring, flat landscape outside my window was replaced by huge mountains and beautiful lakes. I was nearing Guilin and, soon after, I was back on non-moving land for the first time in 27-and-a-half hours.
I cabbed it to my hotel, which is a truly lovely little place in a quiet neighbourhood, surrounded by trees and filled with all sorts of Chinese artifacts. Then I set out to explore the town of Guilin, which is truly beautiful, especially compared to Beijing. Trees, lakes, bridges, temples – it has it all, and without the swarms of people. I explored parks, crossed bridges, walked over hills, stared in awe at mountains and ended up having a delightful dinner at a little cafe by the lake – and followed up my bowl of fried rice and massive chicken sandwich with a burger and chips from KFC, seeing as I hadn’t eaten for more than 30 hours.
I first wanted to come to Guilin in 2000, after exploring it in the video game Shenmue II. Back then, it didn’t seem possible that I would ever actually make the journey. After dreaming of this place for close to half my life, it’s hard to believe that I’m finally here. It’s weird to be walking through a place that I’ve pictured in my mind for over a decade. But it is a beautiful place, a magical place, and I can’t wait to get out there and see what else it has to offer.