i now have my very own chinese new year travel horror story to share.
i was actually a little disappointed when i left changshou for chongqing a few days ago. i wanted to see this mass migration of people i've heard so much about, and even purposefully traveled via train figuring that was my best chance. but there wasn't that many people at the changshou north station, and when i arrived in chongqing, there were lots of people, but it's usually that busy anyway, nothing particularly unusual. maybe i missed the peak migration time. maybe the population composition of chongqing city is mostly locals so people don't do very much traveling. whatever the reason, chongqing railroad station prior to the spring festival was a let down.
little did i know i'd get to experience chinese new year congestion very soon.
it began yesterday, when i accidentally went to westerner street thinking it was a quaint little enclave of european architecture when it fact it was a gaudy chinese amusement park with the singular attraction based on western stereotypes. but although it was shocking to see the shear number of people, it didn't come as a surprise (the only surprise was discovering it was an amusement park, which if you told ahead of time i would've guessed it'd be insanely crowded).
then today - the second day of chinese new year (the spring festival lasts for a total of 15 days) - the traffic in chongqing was light. many stores were still closed, but people were taking to the streets with nothing to do inside the house cooped up with relatives.
i was supposed to wake up at 6:30 and get ready to return to changshou. there was a 9:00 bus leaving changshou to wanzhou, but i wasn't going to make that one. there was another bus in the afternoon, but i didn't the time. it could be as early as noontime, and i wanted to make it back beforehand, because that's the bus i needed to catch. however it suddenly dawned on me (unexpectedly, since i'm not my brightest in the mornings) that in all my times spend at the changshou bus station, i've actually taken a photo of the bus schedule. the problem was i didn't remember what day it was, but i do know it was on a sunday. so i searched through all the photos i took on sundays, and finally found it. the afternoon bus was leaving at 3:00. i had plenty of time, no need to rush. so i decided to go back to sleep. however, i couldn't fall back asleep for some reason (maybe too anxious about the bus relay i'd be performing later), and after 2.5 hours of just lying in bed, i finally got up by 9:00. i left the fx hotel around 10:00.
everything was normal, and i felt relaxed because i wasn't in any particular rush. traffic density was regular, light where it should be light, heavy where it should be heavy. that was until i got the chongqing north bus station at 10:30. i only saw it after i finished climbing the steps. the place was packed with people. i felt that same kind of scaredness i experienced yesterday, but made worse by the fact that this would directly affect how soon i could get back to changshou. i muttered obscenities under my breath. there were so many people, it took me a while to find the end of the line, which was actually back out of the station grounds, out onto the sidewalk. i had no choice but to wait. but then i heard someone saying that people going to changshou should wait in a different shorter time. so i switched. then another person said that changshou people didn't have to wait, they could go straight into the station. i liked the sound of that so i followed a group of people into the station. VIP treatment! in the station there was a small line (2-3 people deep) to buy tickets, but minor compared to the lines outside. but where do i lined up to catch the bus once i have my ticket? i asked a man who seemed to be in charge and he angrily yelled at my in chongqing dialect that the line starts back outside. so i went out and waited. the line kept getting smaller so that i was back inside the station again. i was let through, and waited in one last line to board the bus. i finally left chongqing by around 11:00. in all it took just over half an hour, not bad considering i was prepared to wait an hour or more.
waiting in line was just half of the traveling horror. the other half came in the form of traffic congestion. roads coming into the city were mostly empty, but roads leading out of the city were thick with cars and buses (not so much trucks though, drivers are probably still on vacation). i sat in the front fold-down seat, which gave me a great scenic view of everything. our driver was not a man who cared much for traffic rules, which is great, because his sole mission it seemed was to get everyone to changshou as fast as possible. this involved driving on the breakdown lane for much of the trip. roadside tree branches kept slapping up against the passenger side window, and the driver had to be careful to avoid parked cars. sometimes they were legitimate breakdowns, but most of the time it was people taking a break, mostly either children needing to use the bathroom (china children don't use diapers, instead they wear peekaboo pants so need frequent stops when they need to use the bathroom) or people throwing up (driving is a new experience for many chinese, so new in fact that many passengers experience motion sickness).
another road side obstacle: pedestrians walking along the highway. it's not something we see in the US, but it's actually common here in china because a lot of highways pass through small villages, and villagers use the highways to commute from points A to B. i've even seen mothers pushing strollers on the side of the highway before.
there are 2 types of official rest stops here in china (besides just parking in the breakdown lane): parking lots by the side of the highway, and more traditional rest stops with eateries and public bathrooms. the unmanned parking lots are littered with garbage as people dump out the trash from their cars out onto the parking lot. as for the manned rest stops, i saw one today that was so packed with cars, there was a line of cars waiting just to get into the rest stop.
still, despite breakdown lane driving, it took us 1.5 hours to finally get back to changshou around 12:30. instead of getting off at the toll plaza (which is a 5 minute walk back to my apartment), i stayed on the bus until we got to the bus station. there i asked one of the clerks for the earliest bus to wanzhou. she told me they were all sold out for today. what about tomorrow? the earliest is 3:30 in the afternoon. i called lihui to tell him the news. he told me to get a ticket for tomorrow, so i did. afterwards i took the 105 bus back to my apartment.
it was nice coming back home (funny to consider changshou home now). even better was i had the foresight to clean up the apartment before i left, so everything seemed very tidy. then it suddenly dawned on me that i didn't have any food yet and it was almost 1:30. so i went out in search of food. the mall and the banks were all open, but most restaurants were closed, save for a few hot pot restaurants. there was an opened noodle place i never tried before so i decided to eat there (not that there was any other choices). they had deer meat noodles (RMB$20) which was curious to try, but they were all out of deer meat. i went with beef instead, with rice noodles (RMB$15). it wasn't that good, which makes me think their deer noodles wouldn't be that great either. the beef came in chunks which is nice, but it tasted like canned beef, beef that's been preserved in brine.
afterwards i went to check out some fireworks that were still on sale. in fact, throughout the day, i could hear the sounds of fireworks being lit. i wanted to play with all of them, but the only thing i got were some sparklers (RMB$15 for a bunch). i returned to the apartment to drop them off.
i went out once again, this time to chongbai supermarket to buy a few snacks, before returning to the apartment for good. i spent the rest of the day catching up on a backlog of movies and shows. for dinner i had some ramen with sichuan paocai. later i had some tangyuan for dessert.