Catching a bus to Guangzhou: Why traveling is life’s best teacher

Every trip is memorable. But any traveler who’s been around more than I do would probably agree that some travels simply stand out. Good and bad experiences stick longer perhaps as reminders of why traveling is one of the best ways to enrich our lives.

I consider myself lucky to have traveled to different parts of China over the past years. It’s a culture-rich, breathtaking country that should be on everyone’s travel list. Climbing the Great Wall of China from Beijing, participating in a dragonboat race amidst the dreamlike beauty of West Lake in Hangzhou, enjoying a 21-hour train ride across mountain tunnels to Xiamen, walking along the paths of an ancient city in Shanghai, dragonboating in quaint Macau, and walking around bustling Hong Kong are just some of the many unforgettable experiences China gave me. Not quite recently, a memorable trip to Guangzhou was added on the list.

The Guangzhou trip had all the elements of suspense and drama guaranteed to fray my nerves. In hindsight, there were lessons learned from things that stretched me most:

  • Lesson #1: Things change, deal with it – Booking the flight was easy. I managed to do this with over a month to spare before the trip. Unfortunately, I was informed later that I need to be in Guangzhou a day earlier. I had to quickly adjust my plans with less than four days left.
  • Lesson #2: Never assume, take things as they come – My first mistake was to assume that I’d be able to get a travel visa easily given my previous trips to the country. I’ve processed visas before in less than a week or so. Three weeks seemed like a fairly reasonable time frame. However, I was unprepared as to how things turned out. For reasons still unknown to me, the consulate refused to process the visa unless I do it personally. I immediately booked the earliest flight to Manila the day after I was informed. I had one day to fix everything. As fate would have it, a typhoon delayed all flights until late afternoon. I lost that one day that would make or break my chances of getting the visa on time.
  • Lesson #3: Lemons make nice lemonade, but they can be other things too – When life hands out lemons, you accept them then make lemonade. At least that’s what the adage says. If you’re willing to take risks, you take a step further by making something else from it. So the suspense of my Guangzhou trip continued. I presented myself early at the consulate Thursday morning. The process was so easy this time. Sadly, there was no way for me to get the visa the following day. I had to wait until Monday to get it. This messed up my booking yet again. I had to explore other options with barely two days remaining.
  • Lesson #4: When in doubt, just do it – Doubt paralyzes. If I gave in to all the doubts that sprouted at that time, I’ve probably folded up and cancelled my plans. It was hard to give in, however, after all the stress invested on planning the trip. Re-booking my flight again proved to be another challenge. The airline didn’t have a direct flight to Guangzhou the day I’m finally scheduled to leave. I decided to book a flight to Hong Kong instead then take the train or bus from there. This despite the added concern of having a hard time getting in touch with my contact from the event I was attending. We’ve been communicating by email. I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to read my emails in time regarding the changes in my travel itinerary.
  • Lesson #5: Nothing beats experience, traveling is a great teacher – The trip was smooth, at least it was up to Hong Kong. I think Hong Kong has one of the friendliest airports in the world. It’s easy to be a tourist there with all the visible and clear signage that provide directions to travelers. I quickly found the information I need on trains and buses to Guangzhou. The train was not an option though because I missed the last trip by a few minutes. Fortunately, there were several choices of buses so I snagged a ticket, settled comfortably at the waiting lounge, and waited excitedly for departure. The tale of the bus trip brings me back to Lesson #2. I wrongly assumed that the bus leaving Hong Kong travels directly to my destination. I was surprised when barely an hour later we were told to get off the bus twice. In the last one, we had to collect our luggage because we were supposed to change bus after we get past immigration. Things got more confusing when I went looking for my bus in a station teeming with a crowd of tourists and locals. I eventually located it. The driver and his companion were nice but communication was a major problem, which increased my worries up a notch. We arrived in Guangzhou after more than four hours of travel time. It was unfortunate that I missed the views for traveling at night. I assumed though that everything was still fine and that I’ll be getting off a central station somewhere. It was a shock to finally realize that the bus just circles around specific routes. I didn’t know where to get off. It would’ve been simpler had things went smoothly as originally planned since it’s already been arranged that someone would pick me up from the airport. Instead, I was the last one to disembark at a dark rotunda in the middle of the city. I stood there at past midnight with my luggage, a phone that’s not on automatic roaming settings, and two words in my Chinese vocabulary. At that point, I was way past fear. I remember feeling so alive. There was a beautiful sense of clarity in the swirl of emotions going on inside me. It was a kind of awareness brought to new heights.

Many things happened after that moment in the dark rotunda in Guangzhou. I survived with nothing but my wits, some Chinese currencies I thankfully had the foresight to buy at the airport in Manila, and the kindness of a stranger – a lady taxi driver who helped me. I even performed better than I expected in the event that brought me there.

Traveling is really not all about comforts and smooth experiences. It’s about limitless opportunities for learning and discoveries. Every trip is a journey to a destination and a path to self-discovery. Whatever is learned, trust that everything will always be worth it. .

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