We arrived in Guiyang – a rural part of China – after having spent 4 days in various airports, sleeping on very hard chairs. To our surprise (ignorance) and disappointment, Guiyang airport had no currency exchange and no one who spoke a word of English; which left us lost and penniless in the middle of absolutely nowhere.
We approached an endless stream of people, hoping that someone might know at least a little English (I, myself only knew how to say thank you and happy new year, which did not help matters in any way). And then came guardian angel number one – a young police officer who spoke broken English, and went out of her way to help us. She even exchanged some of our Australian dollars out of her own pocket (she got a way better deal for her money, but she deserved it). The police officer got us onto a bus for free, which was heading towards the city center, where we had a pre-booked overnight train to catch.
Now we were lost in the city center, and it was chaos. Street stalls speckled the pavements creating a maze impossible to navigate, and a lack of English street signs left us utterly clueless. We walked hopelessly for hours with over 30kg of backpack luggage between us. We were exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and unable to buy food or water. Did I mention that it was 2 degrees? Having previously spent a year in Australia, and lastly tropical north Queensland, I can tell you wholeheartedly that we were not prepared nor dressed for this. For lack of a better option, I sketched a diabolical picture of a train onto a scrap of paper and presented it to the passing locals, who eventually began pointing us in the right direction. Finally, and quite by chance, we spotted the train station with half an hour left before departure. Needless to say, I would be framing that terrible train sketch once we arrived home.
We queued with the masses, unsure that we were even in the right place, or that we would make it in time. At long last, we reached the front of the line, where a man who spoke a little English was brought to talk with us – guardian angel number two. I was able to show him our booking number and the destination, but that was all, as we had no access to the internet. I could tell that he didn’t understand what I was showing him, as he scanned through my itineraries for China, Thailand and Rome with a perplexed look on his face. In the end, he printed off two tickets to Chengdu, yelling “Hurry! Go now!” We collapsed onto our bunk beds seconds before departure, in absolute disbelief that we had made it. It’s also worth a mention that our flight to Guiyang had been cancelled, and we had been forced to take an earlier flight, which, had we not taken, we never would have made our train.
Now in Chengdu, we stumbled into a hotel at random, as we were unable to locate our pre-booked hotel, and were too hungry, thirsty and tired to give a damn. The receptionist – guardian angel number three – showed me to our room, while Dean went to find a bank to exchange currencies. He walked to the first bank and was rejected, as they did not accept cash transactions, only card. He walked to a second bank only to be told the same thing. He returned to the hotel to explain to receptionist what had happened, who then took it upon herself to walk with him to the bank. After two further rejections, they reached the Bank of China. Things seemed bleak at first, as they explained he would need his passport to exchange $1000 Australian cash dollars, into CYN, which was currently back at the hotel with me. They exited the bank, and then, by some divine miracle, were yelled at to come back inside. A woman with a huge wash bag full of crispy Chinese Yen notes (very possibly drug money) had at the same time entered the bank, seeking to exchange her cash for none other than Australian dollars. They did a straight swap, and we paid for the hotel.
Our room mirrored paradise as we lay upon the cloud-like bed, watched a bit of BBC television, drank free cups of tea, and lapped up the complimentary wi-fi. I then checked my emails to find that for some reason, our train ticket from Guiyang had been cancelled and I had been issued a refund, which meant that our overnight train had been free.
We have never felt more lost or helpless, and we will always be so grateful for the kindness of those three strangers. We also decided to learn Mandarin when we returned home. Moral of the story – everything will always be okay.