… and it was the best thing that could have happened.
I’ve recently arrived in Kunming, capital of the Yunnan province of China. It’s a small city by Chinese standards but to give you a bit of perspective: you can drive from the center outwards for an hour and still be in a fully urban center. It had been a rough couple of days of adjustment for me. First there was the separation from the rest of group, and then apprehension about the 1.5 hour transit on Bus 85 each way from my homestay to the program house. All in all I was in a pretty gloomy mood when I woke up this morning.
It only got worse when I got off at the wrong stop in the morning to get to the program house and asked a police officer who also clearly knew less than nothing about the area. So I’m thinking “great… this day cannot get any worse.” Anyhow, I’m resourceful and I figure out where I am 30 seconds later and get to the program house in a couple of minutes.
Fast forward to the end of the day, I visited a mall with an instructor and a few other students after class, so I was not near the bus line that usually took me home. I had written down the name of the bus station I needed in this area and began asking for directions. I was pointed in the direction of YiErYi Da Jie and told that bus 83 (which also stops at my homestay) is at that station. I set off….. oh boy. To my family, this story gets better. I promise.
There is a station…. only bus 83 doesn’t stop there. I ask the first shopkeeper if he knows where the bus stops, he says no and waves me off. The next 3 shopkeepers are equally unhelpful. Come to shopkeeper number four: a very nice middle-aged woman with glasses and a thick Kunming-ese accent (quick aside: every region of China has its own distinct dialect that is pretty difficult to discern even though most people speak Mandarin.) She looks it up on her phone and tried to give me directions as best she can, I thank her and go on my way.
“Zou Lu Kou, You Zhuang” she said. Go to the intersection and turn right.
“Zou Cha Bu Duo, Zou Zhuang” walk a little and then turn left.
Oki doki then. I turn right and find myself starting towards the middle of nowhere. My homestay expected me back around 6:30. It is now 6:20 and the bus ride is about an hour if the bus is on time (psst… it never is). I have yet to even find the stop. Doubting the nice lady’s directions, I step into a chain similar to 7-11 and get some more directions. This guy’s directions are similar. I give myself a time limit of 7:00 to find the station before I call the instructors.
Insane as it may seem, I start to enjoy myself and this terrible horrible no good very bad day takes a sharp turn for the better. I’ve spoken to so many people at this point that I’ve perfected all of the grammar that relates to the situation in any way. I’m more confident in my speaking abilities and my tones are coming out properly. I find myself in a semi-residential district where the streets are lined with little independent shops selling everything from spare parts to handmade coats.
I don’t even recall if I was still following the directions at this point, I was just enjoying being a part of the ebb and flow of the city. A sidestep to avoid a motorcycle at one moment and a leap over a puddle the next. “Bu Hao Yi Si” to the woman walking too slowly as I pass her and a “Dui Bu Qi” to the man I’ve bumped coming out of a store.
6:40. I spot a little cafe. Tucked away between a small alley and some random irrelevant store, it’s decor was warm and cozy as twilight was falling. Why not? I like coffee. Going in was the best decision that I’ve made in a while. The two women sold specialty coffee from places I don’t know because I can’t really read yet, and it was adorable. I order a latte (only 19Yuan – $3. Typical coffee in china is about 35Yuan) and strike up a conversation with the owner. I’m confident in my chinese but stumbling and she puts in the effort to give me very clear directions and draws me a map of the area.
“Xie Xie, Zai Jian.” Off I go through the nicest, cleanest, prettiest, and liveliest part of Kunming. 5 minutes later I’m at the bus stop. The slouch from the morning is nowhere to be found and the smile on my face stretches from ear to ear. I pull out my textbook and study as I wait. I’m not dreading this bus ride, I know I’ll enjoy it.