“There’s no subway into town,” says the clerk from the information desk at Guangzhou’s airport. We’re a bit surprised as this goes against our research but get on a shuttle bus (we’ll later find out there in fact was a much more convenient subway, so much for the information desk). Close to a month in China and communication remains cryptic as ever.
The bus drops us off somewhere. There are tall, crackling buildings. Cars rushing by. And Canton’s southern sun shows off boastfully. Our Spring has lasted about a week, as we moved from the frozen deserts of the North to southern latitudes.
“So, where to now?”
“Hmm, all I know is their place is just a few minutes from the metro station.”
Well, that helps. I’m frustrated by the response, it’s 100 degrees, and we’re aimlessly lugging our albeit light backpacks on an obnoxiously large, loud and dusty avenue. We fortunately stop the madness and beg to make a call from a luxury car retailer, and after some further explanations from her cousin we make it with no further trouble.
Coco’s mom comes rushing down, arms spread wide open, relieved to see her baby, safe and sound. Also happy to see her to-be-betrothed and protector, myself.
Coco’s aunt welcomes us into her home; a large flat heaped with electronics, toys, books, and, among other things, a hammock. There also live Coco’s cousin and her two sons, aged thirteen and five. To add to the eclectic mix, they’re preparing to soon move to New York.
Her family has thoughtfully chosen to rent a room across the street for the next days, so we can settle down and rest, with some privacy. It’s been about a month and half on the road, two thirds of which spent in China, and we’re already feeling, more than we should, the fatigue and burden of backpack traveling, unplanned and improvised at its utmost.
No doubt traveling together, or with anybody for that matter, is also a challenge: it’s a patient, sometimes painstaking, road to understanding each other’s needs and priorities. Every decision must be concerted, every pull should have a give. I’m well aware of the difficulties establishing such boundaries, and many a travel group has split up in the past – but this is not something I’m willing to afford.
For those of you who’ve been following since the days of ooAmerica, remember my main man Redrik? We certainly had a rocky road trip. I’m not willing to go down this path with Coco. By the way, for those of you good enough to wonder, Redrik and I are on the best of terms, he eventually road-tripped back East, and has now moved to Los Angeles! – where we had ended our road-trip. Such are the unknown paths of every journey, as way leads on to way…
As I edit this in retrospect, these last days in China were no doubt the most difficult period of our travels in terms of its toll on our relationship – fortunately so. As time goes, you get used to a travel routine, knowing when to rest and when to truck on, when to give the other their time and space, but also get better at handling practicalities such as where to look for hotels, when to book them and when to wing it, making sure to have a map of a city or screenshot saved to your cellphone, writing down directions and names of places ahead of time, and so on; many useful, fatigue-saving steps which we’ll be sharing.
That evening we meet her cousin, an energetic single mother, and nephews. The younger one is in the midst of an Angry Birds phase, shoe-and-capped, while the older one is in his shy teens, an avid video game player. I try to relate and share some stories, but am also aware that much time has past since those days…
We feast on dim-sum – a Cantonese delicacy that, as I was disappointed to learn, is mostly available in the South and not the rest of the country.
The next days are spent restfully, eating well and sleeping better, or vice versa. I catch up on work, which has been cruelly left behind, and Coco spends some replenishing time with family.
Visit the textile grocers’ neighborhood, and get lost in the bustle of rickshaws, motorbikes and thousands of people heaving and lugging loads of black plastic bags full of Made in China.
But after only a few days of this pleasing regimen, it’s time for her mother to leave, for emotional goodbyes, and for us to get back on the road. Such is the cursed blessing of a traveling life!