Because of the Chinese Labor Day holiday (first week in May), we had a week off. A couple friends (Andy, Edoardo, and John) and I decided to take a trip during our time off. The problem was, we wanted to find somewhere that would not be very crowded during the Chinese holiday week. It was decided that it would be impossible, so we started our trip on the day that the holiday was ending since we each had a few more days until class started again.
I searched long and hard and found a place called Putuoshan. This is an island about 4 hours from Shanghai. It is most famous for being one of the four sacred Buddhist Mountains in China. I decided to choose this place because what we all really wanted was a break from Shanghai; some time to relax and get away from the constant construction and car horns.
I used the internet for information on Putuoshan and suggested travel plans from Shanghai. This is where the fun began…
We left early Sunday morning, to get the bus to the boat that would take us to the island. (Or so we thought.) In the cab, the driver tells us that we are wrong and that there is no way we can get to Putuoshan from where I told him. He tells us we need to go to another place where we can take a boat directly from Shanghai. This was different information from what I had, but I thought the taxi driver might have more current information than the internet posting.
We get to the place at around 8:00am, and had to wait 30 minutes for the office to open. While we were waiting, we met two Scottish guys who were also trying to get to the island. We wait the half hour only to find that the next boat from this place to the island was at 8pm, and it was a 12 hour ride. This was not the information any of us had.
We all really wanted to get to Putuoshan that day and not suffer the overnight boat ride. We knew there were frequent boats to Putuoshan from a city called Ningbo. Unfortunately, that involved a 4 hour bus ride. But, on the other hand, 4 hour bus rides through China, really give you a sense of “real” China, so we were not very disappointed.
Upon our arrival in Ningbo (the only 6 foreigners in sight) we were swarmed by a group of, what I will begin to call, “The Legendary Chinese Hustlers” (they are everywhere, even on the Great Wall). They were offering us transportation to the island. But we were not new to China, you must bargain for almost everything. The bargaining took place out on the streets with many, many people around. There were also some police present. And when we began to walk in the direction of the police, our hustlers began to get farther and farther away from us.
The funniest incident was when we were being “harassed” and walked up to a real travel agency. We wanted to check with them to compare prices and see when their next trip was to Putuoshan. As we walked up to the door we saw three policemen standing around lazily eating ice cream. Once they saw us and the hustlers with us, they got up to make their presence known, all the while, never putting down the ice cream.
After all the discussion and bargaining (all in Chinese), “the hustlers” had the best deal. And we even had own personal coach bus to the Ningbo docks. In order to get to the bus though, we had another crazy experience. 6 foreigners and 2 Chinese (1 being the driver) all squeezed into a very small van. This driver decided that we needed to get to the bus station a.s.a.p., and that included breaking all types of traffic rules. (You name it, it was broken) This was a scary and funny ride for about ten minutes. The coach bus ride was about 40 minutes, showing us the other side of town which, like Shanghai, was less developed and included a lot of factories. We even passed a small amusement park.
On the boat (which took about an hour) we met an English speaking Monk who was making a pilgrimage from Hong Kong and taking time to finish writing a book. We filled the rest of the time watching a kung fu movie in Chinese.
The island was definitely what we needed; a nice break from Shanghai including fresh air, island/mountain scenery, Chinese culture, and good seafood. We all had a good time exploring the island, seeing the famous sights, and bargaining.
One very interesting thing about being on this island that none of us had never heard about until a week before is that we met other foreigners while there. I have mentioned the two Scottish guys, and we also met two backpackers (people who leave their country to travel with only a backpack). One of them was an older guy in his 50’s from Canada and a young woman in her 20’s from The Netherlands. This was an odd couple, but they were very cool. Even they had only met the night before while in Shanghai. So we were shocked that they decided to make this voyage together. Our European correspondent, Edoardo (Italian), told us that Northern Europeans are the ones who do “strange” things like backpack vacations and traveling with people they barely know.
We also met another group of Dutch people on the 2.5 hour boat ride back to Shanghai (the dock is an hour away from the city center). Some of them were studying (college) in Shanghai and some were visiting their friends. They were also cool and were explaining to me that they were in fraternities in The Netherlands. So we had a talk about the similarities and differences between European and American fraternities.
About the trip home (back to Shanghai)… We found out on the island that the quickest way to get to Shanghai was the original route we learned about on the internet. So, in the end we found out it was the taxi driver who was in the wrong on that Sunday morning. But I guess we should thank him for the experiences in Ningbo with bargaining with the Chinese travel agent hustlers.
The most interesting thing about the boat ride home was… (Remember that this island is famous for it being one of the sacred Buddhist Mountains)… the playing of Buddhist karaoke during the ride.
And on that note, I will end this great story.