Having just entered my fourth week of solo traveling in China, I had perfected my routine of finding a hostel in a new city:
1. Get off the bus/train holding my backpack real tight, dodge the taxi and minivan dudes harassing me for a lift and head for the closest bus stop.
2. Wait patiently for bus while trying to ignore all the stares from my 1.2 billion new friends.
3. Board the appropriate bus number I have written down from the help of Hostelbookers and/or Lonely Planet.
4. Listen carefully for the announcement of my stop, or show the address to the bus driver and let him hold my fate in his hands.
5. Exit bus hoping that I’m at the right stop.
6. Wander around for a bit, or until carrying my backpack becomes a tad unbearable, then call the hostel when I can’t the place.
7. Settle into said place, have a beer, then set out to explore my new city.
I soon realized that my fool proof routine wasn’t going to work in Jiangxi province. I effectively dodged my new peeps at the Yingtan train station and found the number 8 bus headed for Longhu Shan town. I got off the bus at what I assumed to be the appropriate town and was greeted by the warm afternoon sun (it was March and 25 degrees!) and the smiles of small town China. It took me about 5 seconds to stop my new friends and show them the address of my guesthouse so that they could point me in the right direction. I had my hostel in Hangzhou book the guesthouse for me, because it wasn’t an International Youth Hostel and I assumed they didn’t speak any English. I was right. I called them after unsuccessfully searching for the place for about 30 minutes. I was in a pretty small town but everyone’s sort of obscure motions to turn left and right along with the lack of street signs made me lost. I hate being lost. I’m lost on so many levels, I can’t be literally lost!! That’s the tipping point for me. When the “receptionist” picked up I uttered one of the only Chinese sentences I knew at the time; “Hello. I’m sorry but I don’t speak Chinese.” The lady on the phone told me a lot of things and then hung up. I hailed a taxi and called the guesthouse back. The taxi man talked to the lady and didn’t let me into his cab, he just motioned for me to stay put. The taxi drove off and I just stood there for a few minutes, planning an exit strategy. Suddenly a sweet Chinese lady came running up the road, smiling and waving at me. She took my daypack and I followed my new best friend to her guesthouse. The place was only 2 minutes away from where I had been standing. The first floor of the guesthouse basically looked like a large garage, with cement flooring and a tiny area for cooking in the back. A few men sat on a large plastic table, munching on their dinner. She introduced me to her family: Her daughter, presumably, and her cute little granddaughter. I was pretty sure I was the only patron that evening. I checked in and was escorted up the stairs to my first non-dorm room. I set up camp and looked out my window at the stunning Longhu Shan in the distance, the sun setting over the mountain peak, lighting the town with a deep orange glow. Taoist flags stood by the park’s entrance, blowing in the wind. Locals walked up and down the main street with that small town shuffle. I could read zero signs, and talk to no one. The landscape and look of the town was still a foreign place to me, a place I could only be grateful for an opportunity at attempting to discover. It was then when I realized, “Yep. I’m all alone in this giant country. I better do a good job at it.”