Due to its length, this post will be divided into two parts. Look for Part Two next week.
Last month, the story of Matt Stopera’s trip to China to meet ‘Brother Orange’, the owner of his stolen iPhone, went viral. Matt became somewhat of a celebrity in China and was often overwhelmed by the attention and hospitality he encountered. Inevitably, he and Bro Orange became the best of friends. When I read the story, the first thing that came to mind was that this was definitely one of those ‘only in China’ moments.
I have a story that is in some ways very similar to theirs. It takes place in Luzhou (泸州), Sichuan in July 2010.
Like Bro Orange’s hometown of Meizhou, you’ve probably never heard of Luzhou, despite its population of 4.8 million. I hadn’t heard of it either, until I began planning my first real trip around China after completing my first semester of exchange in Beijing. I decided it would be interesting to venture to the ancient village of Yaoba, located on the outskirts of the city, where the lack of foreign tourists would make for a more unique travel experience. Thus, I added Luzhou to the itinerary.
Although I did not become a celebrity, like Matt I made wonderful friends in the most unexpected of places.
My story begins like this.
After a three-hour bus ride from Chengdu, Sichuan’s provincial capital, S and I were in Luzhou. With no understanding of the bus routes, we opted for a short cab ride to our motel. Our amateur traveller status was revealed by my realisation that the booking confirmation only included the motel’s English name. The driver pretended to know where we were going. Five minutes later, after being told it was ‘across the road’, we were dropped off.
With nothing resembling a motel in sight, we quickly became lost. Coming to Luzhou suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea.
We started poring over maps, becoming more and more despondent and wondering whether we would ever be able to find this motel. In another display of amateurism, we remembered that we only had one night in Luzhou, and my goal of visiting Yaoba was very unrealistic as we actually had no idea how to get there from the city.
That’s when we met P and Z.
Having already travelled to a few major cities in China, we had developed a certain level of cynicism. In our experience, friendly faces and offers of assistance were not to be accepted without careful consideration.
So, when P and Z approached us asking in English if we needed assistance, I replied rather curtly in Chinese that we were fine, just looking for our motel.
Upon hearing me speak Chinese, the dynamic changed immediately. After looking at our map and ascertaining the location, they offered to drive us there. We were nowhere near it. Unaccustomed to accepting lifts from strangers, we were a little apprehensive. However, as we didn’t really have any choice, we got in.
Having successfully checked in, P and Z waited for us to unload our backpacks.
‘It’s our son’s birthday today. We would like to invite you to our home for lunch! He would love to meet you!’
‘What’s going on?’ asked S.
‘Um… I think we’re going to a birthday party.’