No Room At The Inn

By Jane Mountain | February 4, 2014

9,435 so far.

After the late end to last night, we were slow getting going this morning. We only had about 80 km to ride, so what’s the rush?

The way out of Leizhou was all dusty streets, packed with scooters, busses, and trucks. The busyness of this city, and the party atmosphere, is what we were expecting, but did not get, in Haikou. Maybe everyone decided that Dog Town was a better place to spend New Year than on the island, or maybe nobody wanted to mess around with the chaotic ferry service this year.

Chinese Fashion

Once we escaped the city, we found ourselves in farmland again, though the road we were on, the G207, was still pretty busy.

Traffic, Guangdong.

Traffic, Guangdong.

Along the side of the highway, standing in the middle of what looked like nowhere, a young couple were waiting with their suitcases by the side of the road.

Judging from where they were, they were farmers’ children, just a couple of country teenagers. But the boy was dressed immaculately, in a pale pink blazer, which would have looked perfect on James Spader in Pretty In Pink, and shiny black pencil-leg trousers. His hair was coiffed in a big bouffant and died an orange-ish strawberry blond, not too different from my own hair colour.

This is not at all uncommon throughout China. Cool teenage boys have died hair, quiffs, and sharp blazers wherever we go. Many of them look so outrageous, they wouldn’t be out of place as citizens of The Capitol in The Hunger Games.

I wonder what these boys’ parents and grandparents, who lived through The Great Leap Forward, when individualism was considered to be an enemy of progress, think of kids these days.

tofu dish china

Our first proper lunch in ages, Guangdong.

The other great trend is among women around my age, usually with a couple of kids in tow. Many dress like movie hookers from the 80s, with fishnet stockings, high-heeled boots, and black pleather hot pants. There is usually some kind of faux fur involved to complete the look.


Vacancy, No Vacancy

I was a little anxious for most of the ride today, since the town we were headed towards is quite small, and we weren’t exactly sure what there would be in the way of hotels. Apple Maps seemed to suggest there were about a half-dozen to choose from, but Apple Maps is not always the most accurate thing in the world.

farm china

Succulent farm in Guangdong.

We arrived in Anpu around 3pm and almost immediately spotted a hotel. So far so good. As usual, Stephen went inside while I waited with the bikes. After about 10 minutes he came back out, a little confused, but pretty sure that they had told him we could get a room after 5:30pm.

Um, OK. But we’re exhausted and what we really want is a room now.

We decided to ride around town to see what other hotels were available. We found another one quite easily, but they just fired back a blunt “mayo” when Stephen asked for a room.

Hrmph. Is it because we are foreign, or could they possibly be full for the night?

We spent another hour or so traipsing around town trying to find a place to sleep.

Anpu was crawling with scooters, cars, and pedestrians. Many people were clearly just visiting the town. Again, we were getting the party atmosphere we’d expected in Haikou, just a few days too late. As we rode around, tons of people shouted and waved and pulled their scooters up beside us to give us the thumbs up.

Usually, this is fun, and we smile and wave back. But right now, it was a major struggle to smile, since we were exhausted, with NO PLACE TO STAY, and no plan B.

With the help of a local guy, we found one other hotel. They were also full.

Since it was almost 4:30, we decided to go back to the first hotel and get that room we’d been promised. Too bad, out of luck, no rooms at the inn. It appears that while we’d been exploring our options, other tourists had been snapping up all the rooms.


Our best option now was to ride to the big city about 30 km away, in the wrong direction, and try again there. Damn damn damn. After having already ridden 90 km, that was not high on our list of things we wanted to do.

We set off. Our Pocket Earth map doesn’t show any roads between the two towns, so we were going by my paper map, which is impossible to use for navigation. After quarrelling about which turns to take, we managed to find ourselves in the next small town, about 5 km from Anpu.

By this time we’d resigned ourselves to another ride through the dark, a late arrival, and possibly no dinner. And then, on a side street in this tiny town, we spotted a brand new hotel!

Stephen went in and secured a reasonably priced room. They even had WiFi. Amazing!

flower decorated sink china

So thankful for this sink at our hotel in Hengshan, Guangdong.

It was just by sheer chance that we passed this way through a town we never expected would have a hotel. We have never felt so lucky to be staying in the middle of nowhere.

Happy Home Restaurant

After a quick shower, we took to the streets again to find dinner. It is a peculiar feature of small Chinese towns that, even though they might have a handful of restaurants, all the restaurants serve exactly the same thing. Unfortunately, in this town, Hengshan, that thing was a variety of grilled meats. We inspected every eatery we could find, but none of them looked capable of making a decent veggie meal.

The one exception to the homogeneity was a fast food burger joint. As we walked by, and peered at their picture menu on the wall, a little girl came running outside.

“Where are you from?” she yelled.

“Canada,” Stephen replied. “Where are you from?”

“I am from China,” she shouted back, smiling ear to ear.

We were blown away with her reply. Usually, Chinese kids who know some English can say the phrases, but they don’t seem to know what they mean. They can ask “What is your name?”, but they don’t expect a reply and can’t answer the question when we ask it of them.

Stephen decided that we should get an order of French fries from the completely empty restaurant, not only because he loves fries, but because he wanted to talk more to the girl.

As we ordered, she worked up the courage to ask some more complicated questions. What were we doing in her town? Could she take a picture with us? We asked her how she learned to speak English. It took a few tries, using different phrases until she finally understood, and then she proudly told us the name of her teacher at school.

All the time we were talking to her, she was smiling and laughing like we were the best thing to ever happen to her. Her mother and sister, who also spoke a little English, watched us too, all with big grins on their faces.

Happy family at Happy Home Restaurant, Hengshan, Guangdong.

Happy family at Happy Home Restaurant, Hengshan, Guangdong.

We ate the fries, which were pretty tasty, and then took a few more pictures with the family. At the end of it all, when Stephen tried to pay, they refused to take any money. The older daughter told us we had brought happiness to their restaurant, so we did not need to give them money.

Of course, we insisted. We really wanted to give them a little cash, since they were such nice people and no one was eating at their restaurant except us. But they continued to refuse, and so as not to offend them, we had to give in.

As we left, the girl threw her arms around us in turn, giving us each a big hug.

Thank you lovely family, for the French fries and for reminding us why it is we travel! We wish you all the best, and with such clever and kind kids, we think you’ll probably get it.

Soundtrack: The Tragically Hip, Day for Night | The Tragically Hip, Trouble At The Henhouse | FurnaceFace, Just Buy It | Gordon Downie, Coke Machine Glow  

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  1. Comment by staffan hillberg

    staffan hillberg February 8, 2014 at 5:37 am

    what a wonderful sweet story

  2. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie February 6, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Amazing, I love this.

  3. Comment by Geoff Langridge

    Geoff Langridge February 6, 2014 at 5:44 am

    “The older daughter told us we had brought happiness to their restaurant, so we did not need to give them money”. This kind of thing touches one’s soul.

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