I knew I had limited time to get to Beijing from Laos for a spot of work but still, after being on the road for a while it was a question of what do I do in China for a couple of days… I was going to head up to the well known and renowned city of Chengdu. I put the line out there on couchsurfing in some of the lesser known places on the railway line towards Beijing and I got a huge, very lucky, bite.
Bolon from Zhuzhou in Hunan province sent me a hosting email, you shouldn’t know Zhuzhou and if you do – why? He very quickly put in his email it was his cousin’s wedding and I was invited!
A quick look at the guy’s profile to make sure he isn’t a group sex enthusiast (I’ve had a prospective host like that before in Czech) or some kind of nutter (more than myself) – all clear. Then a reply email to say that I think crashing his cousin’s wedding is a lovely offer but I feel a little imposing. The reply was one of my kind of magic. He said it was a wedding in the mountains in a small town and that they are expecting me and they would be sad if I did NOT go! With prospect of being showered in absolute attention in a rural town and at a wedding, and of course for the cultural experience and learning, I gladly and gratefully accepted!
This did mean I had to string together a 25 hour sleeper bus (note – like being in a crammed smoky bumpy hospital bed) ride and then a 28 hour sleeper train ride (note – quite comfortable!).
This lobbed me in at Zhuzhou station and to be with my host Bolon, along with thousands of other Chinese all going to their hometowns for the National Holiday break. We then got on a public bus, had a quick bite, another public bus, an intercity bus 1 hour to Changsha and an hour long public bus ride to his cousin’s place so we were well placed for a bus to the countryside early the following morning – basically a proverbial brick load of transport!
It was completely worth it as we arrived in Am Hua area and the small town where Bolon’s grandmother, aunt and to-be-married cousin lived. That first walk down the main street was like being an excited dog at a sloppy butchers. All eyes were on the prize (me! maybe not prize more like weird amusement) and my eyes were on the incredible surroundings and the step I had taken into a rich unique real cultural experience. This was China at its purist.
I met Bolon’s delightful grandmother and family and was giddy with the whole experience. From here it just got richer and richer as I was accepted into the family (albeit with a language barrier and height advantage) and participated in the wedding as a long-time friend/family member.
The photos give the experience justice – see below, but it was an incredible mix of:
- Rural China with narrow streets, wooden buildings, small villages, cloudy mystic mountains and typical daily life
- An endless explosion of incredibly loud fireworks, bright flashes from cameras, suffocating second-hand cigarette smoke and oily food – all good for your health
- Jaws on the ground like I was the first foreigner they had seen (may well have been)
- A beautiful family wedding with all the Chinese trimmings of food, karaoke and kitsch
- Enriching and unforgettable conversations about China, Australia and the world
- Another special experience that only requires people and intrigue
- Sometimes overwhelming hospitality and treatment
- A badly pronounced speech in Chinese and spontaneous singing requested from the audience – renditions of Waltzing Matilda and the Australian national anthem!
From the weekend I received just the pure gold insights, memories and experience that make travelling one of my favourite things in life.
There is not much you can do to try and thank someone like Bolon for giving me the amazing opportunity to have such an experience except be very thankful, remember it and him and write blog about it! Thank you Bolon and your family for a truly wonderful Chinese experience!