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Mountains of People print version
人山人海 (rénshānrénhǎi) = 'Mountains and oceans of people' was my favorite idiom in my first few months in China. Clearly I have made some novice's mistakes that drew me directly into the crowds and hardened my knees while waiting in neverending lines, but the 1.4 billion population size is a fact one comes across every day in urban China.

人人人人人... People all around... This causes traffic jams and few parking spots in most big cities worldwide, but in China it seems as if the crowds stretch the clock and make life shorter. Chinese food, language barrier, lack of privacy - All these aspects didn't cause any adaptation problems on my account. The only thing that was surprising in its impact was the quantity of people surrounding me. This was felt in subways, buses, malls and market on every day basis, but above all I remember some occasions which both damaged my spirit and portrayed amusing scenes in front of my eyes (amusing for me as a laid back visitor, perhaps not so amusing for locals who had much more in stake...)

Scene #1 - Time: Two days before China's 'National Day' 国庆节 (guóqìng jié) celebrated on October 1st.  Location: Beijing West Station. Who would have thought that such a holiday will generate such an intense human traffic?! I have heard about the Spring Festival 'fever' before, but who would have thought that the Golden Week that begins on October first (and hence is also referred by Chinese in the name 十一, which normally means 'eleven' but in this case means 10-1, indicating the month and date of this holiday), is also a hectic time traffic-wise.

I had thought about travelling to the Yellow Mountain 黄山 or the Buddhism lover's '9 Flowers Mountain' 九华山, both located in Anhui province,  and spend my vacation there, but after waiting three hours in the line I was informed that train tickets to these locations have been unavailable already for some while. Apparently I should have come without any planned destination and chosen one, based on the available train tickets... In the end I rode a bus and went to Wutai Mountain 五台山. In buses the ticket situation is a little less severe compared to trains.

Scene #2 - Time: Seven days before the Chinese New Year, end of January.  Location: Changsha 长沙, Hunan. Ok, I said above that I was aware of the travel frenzy before the Chinese Lunar Year celebration, but when you combine this time with lousy weather then the result can shock even the locals. A week before my flight back home from Beijing I took a train from Kunming to the Chinese capital. Since I had a few days to spend I spontaneously decided to make a stop on the way, and why not do it in the capital of Hunan province, Changsha. The harsh weather has been already felt strongly throughout the train ride, with numerous stops and hindrances caused by the snow (but this is a different wining story).

I went off in Changsha, hoping to spend a couple of pleasant days in the town and then continue to Beijing under more favorable weather conditions. After sleeping a few hours in my hotel room I heard the people on the streets saying that the weather report had said that we experiencing the worst storm in this area in the last 50 years. Oops... When the locals heard about my plan to continue to Beijing before my flight date, they were very amused and told me that my only hope would be to catch a flight to Beijing. My next three days were spent between the train station and the travel agency; In the former there were many thousands of frustrated people eager to buy tickets to visit their relatives, many of them sleeping outside the station during the night, while in the latter there were less people, but still a mess. Flights were also postponed because of the bad weather.

To make a long story short, after a few days the trains went back on track, but their frequency was still quite low. The desk lady at my hotel managed to get me a soft sleeper train seat from a friend who scalps tickets. Not the cheapest deal, but the only one which could get me home on time.

Scene #3 - Time: Late Autumn. Location: 香山公园 (xiāngshān gōngyuán) Fragrant Hills Park, Beijing. This is Beijing's capital of autumn red leaves. When I went there the fall had already been after its climax, hence many locals told me that colorful leaves are already gone. Well, some of them were still around, and park visitors still showed enthusiasm, roaming towards the park from all directions. Actually there aren't so many directions, an unfortunate fact which made the entrance and the exit more densely crowded than the park itself.

About 10km from the park the bus could hardly advance, and on the 18:00 exit time things got even worse. Inside the park there was a very slow movement of climbing people, in a pace somewhere in the middle between a snail and a handicapped beetle. The park, by the way, is worth the visit.

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