Apple Maps works well in China. I will follow it blindly to the nearest coffee shop and for all my tourist needs. The problem with Apple Maps is that it does not tell you which side of the street your bus line is on, so that you have a 50 percent chance of heading off in the wrong direction. This is how I found myself stranded on the sidewalk in downtown Hangzhou at 11 p.m.
I had been nervously excited to go on my solo three-day trip to Hangzhou during the autumn holiday. I knew the language barrier would be difficult— my 20-word Chinese vocabulary really only gets me to the restroom and to ask how much my dinner costs— so this would be a big test of my skills. Armed with Google Translate, I felt up to the challenge.
The first 36 hours of the trip, I managed to secure my hotel room and find my way to the major sites Lingyin Temple and West Lake, but the buses proved challenging. I’d follow Apple Maps to the bus stop, but never knew which side of the street to get on, and three times I found myself riding off in the opposite direction as needed.
The first time it happened, it was the morning of my first day and I had all the time and patience to shrug off the mistake and simply change buses. The second time, it was during a failed attempt to find Mount Mogan, a mountain outside Hangzhou. By the time I conceded I couldn’t successfully transfer and make it in time to the mountain, I was an hour outside the city. I let out a major humph before I got off the bus, waited twenty minutes, and grumpily got on a bus back to town, having given up on finding the mountain altogether.
The third time, it was 11 p.m. at the end of a 15-hour day in the city. And it was the last bus of the night. Slumped in my bus seat, I looked down at Apple Maps and realized I was moving further from my hotel. This time my humph sounded more like shit! and I angrily got off the bus after three wrong stops.
Standing on the sidewalk, I could feel the tears prickling on the outer edges of my eyes. This was the closest I had come so far to cracking under stress since moving to China. I just wanted to know which way to go on the damn bus. My teach abroad prep course had constantly told me to be flexible and learn to embrace challenges. But right now I just really wanted to not be stranded without a bus home. I’d been flexible and resourceful and patient, now I wanted someone to tell me what to do and take care of it for me.
After more expletives followed by a deep breath, I remembered that Hangzhou, like Shanghai, is home to tons of bike shares. I opened my Ofo bike app and found one of the rickety, yet usable, yellow bikes parked outside a nightclub. I once again plugged the directions to my hotel into my phone, and with a deep breath, biked home.
It took double the time a bus ride would have and ended with an uphill climb, but I managed to get home. As I crawled onto my bed in my now sweaty clothes, I was proud of myself. I navigated the city, saw beautiful places, and met new people. Most importantly, I did not cry on the sidewalk. I’d call the trip a win.