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February 10: I wish I had taken some photos of the Guangzhou East train station, where I arrived after the ride from Hong Kong, because it was one of those experiences of bedlam that cause many Westerners to avoid traveling to the East. Alas, I was more concerned at the time about getting the heck out of there than I was about the fun story it would make as a photo caption.

When I travel to a strange foreign place, I usually follow a defensive strategy of determining the lay of the land and developing a list of options for my next course of action. This typically works well in cities where people don't view me as a walking savings & loan. It didn't work well in Kathmandu in 2000, and it certainly didn't work well in Guangzhou in 2003.

As soon as I was through the customs area of the Guangzhou station, I found myself awash in a sea of men touting their taxis and hotels. Most of them didn't speak English, but that didn't seem to deter them from extolling the virtues of their services anyway. After several minutes of fast walking and repeated spurts of "bu" (no), I got away from the touts and found the taxi queue. Plopping down in the first available taxi, I managed to convey to the non-English-speaking driver which hotel I wanted.

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