The subway line color went from dark blue to light blue as we drifted further out into the suburbs of Guangzhou. We had made three transfers to get on this train, which we had barely squeezed into in center city.
Now, we easily found seats as high rises and office buildings gave way to apartment complexes only a few stories high. It was the second time that my business partner, Benita and I had been to Southern China to meet with manufacturers, and our confidence was higher than our inaugural trip. In fact, we had opted to take this trip without a translator or guide. This venture was being made to meet a potential manufacturer who wasn't showing at the trade show we were visiting.
"Are you sure it's this far out," Benita questioned? I looked at the screenshot on my phone again, and compared the Chinese characters and English name in Pinyin to the map on the wall of the train car. It matched with the last stop on this train, but it was easy to understand her skepticism. I looked out the window and saw a dirt field. After a week surrounded by the concrete in one of China's largest cities, this felt odd.
Our instructions were clear - get off at the last train stop on this line, call our contact and wait outside to be picked up by their driver. All of a sudden, the dirt fields were replaced by what appeared to be 25 and 30-story condo buildings - this looked a little better. We departed the train and I fired up my old flip phone which had received a Chinese cell phone SIM card earlier in the week. No answer from our contact. I looked at Benita and gave a knowing look...why did everything have to seem so difficult here? I was frustrated and I could tell she was equally annoyed. After a week in China, this seemed to be every daily task or goal.
My stomach started to rumble and I realized that it was nearly 2 p.m. local time and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I looked across the alley and saw a man in a van selling bananas. It felt like a mirage in the middle of the desert - a known fruit that hadn't been washed or fried in unknown cooking oil. Without even thinking, I ran over, exchanged pleasantries in my horrific Cantonese and received a bunch of 3 bananas.
I walked back to where Benita was standing, proudly holding my fruit and we both started laughing. The stress from just moments earlier had disappeared. Yes, we were in the middle of some half-built, barely-occupied Chinese suburb, but we were making things work. And if our business contact never showed up, guess what? We'd figure our way out of that too, and maybe just find some more produce along the way. I felt equal measure of freedom and happiness.
For some reason, that's the most vivid memory of that trip. Standing there, eating a banana on the side of the road in a yet-to-be-inhabited suburb of Guangzhou. What I’ve learned since then is that the incredible happiness/freedom feeling I experienced requires unknown train lines, late drivers and barely-charged flip phones. It’s being in a completely new environment and finding yourself, your abilities, new connections and yes, maybe even bananas, right exactly where you are.
Jess Diehl is the Co-Founder of zestt - a brand focused on organic, fair trade and ethical production of textiles for home, travel and baby. Their designs and products are available online and at independent retailers nationwide [www.shopzestt.com]. Follow them on Facebook [facebook.com/zesttorganics] and Instagram [@zesttorganics].