The other day, I saw someone had gone onto Facebook begging to know where they could buy an Octopus card in the MTR station from which they were posting. The reply, "At the service centre", came two hours later, by which time, I presume, the person had left, perhaps Octopus-less.
"Whatever happened to asking a bystander?" I thought as I read this exchange. Then it dawned on me - perhaps such reluctance to approach a stranger came from having recently visited Hunan province.
There is no way to put this delicately: the people of Hunan are not the most accurate providers of information. All right, all right, I'll say it: they're the biggest liars I have ever met.
I went there recently with friends K and E, on a mission to see Mao Zedong's birthplace, Shaoshan. We asked the receptionist at our Changsha hotel if there was a bus service that would take us there. "Oh no, no. You must join a tour." Yeah, right. There was a bus to Shaoshan every 50 minutes.
To sustain myself during the journey I went to a "supermarket" (a shack with about seven items for sale) near the bus station to buy fruit. "There isn't any." Where could I get some? "You can't get it anywhere in Changsha." I found some in the shop next door.
And so the day went on, with everything people told us being utter lies, including that we had to buy 60 yuan (HK$75) tickets to see Mao's Memorial Museum when we only wanted to see his " guju" or ancient dwelling, which was on the other side of the valley.
We had to console ourselves with a charming Mao "pen holder and paperweight" from the souvenir shop. Opening the box, however, we found it had no room to hold a pen.
We should, of course, have opted to do the opposite of whatever we were told.
Instead, in my naivety, I assumed that, for example, if the receptionist told me my room was on the fifth floor, it wouldn't be on the sixth.
Guangzhou is only one hour from Hunan by high-speed train and we had, at great expense, managed to acquire the last three tickets, from Chenzhou station. Informed by our taxi driver that this was the very station from which we'd catch our train, we reposed in the certain knowledge that it would only take us five minutes to get there in the morning. In fact, we'd even have time to kill once we'd woken up.
But, alas, the driver had fed us yet another lie. The station we wanted, Chenzhou West, was half an hour away.