The Road to Yuanyang: Part 2
The woman with whom I switched bunks returned the favor in the morning.
She shook me awake with a “Jiangshi!”
I had expected Jiangshi to be the last stop. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was just one more along the journey, and I had fallen asleep. Were it not for the lady shaking me back to consciousness I would have missed it. Groggily, I got my stuff together, and jumped off the bus, to find myself in the middle of a busy traffic circle.
Ordinarily this would not have surprised me. Long-distance buses in China do this as often as not: why drop people off at, I don’t know, the bus station, when instead you can drop them off at a random intersection in the middle of the city?
But at the hostel in Jinghong a Swiss girl, who had just taken this route in reverse, said the buses had dropped her off and picked her up at the same station. So I wasn’t expecting this detour.
“Zhan?” I asked the bus driver.
He pointed down one of the six streets surrounding the traffic circle.
Should I get a taxi? Or was the station just around the corner?
I opted for my own two feet.
It was a good walk. My pack puts much of its weight on my hips, so long walks strengthen the quads. And if there are two muscles you need in China, they’re the quads.
At the bus station I showed the girl at the window a page from my Lonely Planet with the Chinese characters for “Xinjie”. [The guidebook explained that Yuanyang was actually split into two parts, the new city (Nansha) and the old city (Xinjie). Make sure you get a ticket to Xinjie if you’re going to see the rice terraces. Swiss girl reaffirmed this.]
I waited two hours at the bus station. Not bad, all things considered. Twenty minutes beforehand I showed the attended my ticket. He gestured that the bus wasn’t ready. 10 minutes later I returned. The bus was full. The bus driver told a kid in the front row get up and move to the back.
Up until this point, most long-distance buses I’d been on had stopped selling tickets when the bus was full. Not this one. The bus attendant had a stack of plastic kiddie stools for just such an occasion. We kept picking passengers up on our way out of the city until the entire aisle–front to back—was lined with passengers sitting on tiny plastic stools. [Our last pickup—the bus stopped on the highway onramp to pick up three men who gladly took their seat on these little stools in the aisle.]
Lonely Planet estimated the ride to be about four hours. Normally I’d check my gps, but the woman at China Mobile in Jinghong had explained that for some reason gps didn’t work well in Yunnan Province. And she was right. According to Google Maps, I was a stone’s throw from Vietnam. Thanks, Google.
We passed a sign for Xinjie. Here I made the wild assumption that at one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, the bus might actually stop at the station, or at least pull off the highway. After about 15 minutes the bus hadn’t stopped. I showed the attendant my ticket.
The driver pulled the bus over and honked at another bus going the opposite direction. While the first bus waited, the attendant escorted me across the empty highway, over the divider, to the bus now waiting on the other side, the driver of which kindly agreed to take me back to Xinjie.
[Now I knew how it felt to be the guy on the tiny plastic stool.]
I didn’t want to begrudge the new bus’s hospitality, but I was a little surprised at their choice of drop-off point: at a bridge over a small valley in the middle of nowhere. I mean nowhere. Other than the highway, there was not a sign of civilization in any direction.
The following conversation (as with most of my conversations in China) took place entirely with gestures.
Me: “So…which way do I go, left or right?”
Driver: “Neither. Climb over the guard rail and crawl under the bridge.”
Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Gesture very well. I thought you just told me to climb over the guard rail and crawl under this bridge.”
Driver: “Yes, climb over the rail and crawl under the bridge.”
Me: “Ok, that’s what I thought you said.”