The Road to Yuanyang: Part 3
You would think, judging by the expressions on their faces, the good people of Xinjie had never seen a white man enter their town by rolling down a dirt-covered hillside with all his belongings on his back.
“Zhan?” I asked, dusting off my cargo pants. (Station is the most important word I’ve learned in Chinese.)
A group of men pointed.
I was twenty feet away from some sort of checkpoint. A couple of military police asked me for my passport. Looking around, I was initially surprised Xinjie boasted such a large military presence, considering its small size and tourist reputation.
“Zhan?” I asked.
They pointed in the same direction. A good sign.
I walked in that direction until I had left the town. Hmm….
I called the guesthouse. According to the guidebook and the Swiss girl in Jinghong, the guesthouse offered pickup service from the bus station, wherever that was. A moot point, as the clerk on the phone spoke no English, and I spoke even less Chinese.
Returning to the little town, I encountered a young officer who understood a few words of English. He confirmed I was indeed in Xinjie. The entire town gathered around us to see what it was this strange traveler who fell from the hillside wanted. Finally I called the guesthouse and had the officer speak to them.
After a lengthy conversation with the guesthouse, the officer directed me to a driver in a taxi-van. Now, experience has taught me: always establish a price before getting into a Chinese cab. Although truth be told, at this point I had been traveling for 20 hours. It didn’t matter how much he charged; I would pay it.
I handed the driver the calculator on my phone. He typed “400” (rmb).
Keep in mind, that’s more than I paid for the nine-hour high-speed train ride from Shanghai to Xiamen. Even as a bargaining starting point, it seemed kind of excessive, considering the guesthouse offered a pick-up service from the station.
And where was this station!?! The guidebook said it was just a block from the main square. Where was the main square? They mentioned Xinjie was “grubby” but this was ridiculous. Something wasn’t adding up.
I walked past a storefront—wait, what’s that in the window? A time-table? I couldn’t read it in Chinese, but I could recognize what it was. No wonder I couldn’t find the station. I had passed by it three times! It was just a storefront with a few vans outside.
Praised be Buddha, the girl inside spoke some English. Again, she confirmed that this was Xinjie. I showed her my map of where I wanted to go. She eyed me with pity, and shed some ultra-violet light on my situation…
+ + +
It turns out there are two Xinjie’s in Yunnan Province. A large town in the center of the province that all the tourists flock to to see the rice terraces. And a tiny god-forsaken village on the border of Vietnam that no tourist in their right mind would ever go to. When I showed the characters for “Xinjie” to the girl at the ticket window in Jiangshi, she naturally assumed I meant the latter.
If I had spat out the south window of the bus station, it would have landed in Vietnam, provided it had the proper paperwork. [And Google maps was 100% accurate.]
I would need to take another four-hour bus ride to get to Yuanyang. “When’s the next bus?” I asked.
“8:30,” she wrote.
Great, it’s 3:30 now. Maybe they can hold my stuff for a few hours. I’ll grab some dinner…
No, she wrote: “08:30.” AM.
Fortunately, the second story of the bus station was a hotel.
Unfortunately, the first story of my hotel was a bus station.
It was a long night. I made a list of pros and cons of the bus station hotel room. Surprisingly pros outweighed the cons.
- Idling vans outside fill daily recommended allowance of carbon monoxide.
- Very cool antique console controls lights and tv.
- If I ever need to film an interrogation scene, I can use the bedroom.
- They filmed “Saw” in the bathroom.