Archive for April, 2007

Published April 23rd, 2007 by Mliesie

Visiting my neighbour

Time to hit the road and visit Railene in my neigbouring province, Ningxia, where she lives and works for VSO in the capital city, Yinchuan. So off I went early Thursday morning to catch the first bus out at 7.30 am. As that is usually the time I’m still enjoyiing my breakfast it was quite nice to see what happens around the campus at that hour of day. Many people having breakfast in one of the local restaurants, students doing there morning exercise, people sweeping the street, children on the way to school and me and my backpack on the way to the busstation. Ofcourse the fun already started while I walked to the local busstop with my hiking shoes and backpack. Lots of staring…. On the bus the children couldn’t hide their curiousity either and looked at me with their mouths wide open and their big brown eyes almost bulging out of their heads, but that’s not unusual… Having arrived at the long distance busstation I asked someone, in my best Putonghua, where I could find the bus to Yinchuan. He started smiling and as soon as I showed him my little piece of paper with ‘Yinchuan’ written in Hanzi (Chinese characters), he grabbed me -honestly!!!- by my backpack and dragged me to the bus. He wouldn’t leave me until I got on the bus and had found a seat. Meanwhile the passengers on the bus stretched their necks to see what was happening and ducked away as soon as they saw that big woman with the scary, big blue eyes. Finding a decent seat on the bus was absolutely impossible! The seats were so close, that even I couldn’t sit with my legs in front of me! You know I am not a very tall person, so you can kind of guess how much space there was between seats. Fortunately I had an aisle seat. Looking around I saw that all the Chinese could sit quite comfortably, with their legs in front of them. I now finally have proof of the fact that their physical lay out is different from ours. Their legs are much shorter and their bodies are longer, no doubt!!!! Anyway, the bus left right on time and now it was time for some real excitement!

No exciting mountainroads, no bus that fell apart, no roads with bumps and holes…uh, uh, nothing of that but the more of some other things. As soon as the bus took off the cigarettes came out and it looked like a very foggy day INSIDE the bus. Next to that there was the wonderful sound of hawking up and the inescapable spitting that always follows. Don’t worry, they did open a window for the latter! Meanwhile we had arrived on the expressway and I thought that from here it would be one long stretch to Yinchuan, boy was I wrong! Every now and then the bus would stop somewhere on the expressway to pick someone up who was waiting by the road to get on the bus. No busstop anywhere in sight….. By the time we had been driving for about 2 or 3 hours the bus was as full as can be, with people sitting anywhere possible. Take my word for it, there are many places one can sit on a Chinese bus. Ha! There’s another part of the fun. The buses are checked before they go through the first toll gate. The bus isn’t allowed to carry more people than there are seats on board…Can you feel it coming? Yep! About a kilometer before the toll gate there is a petrolstation; all the people that shouldn’t be on board, get off and walk to a meeting point, given to them by the busdriver. The bus now safely passes the toll gate and about 1 kilometer after the toll gate the passengers are picked up again. Do you really believe the police doesn’t know this??? I don’t! From here about 3,5 more hours to go with more smoking, people falling asleep in impossible physical positions (God knows how they do it….), steady times where food comes out of bags and where I was offered a very interesting sausage by the friendly lady next to me which I managed to slip into my bag and leave at Railene’s and loads of sunflower seed shells on the busfloor. However friendly and polite the Chinese are in many ways and in certain situations, on the bus they don’t show their most social behaviour. It does leave you with a smile on your face and great memories.

To reassure you, I got to Railene safe and sound except for my stiff legs. Perhaps you would like to know how I got back to Yulin? On the sleeper bus! Very different experience, definitely worth telling you about. As I don’t want you to get bored, I will tell you more about that some other time.

For now, as my student said to me when I walked back home: ‘Hasta la vista!’