Friday, April 11, 2008

Sleeper Buses and Illegal Fruit Transportation on the way to Taiyuan

My trip to Taiyuan was definitely an experience I won't forget, nor was it one I will ever repeat.

I arrived to the bus station a little after ten, knowing the bus left at noon. Suddenly I was surrounded by people all asking me where I was heading. I shrugged them off, saying, I just want to buy a ticket at the ticket booth. They all agreed- oh no, you can't do that, you have to buy it at the bus itself.

So I decide to follow one of these guys, who takes me to a bus that didn't look right, and after some confusion found out it was the bus to KAIyuan. I didn't even know there was such a place. Then after telling them Taiyuan, they kept giving me dirty looks and muttering something I'm sure was about tones.

So I buy the ticket- 350 yuan, or 50 USD- and they tell me I can't get on now, I have to wait until 11:30 to board the bus. So I eat some street vendor food and bananas and come 11:30, I try to board the bus and the driver and the bus hostess lady tell me they don't recognize me or my ticket, Who sold me my ticket? I pointed to one of the guys and they're like nope, not possible, don't recognize you, get off this bus. I was freaking out, I thought I'd just given 350 yuan to some random person, but then someone ran up and confirmed I had purchased the ticket.

The BHL didn't look terribly happy to let me on, especially since I didn't look terribly happy to have to take off my shoes to board the bus (because I am terribly OCD). So after I settle down in a bunk, she points to the one in the very back and tells me, you get this one. Whatever, fine, I move all my crap over, make peace with my surroundings (staring, stinky, mostly late twenties men and discarded mattresses) and we finally get going.

Pretty soon, we pull over and stop to load things onto the bus. Half an hour later, we pull over again. And again. Soon there's no room below the bus so they have to move everything on board; turns out they were boxes upon styrofoam boxes of FRUIT. Styrofoam makes a horrible noise when it's pushed against more styrofoam, by the way. The fruit was some cross between an apple and a peach, from what I could tell of the fruit they kept stealing out of the boxes to feed to everyone, and green leaves were dangling everywhere.

By the time we finally load all the damn fruit on board, it has taken up probably a good third of the back of the bus. Anywhere they had free space, they filled it with fruit. Now these buses are cramped to begin with- they are the same size as a coach bus, yet have three rows of beds with an upper bunk and lower bunk. I went from having little space to maneuver, to having absolutely NONE. They filled up the fruit from the back all the way up to where my bed ended, and also from the floor up to where my bed was. It felt very Cask of Amontillado-ish, for those who know Poe.

THEN they tell me, we don't have enough beds for the people coming at a different stop; we have to put this random mattress between you and the fruit. The mattress was wider than the space between the fruit and me, so it cut into my bed space (which was maybe half the size of a twin mattress). The girl who ended up getting on didn't feel comfortable sleeping with all this creaking fruit around her, ready to crush her at any second, so they placed another mattress on top of some more boxes in the other aisle, and she slept between two people.

I on the other hand was lucky enough to have the alternate driver nap right next to me. I was so uncomfortable with this situation I slept for a while sitting up, with my head rested in my hand and my elbow digging into my knee. But when this became too uncomfortable (because I woke up staring at the man's rear) I decided to risk lying down, my face about four inches from his. Of course, a few minutes later, I get completely elbowed in the side of the head when he decides he can toss and turn in this little bed space of his.

So I can't move my legs because there's no room, and this made my injured ankle very sore. I also had to go to the bathroom since about four, so I ended up holding it for the next 15 hours. Why 15 hours? Because besides the extra two hours spent loading FRUIT, at some checkpoint, the police decided to get on board for a standard check and ended up holding us there for another two hours. It led me to believe the fruit was all illegally being transported, since as soon as we found out we were stopping the guys raced to throw blankets on top of all the boxes of fruit. Because massive blankets covering up almost half the bus does not look sketchy in the least.

I couldn't fall asleep, obviously, and every time I did manage to doze off I would have some crazy dream (I have really fantastical dreams when I'm not sleeping well, and realistic ones when I'm sleeping peacefully) and wake up to find I only took like a two hour nap. Finally at 5:40 I woke up and thought, Well they said we'd arrive at 6, we should be close. We weren't. We ended up not even in Taiyuan until about nine, and then the bus driver took three wrong turns trying to find the bus station.

But I'm Finally here in Taiyuan! Sarah picked me up at the bus station and we went to McDonald's (or Macca's as I've become fond of calling it thanks to the Aussies) for breakfast. The rest of the day she's been introducing me to some of her coworkers, and we had lunch with two of her best students. She even organized a party tonight so I can meet everyone; it's a "classy" party so she let me borrow a dress and -she just told me she's putting on makeup as I write this haha- the guys are supposed to dress up and wear a tie and all. Basically, we're supposed to dress like adults and act like kids, and then we may head over to a club that has bouncing floors?

Tomorrow is also going to be very adventure filled- it would have been my grandmother's 88th birthday tomorrow so I am donating a little over eight inches of my hair. After the haircut then Sarah and I are getting pictures taken; because photography studios in China cost very little, are super fun, and turn out fantastic portraits. Then she's taking me to some Tea Cafe with supposedly yogurt with Real strawberries mixed in, and Brazilian BBQ for dinner. Sunday then I am visiting my grandmother's younger sister who happens to live here as well, and then Sunday night I head for home. But I don't want to think about that yet. I'm just super excited to be here, traveling on my own, crashing at my friend's place, exploring this new city and meeting more people.

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