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We've taken a few "bus rides" to outlying towns. I now realize a description might be needed to truly appreciate a bus ride in China.
We awoke about 7:30am and figured plenty of time to get ready, catch a quick roll at our now most favorite place in China - the Starbucks about six blocks away. Suddenly it's almost 9:00 and we realize Starbucks is out as the last bus to Dujiangyan is 10:30am. Yesterday’s bus left about an hour after we got the ticket.
Luckily our hotel is only a few blocks from Chengdu's southern bus station Xinanmen. We have both our destinations, to & back, written in Chinese - what more could we need?
As we walk out the lobby, a mild but humid temperature hits us, and the street smells have yet to fill the air. Out on the street the entertainment begins - a hundred bikes of every condition imaginable are racing down the street with 1, 2 or 3 people on each. Many are loaded with goods, construction tools or anything else that we would normally carry in a pickup truck. Cars, buses and delivery vans, with horns blaring joggle for position. Nobody dares to attempt to cross now, as it would be certain suicide.
The various sidewalk street shops are opening, and there are several "sidewalk" bike repair shops busy fixing, flats, chains or whatever is necessary to keep the show on the move. I notice one girl helping to fix her bike - the rear 3-speed axle is out, bearings lying about on the sidewalk, and her hands will be proof enough to her boss as to why she was late this morning.
We arrive at the intersection of two major streets. The streets are each three lanes, each direction, (five cars & buses), then another full lane for about a hundred or more bikes, motorcycles & pedestrians, and this one has a unique center meridian which is actually a four lane underpass. This makes the entire intersection approach the size of a football field, and we - the lowest beings on the ladder of right-a-ways - must navigate across it!
The pedestrians and bikes pour out in front of all the cars filling the entire borders of the intersection at least ten deep. In the center are about six traffic control officers dressed in bright orange with red flags in one hand, whistles in their mouths.
Dee and I grab hands tightly and attempt to cross the "turning lane" to join the rest. As we make it into the mob, whistles start blowing and people & bikes are going everywhere. I can only imagine the sure massacre about to take place as the cars will soon get their turn at crossing the football field which is currently a sea of people going in every direction. We somehow make it to safety as the whistles signal another turn and the horns begin. The sea of people has vanished on their way. Nobody gets run over and the whole scene will repeat itself again.
We move into the bus station - a large old dirty building with a huge map on one wall - all in Chinese of course. At one end is a section of fresh Chinese food cooked on the spot for travelers. The smell fills the air. The ticket lines move quickly as we show our Chinese writing at the window, she understands and after a few hand signals we have the price, 17 Yuan ($2.80) each for a one & half hour trip.
The ticket is of course all Chinese, but the numbers indicate a time, 9:40, and the gate #10. We have about a half hour, and need some water and a roll would be nice. I find an agent that understands a bit of English. She indicates a block away upstairs is a coffee house.
Outside there has been a minor accident - a bus hit a car. About thirty people now fill the street to look, and horns are blaring. Of course it takes three stores to find Wahaha water, no rolls, so we head back to the bus station.
We board a little early and figure maybe we'll get an early start? The bus is very old, dirty and holds maybe fifty cramped passengers. Thank god it's not hot! We're almost the first on. Our tickets don't indicate a seat number, however we are directed to the front seats behind the driver and directly across from the door. We squeeze into our seats, which are covered with dirty seat covers, and the zoo begins. In front of us is the engine cover, about six feet long. As passengers crowd in and out the door, different men occupy the front drivers seat, bouncing in and out like monkeys, testing the horns, and yelling something the whole time. Several tour guides occupy the narrow aisle explaining to their people the days events - all in very loud Chinese. Somebody in back hacks up a big one, spits it out somewhere, and Dee begins to turn colors. The noise level is high, our "personal space" has disappeared, and some guy figures a little Chinese radio would be nice!
One of the "drivers?" decides it's time for a smoke; squats on the engine cover and passes out several cigarettes to his friends. The tour guides are now yelling over each other as more passengers crowd onto the already packed bus, and the temperature is quickly rising. I can now clearly envision every thought in Dee's head as we sit in the middle of this calamity.
To her tribute, she endured, and at 9:42 we we're headed out the gate - tour guides still shouting instructions now thru the windows & door, and people talking about who knows what - all in Chinese.
As we head thru town the streets are crowded. There are a few lane lines in the street, however they are meaningless. People and bikes cross anywhere in any direction. The bus horn blares, and it's everyone else's responsibility to get out of the way. At one point traffic stopped in our direction - no problem - with the horn blaring we simply took across the double yellow line and used the on coming lane. When we reached the intersection, we used the crosswalk to cut in front of everybody and make a RIGHT turn.
After a half hour, we made it out of town and onto the freeway. I could hear the engine, running on five of six cylinders, straining to reach about 65mph - sounded like about 4,000 rpm ready to blow at any moment. The freeways are two and three lane, divided roads in good condition. Every few kilometers we would pass the "ChinaTrans" workers, dressed in orange, sweeping the shoulders or trimming the center bushes - no lane closures - sometimes a single cone to mark their position. Traffic was light, however every time we passed another vehicle, it received the obligatory horn blasting which we have now grown accustom to. The bus was hot, no A/C, however with the windows open it was doable. Luckily we were spared the Chinese movie on this trip.
After an hour on the freeway, we arrived under an overpass next to another bus. As we stopped the driver jumped up yelling something. People began unloading and changing buses, so we followed having no idea why or where it was going. We soon realized only about 1/3 of the passengers had changed buses, so I flashed my Chinese destination to the couple in front of us, and he indicated this was the right bus.
After a 30-minute ride thru a small town we arrived at the irrigation project, China desperately needs a course in foreign tourism. The signs are seldom in any language besides Chinese, which we find amazing because in town all the stores have some English writing and English names. Most tee shirts have English slogans, and many times we've heard English songs.
The bus ride back could have been a challenge, as you'll recall our "transfer" occurred under an overpass and not at a bus station. Well we did locate the bus station, but soon found out there was no bus back to the Chengdu Xinanmen station. After a bit we were able to obtain a ticket to the Chengdu northern station, where we could get a bus to Xinanmen. Sounds simple, but try it in Chinese. Luckily we have found the Chinese very patient, helpful and curious.
On the bus ride back, we were blessed with a movie. We happened to pick seats right under the speaker, thus for the next hour we had Chinese blaring above us, horns in front and people talking during the movie - how rude! Dee stuffed Kleenex in her ears and soon fell asleep. And, Yes, she missed the movie.