Bicycle Around the World


Index: Letters By Date | A Unique Opportunity | The Last (?) Bike Ride
June 19, 2002

The Chinese Bus Ride

Well the bus ride is now history and I am at the end of my third day of riding since the bus dropped me off in JaiYuGuan (JYG). Actually not in, but close, as you will see at the end of the story.
I think when I wrote last there was still a chance for the train ticket guy to show up. He didn't so I went with plan A. As I was getting packed to leave, the other guy in my hotel room woke up to say goodbye, and then said that he thought that there was a new bus station in Urumqi, and that made the map in the guidebook wrong. To help resolve that I asked at the front desk where one of the clerks spoke some English. At least better English than my Chinese. I should take bus number 8. I said I wanted to go by bicycle. She said it was far from the hotel, and the roads were torn up, so going by bicycle would be
very difficult. Then I asked her to show me on a map. They couldn't find a map, but I could buy one in the "Shopping Center," and pointed. They would open in about 45 minutes, at 9:00. It looked like she was pointing outside, like across the street. I thought that I was the only one who had trouble with how the Chinese point, but Graydon, my cycling roommate said he had the same problem. Finally I saw that she was talking about the souvenir shop off the lobby. So I went back to the room and napped for 45 minutes while waiting for the "Shopping Center"  to open.
Now that I had the map I went back to the desk and the clerk found the bus station for me. Then I started looking for where the hotel was on the map. Couldn't find it. Finally the clerk marked it for me. Much closer to the bus station than were I was looking, which made the bus station the same place on the Chinese map as on the guidebook map. But Chinese maps can be out of date too. If it wasn't there I would just have to start asking people where the bus station was. I have done similar things, and it works, but it is a lot easier when you know where you are going. But it was there, and it was only two or three miles, and no bad streets.
I went to the main part of the terminal and asked some door watchers for a bus to LiuYuan. No such they said, you should take the train. I insisted that bus was what I wanted. They thought about it for a while and one of them took me across the parking lot to where a chunk of space is allocated to really long distance buses, those going outside of XinJiang province. And for reference, XinJiang is the largest province in China and is probably larger than Texas. All of it is desert.
Anyway I asked the guy in the office if there were any buses to LuiYuan. He said not. Who knows, I said to myself, but maybe they go to JYG so I asked about that. Sure enough, and here were two buses headed that way today. I could have picked any of a number of  cities along the way other than LiuYuan, because LiuYuan is a little ways off the main road and is where the  train goes, which is why the bus doesn't go there.
I originally picked JYG for my bus destination because I have been there before and it just sounded like a good place to go, but when I looked at the map it was closer to Lanzhou than I really need to be in order to make it there before the middle of July. As a compromise I picked LiuYuan as being about halfway between Urumqi and Lanzhou. In the end I am glad that I said JYG. Now I am in the mode that I need to be in on this kind of journey. That mode is: make some progress every day, and take a rest day now and then. Don't look at the calendar. Today is one of those rest days in the small city of LinZe, which has nice hotels, shopping, restaurants and Internet.
One of the buses was a regular bus and one was a sleeper bus. The regular bus cost 80 yuan (about $10) and the sleeper cost 280 yuan (about $35). I thought that was expensive - twice as much as the train to LiuYuan, but thought I would give it a try. In the end they also charged me an additional 50 yuan for the bicycle. It went into a luggage compartment that was at the back, and the full width of the bus. As I was helping the bus crew boss load it in - laying on its side - the rear derailleur was hitting on the top of the compartment. He said, "meiguanxi," which means doesn't matter. I thought doesn't matter about the bus, but it matters about the derailleur and said so. Finally we took out a large carryall and put the panniers in its place and
everything fit. By now it was about two hours before the stated noon departure.
I passed part of the time sitting on a stool in the shade near the back of the bus writing more in a continuing letter to Ruth - and drawing a crowd in the process as everyone wanted to see this guy writing with these strange characters. Everybody in China studies English in school, so seeing English word is not new, but I guess seeing someone write it is. Even after all that study almost no one can speak English and the few that do cannot understand English spoken by a native speaker. Some can read a little, but I don't think they really understand what they are reading.
While I was sitting there the bus boss took a big cushion from a pile of stuff near the back of the bus and stuffed it into the space above the bicycle. There were other cushions and a couple steel plates in the same pile and pretty soon the pile was gone. Finally we left about 12:30. They told me JYG would be midday tomorrow.
I think I already wrote about the expressway north of Urumqi. It continues south to Turpan and we got on at the south end of town. But then we got off again at the next exit and stopped at this little cafe. Strange I thought, but got off anyway, to see what was going on. Next thing I knew,  about 15 or 20 extra people started getting on the bus and the cushions and steel plates came out of the storage compartments and were handed in through the windows.
There are lots of sleeper buses in this part of China - other parts too, probably. When I first saw them I thought they were double decker buses because there are two rows of windows. When you look inside you see three rows of seats from back to front that are like chairs with no legs and nominally spaced from front to back so that if you curl up a little bit you can lay down in the space allocated to one seat. There are two aisles separating the middle row from the rows by the windows. Above the seats at that level is another set of seats clearing the ones below with just enough room for those on the bottom to sit up. Kind of like bunk beds. Turns out that these extra guys were going to sit all together on the cushions in the back of the bus. Some on the bottom and some on the top. The steel plates were to span the aisles at the top so they could use the full width of the bus. Extra revenue for the bus crew? Which crew comprised six people. Four were drivers, then the boss, who I never saw in the driver's seat, and his moll. She handled all the money.
With these extra passengers in place we were on our way in earnest and  didn't stop for several hours, until supper time. This was at a cafe that seemed to know them. There were tables set outside in the shade of an overhang from the second floor and some private rooms inside. The bus crew got one of the private rooms and the cafe boss put me into another with my own personal pot of tea. Finally food came. It was a kind of stew with big fat flour and water noodles on a round tray. More than I could eat, but before I had eaten as much as I could people started getting on the bus. Some indicated that it was time to go. A new driver got in, started up, backed around and pointed toward the road and then stopped. None of the other bus crew were aboard. So, he backed around again and parked. Turned off the bus and got out. After
not very long I decided no sense sitting in a hot bus and got out too. After another half hour some more passengers got out too. We sat and sat. One of the bus crew opened the back compartment to show off the bicycle. I took that opportunity to get my novel out of its pannier. I read some I napped. I just sat. Finally after more than two hours we were on our way again. Who knows what the deal was. This is China.
I slept a little during the night, but not much. Turns out that all six of the very front seats have been split into two to make more seats. The very front of the new seats were for the drivers and were still long enough to stretch out on. I had the one behind, on the bottom in the middle. By maneuvering my legs between the seat in front of me, and the post just behind that I was able to get enough of me into the aisle to at least doze a little. In the middle of the night I woke up. We were stopped, and there was a toll tool booth a couple hundred yards ahead. Even though the expressway had ended long ago there were still toll booths. I guess justified by the fact that the road, even though now down to two lanes, was new and in pretty good shape.
We had been through many toll booths. The moll hands the driver some money, he hands it to the attendant. She hands him some change and he hands that back to the moll. Why are we not going through this one? I still don't know, but after a while one of the bus crew walked to the toll booth. After he returned several of the extra passengers in the back got off the bus and ran off into the desert. After a while longer we went through and paid our toll. We then made a pit stop a little ways past the toll booth. I didn't try to keep track of whether those extra guys got back on or not.
Finally morning came and we had a breakfast stop. More noodles. After that I dozed sitting up for a while and once woke to see that we were on a narrow dirt road at the edge of a village. And with the help of the other crew members watching the ditches we turned around. Then we stopped again and another bunch of extras got off. There was a lot of chatter and pointing among the crew as we headed back to the main road. After we got there we went on for about three miles or so, with the buscrew looking intently in the direction of where the extras had alighted. We took another pit stop.  We waited for a while. Then with half the passengers still standing or squatting by the side of the road we went back to the edge of the village and there were the extras right
where we had left them. They reboarded. We turned around again, went back to pick up the other passengers and away we went. A demonstration in how to do a Chinese Fire Drill the right way. (:-)
Most Chinese buses run back and forth from place A to place B, and have those places on the front windshield. The bus I was on had a large banner across the front with it's to and from for this trip. They removed it when they left the station. I finally figured out where the to city was. At first I was not looking far enough east on my map. Finally I found it. It is ZhongZhou, the capital of one of the provinces way in the east. These people are all going to spend several more days and nights on this bus. And imagine those sitting in the back with no place to sleep, or those in the 80 yuan regular bus. No wonder the fare was so high. I was paying for a trip to ZhongZhou, but if I
wanted to get off sooner, no problem. For a while I thought that this bus might make regular stops and that JYG was one of them. Turned out not to be the case. There is a bypass around JYG, and about 100 yards past that junction the bus stopped.  The boss said JYG, and that I should get off. I did. They got out the bicycle. I got out the panniers and off they went. It was several hours past the originally estimated noon, and as it turns out I could have gotten off anywhere before that I wanted, but I think this was the best choice.
At the recommendation of Graydon, I headed for the JYG BingGuan (Hotel), where they have real hot running water showers. It was a good way to end a long bus ride.
All for now, time to get some lunch and then do a little shopping and rest some more this afternoon. Maybe the hotel will have enough water pressure to make it to the fourth floor where my room is, so I can do a little laundry.

Edited by Shirley Salas
June 20, 2002