We just visited a small city near us. It’s 176 km away, according to Google maps. That’s 109 miles for all you Muricans, which would take about an hour and a half if you were driving on freeways in the U.S.
But this isn’t the U.S. It’s not even highly-developed China where they have super highways and bullet trains and mozzarella. The roads here are small, go through mountains, and happen to currently be under construction.
No worries, Google knows that. It gives an estimate of 3 hours and 48 minutes for our bus to drive this route.
Ah, but Google wasn’t accounting for rain.
On our way to the city, it took us over 5 hours to go those 109 miles.
One of those hours was spent creeping along through a half-mile stretch of dirt road detour that had apparently flooded in our recent rainy weather. It was bad enough that it necessitated having two construction vehicles and six or seven traffic police working the scene. Only one vehicle at a time could pass through a watery trench between dirt mounds, and there was a mile of traffic backed up each way waiting to get through.
At one point, our side was stopped. Dead stopped. Thoroughly stopped. So stopped that the driver turned off the engine, which is never a good sign. We were stopped there for at least 30 minutes before resuming our slow creep again.
Side note: Moments like these are when I am SO RELIEVED I don’t have babies or toddlers anymore. Loved ’em when I had ’em, but traveling is so much easier with older kids.
Another, longer side note: In the seat next to me was a young lady. She was dressed in the Standard Autumn Outfit that every woman her age is currently wearing: big, poofy coat, extremely short shorts, thick tights, and high-heeled boots.
I refuse to conform.
Anyway, she did two things that no American would ever dream of doing on public transportation, but that are totally normal here.
#1) She pulled out a knife. I like how dramatic that sounds. But, she was just getting out her fruit knife because it was time for a snack. She peeled a pear to hand over the seat to her grandpa, sitting in front of us.
#2) She threw her trash all over the floor. Actually, she was reasonably neat about it. She was eating mandarin oranges. She managed to toss the peels, leaves, and stems in a nice mound by her feet. She wasn’t able to spit the seeds so accurately, though, and I had to discreetly brush one off my ankle before it dripped down into my shoe.
Back to the bus trip.
On the way there, my phone was dying, so I had it off for most of the way to conserve the battery, and did not get any photos. But I vowed to take pictures on the way home.
So, here it is, our return trip. Same route, but this time, the roads were drier. I wonder how long the 109 miles will take us this time?
First, we board the bus.
So very many times, when our bus starts its engine and is about to leave the station, I look around and think, “Oh, good, the bus isn’t full at all. I can stick my backpack in the empty seat next to me and no one will care.” That is the moment when a flood of last-minute passengers usually cram aboard, and there goes that extra space.
This time, we were the last-minute ones. We get to the ticket booth and find out the next bus leaves in five minutes. We rush through the station to board. The only place that has seats together is the very back row, above the engine, where the seats don’t recline. I’m actually pretty pleased about that, because it means an empty seat next to us that no one would want, unless every other seat ends up getting taken.
Here we are looking happy that we made it onto this bus instead of having to wait an hour for the next one.
And here’s my zero leg room. Each passenger gets a free bottle of water. Such a nice touch.
And here’s what the rest of the bus looks like. Waaaaaayyyy up at the front is a TV.
Generally, the farther away from the TV we sit, the happier I am. This is because there is always the chance that the stewardess will decide to play Carnal Bloodbath IX or some other horridly violent/explicit American-made movie. I suspect they may even do this as a courtesy to us, their foreign passengers. Because, hey, these movies are in English!
Fun for the whole family, yo.
This time, I’m sad we are so far back, because they’re playing a movie I actually want to see: . 神话 The Myth. The theme song was played ev-er-y-where in China for like a year straight. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song, and I love it.
(I may be singing along in the back row.)
You can have it playing while you read the rest of the post. Yup, that is really Jackie Chan singing.
The movie seems quite good, but I can’t really hear the audio, so it’s not totally holding my attention.
Plus, we live in one of the most beautiful provinces in China, and even the non-famous part of the province where we live is still very pretty. So, I keep looking out the window as we drive along.
We’re on highway for some of the time, but also on smaller roads. We pass by field after field of sugarcane, rice, and bananas.
Every once in a while, we pass through a village or town.
And some of the time, we squeeze by huge trucks on little dirt roads.
About this time, the gravity- and time-defying chamber (still not entirely sure what was going on with that) behind the waterfall was collapsing and Jackie Chan needed to escape, but the Korean princess…oh, wait, I won’t spoil it for you. Just remember, in Chinese movies, a great way to prove two people are truly in real, deep, complete love with each other is to have one of them die.
This is also the time that we pass through where we had the hour-long delay. The dirt path is still pretty muddy, but it has been widened and the trench is just mud instead of a pond. No construction vehicles, no police, and no traffic backed up. It takes us all of five minutes to go through this time. Sweet.
Another Jackie Chan movie starts. This one is from the 90s, and Jackie plays twins separated at birth. One grows up to an amazing pianist/orchestra conductor, and the other grows up to be good at…can you guess? Comedic martial arts! Seriously, Jackie Chan fight sequences are amazing, creative, and entertaining. It’s like watching the Three Stooges do kung fu. I’ll take one of his movies over B-movie gore any day.
Meanwhile, we’re passing more villages, towns, and fields.
Sometimes a village is nestled in the valley between the karst mountains. Pretty amazing to ponder just how long farmers have lived in those valleys.
Looks like this karst is being mined.
If I ever need to buy cinder blocks, I’ll remember to stop here.
It’s near the end of our journey. It’s now very misty outside, and the windows of the bus are fogged up. Not great for taking more pictures. Still, I spot the cooling towers of the aluminum factory that lies just outside of our town.
Hooray! We’re nearly home. In mileage anyway. It used to take about 15 minutes to get from the aluminum plant to the bus station. Not now. I know it will be something like another hour over a few miles of grueling terrain.
This is a big, bumpy mess. I would say it had lots of potholes, but that would lead you to imagine asphalt. This is axle-cracking, off-road lover’s delight, and we’re traversing it in a bus. The closest thing I’ve ever experienced to this is riding an elephant downhill. Believe me, you’re gonna wanna hold on to something.
Last side note: Once again, I am ever-so-thankful that I don’t have an infant in my lap. Because, I actually did carry a baby while riding an elephant downhill once. And I learned my lesson then.
We make it through without anyone getting injured or vomiting. (No, really, usually I see at least one person getting carsick on these bus rides on mountain roads.) We arrive at the bus station and I glance at the clock. The trip was just a smidge over 4 hours this time. Longer than Google estimated, but it still beats 5 hours.
Rumor has it that they’re going to open a new super-highway on this route, sometime in the next couple of years. The journey will only take something like 1.5 hours then.
I cannot wait.
But of course, that means I’ll only get one Jackie Chan movie. Drat.
Mingge Hu (Folk Song Lake) boat tour
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November 13, 2014 at 12:33 am
I hope you bring things to do during your travels! I’m hopelessly motion sick. I’d never survive there! I don’t know how you all do it!! You’re amazing!
I listened to the song… it’s beautiful. But, I’m confused. The lyrics are partly in Korean? Is it a Chinese movie or a Korean movie?
We miss you all in Oro Valley!
November 13, 2014 at 7:54 am
We always try to bring books along, and we do have some electronic entertainment…while the batteries last. Thankfully, my kids are pretty good travelers. I’ve never had motion sickness, but it sometimes hits on one of my kids.
You’re right that the song is is Mandarin and Korean. The movie is all in Mandarin, but the story centers around Jackie Chan’s character and a Korean princess, so I think that’s why they have them sing in those languages. The actress who plays the princess and sings in that video is Korean. There is also an all-Mandarin version of the song – different, but still beautiful. 韩红 Han Hong sings the female part. Her voice is incredible!
November 13, 2014 at 8:16 am
That’s interesting. I didn’t realize that there was cross-cultural mingling with Chinese and Korean cinema. =)
I’m glad that you all do well with motion sickness (at least for the most part). I felt sick just reading about your journey. =)
November 13, 2014 at 10:41 am
I’m not sure how frequently they mix, but I do know that Korean TV shows and movies are pretty popular here.
November 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm
I don’t remember how I found my way to your site, but I’ve been enjoying it. I especially liked this post because it takes me back to a number of “at least this is good for a story” kinds of bus rides from the city we used to live in to the bigger city nearby. The best/worst was before they had finished the highway, so it was all winding through the mountains – on a good day the trip would be 5 hours, but this special trip logged 16 hours with absolutely no apparent reason. Lots of movies, lots of time spent squatting on the side of the road, lots of time wishing I had more than 2 apples for my kids to eat (I had been foolishly optimistic about getting home near lunch, even if it had taken 7-8 hours…wrong!). 🙂 Now that we’re not in that town we can enjoy from afar that the highway is done and the trip takes a mere 3 hours! After 5 years in that little city in Gansu, we are happy to be finally studying the language full-time and are marveling at life in this big city in Shanxi with highways to everywhere, trains that leave at normal times other than 2am, imported goods that don’t require stocking up and being pack mules to get them home, and more foreigners than the 10 we worked with. It’s so weird here! In a couple of years we’ll be somewhere else, so we’re savoring the “easy” China life. 🙂 Thanks for writing! I look forward to hearing more.
November 14, 2014 at 6:14 pm
Thanks for writing, Diane! Ugh, 16 hours + 2 apples + kids = no joy. But yeah, at least you have the memories, and a good story!
We are definitely in the pack mule part of life in China, but that’s okay. Good friends, care packages, and occasional trips to big cities get us through. 🙂
November 28, 2014 at 3:29 pm
We just took a 5-hour bus ride to spend Thanksgiving with some other ex-pat friends of ours in our province… and I know what you mean about the interesting movie choices (so much skin and blood for a bus that doesn’t have a minimum age requirement) and the carsickness. I definitely wore my infant’s carsickness on my shirt for most of the 5 hours. But there was a washing machine for us to use when we arrived 🙂
November 28, 2014 at 10:03 pm
That’s quite a memorable bus trip, Samantha! Here’s hoping the return journey is free from explicit movies and vomit. 🙂
December 2, 2014 at 12:13 pm
Drat…he he! Love your posts Em! Love and miss you guys!!!
December 3, 2014 at 11:08 am
Glad that still makes you laugh, Jen! Wish I could hear it in person. 🙂 Miss you, too!