In certain regions in China, getting
around is very easy : buses are frequent, cheap, go everywhere, drivers
are honest and the roads are acceptable. However, in mountainous regions
of Western Sichuan, there is sometimes only one bus per day, leaving
at 5.30 am and breaking down or getting a flat tyre a few hours later
on bumpy dirt roads. Another situation came up : there are buses but
they are full or refuse to stop along the way to pick up passengers.
Thus, in a village, buses were passing in front of us without stopping.
I was travelling with Evelyne and we wanted to go 50 km further to another
village near a tibetan monastery. Eventually, a bus took us, but then,
as we started bumping along the road ....
"Yi-bai, yi-bai" shouts the bus driver,
showing a 100 Yuans note (about 15 USD). Obviously a rip-off, for 50 km we
should pay maximum 50 Yuans for two persons. I start negociating with
the bloke selling the tickets in the bus. I show him tickets from previous
trips, comparing the price and the distance. He makes a sign with the
hand explaining that there is a mountain pass on our way. I find other
tickets corresponding to another trip in the mountains, and I show him
a map. No use. They threaten to kick us out if we don't pay. I make
him understand that I want a receipt, a ticket with all details written,
departure and destination and price. With the chinese, one should never
loose his temper, otherwise there is no more talking. He fills in a
ticket but he writes 20 Yuans on one and gives me 4 other blank ones,
which confirms our suspicions of a rip-off. I offer 20 Yuans but he
insists "Yi-bai, yi-bai" and other travellers join him. I
tell him to write 100 Yuans but he grumbles, shaking the 4 other blank
tickets in front of me.
Meanwhile, the kilometers were ticking and the driver
was getting nervous, feeling that we were almost half-way and we were
not paying. We are in the mountains, on the way to a high pass (4000
m). Eventually, the driver stops abruptly the bus, opens the door and
kicks out one of our bags, shouting at us to get out. The bus leaves
us on the roadside in a cloud of dust. We are in the middle of nowhere
on a small mountain road. Fortunately there is a little traffic, so
we start hitch hiking. A few other buses and cars pass by, one car stops.
It is an old big car, but it is full (a tibetan family), they are already
4 at the back. A little later, a chinese policeman stops. He does not
speak english and must be wondering what the heck we are doing here.
His jeep is full of boxes but we squeeze on the front seat. At the pass,
we see again the car of the tibetan family, bonnet open, broken down
? As we reach our destination, the policeman drops us in front of the
only small, poor looking hotel and shakes hands before leaving. We did
the trip for free instead of being ripped off.
We have enough time before
dusk to go and visit the monastery, about 12 km away. We think it should
cost 50 Yuans for two, including 2 hours waiting time. The taxi driver,
a tibetan, proposes 30 Yuans, fine. He writes it down on my notebook.
His taxi is a wreck, it makes the noise of scrap metal, the window is
falling inside the door and it cannot even climb the slope to the monastery.
We visit the temples, enjoying the warm welcome of the monks. At the
time we had agreed, we meet our taxi driver, and I give him 30 Yuans
when we are back in the village. He smiles, looking embarrassed, does
not take the money and says "mei-yuan". In chinese "mei-guo"
means United-States, and "mei-yuan" means US dollar. 30 US
dollars for such a short trip, nice try mate ! Of course we pretend
not to understand, but I also know that "mei" on its own means
beauty (see note). So I show him
in the dictionary "mei = beauty" and I offer 30 Yuans, unfolding
corners of the notes, swapping an old one for a crisp one. "Mei
yuan, beautiful yuan" I tell him. He smiles and explains he will
take us to someone who speaks english. Via this person, it took 15 minutes
of calm negociation to bring his ridiculous price down to the 50 Yuans
we had in mind. He simply wanted to fix his roten taxi thanks to us.
At least he remained calm. We did not rip him off either, he even proposed
to drive us back to the hotel or to a restaurant. No hard feelings.
see the photos from China
Note : literally, United-States translate in chinese "country
of beauty". France translates as "country of law" and
Germany "country of virtue".