Kicked off the bus in the mountains (Sichuan, China)

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".





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