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October 22nd, 2000 · No Comments

Guilin to Longsheng

Day 296

After a rainy day off and a miserable rainy riding day the day before, I was not thrilled at theMendy aspect of riding yet another day in the rain. I took a poll of a few folks and determined I could fill a bus with people who agreed with me. So that is what I did. Actually, I ended up filling two buses with riders and hiring a very large truck to take us to the next location. Cool, now I’m into group transportation!

The story of how I managed to get this done is fairly interesting. TK&A has several Chinese guys, helping with the language and securing transportation and lodging for us as we go through the country. I went up to one of them, Marco is his name and asked if I could get a bus and a truck. He wanted to know “how many people”. At the time, I didn’t know how many people, so I asked him, “how big is a bus, I will fill it.” He told me 30 seats.

Dealing with Marco was interesting because first of all he is maybe, 4 feet tall. I’m 5″6′ and I can sit down on a chair and look Marco right in the eyes as he stands. When I’m sitting he likes to come up to me and make like he is bending down to look at me. He is so funny. I know in his society he is probably a high roller. He always has something going on and I know he is getting cuts from everything.

In Yangshou, before I was dealing with him, he came up to dinner one night with his wife. He started telling me that his wife had taken up embroidery and was making these cute little handbags. Well the handbags were no more made by his wife than by my dead Grandmother. They were the handbags that the vendors sold to the tourists all over Southeast Asia.

I chuckled to myself when I caught a glimpse of his wife chewing him out after he said that. I could tell she was in business to sell them and didn’t want to have the “stigma” of being the laborer that made them. She was obviously a modern woman.

So when it came time to deal with Marco, I knew I had to watch him. He was out to get me or anyone he could. In China it is considered OK to take advantage of tourists, actually it is a patriotic duty. So I got ready for it by asking Shelli Rose to help me with Marco. Between the two of us, we could keep him in tow.

It didn’t take long to sell out bus number one, then add on bus number two. In the meantime, Marco, Shelli and I went into negotiations for price. He wanted $10 (U.S.) per person. Knowing that we could all take public transportation for less than a buck, we refused to pay that much. He immediately came down to 60 yuan, which is about $8. After haggling some more we settled on 50 yuan for the day. It was still very high, but compared to the rest of the world it was a mere $6, bargain for us and besides we wouldn’t have to sit on a public bus with the smokers! We had a deal.

First thing in the morning I went out to preview our buses and truck. The buses looked great, but the truck was small for 52 bikes. We decided to try and load it, but ended up short of space for 6 bikes and a tandem. Thinking after last night’s meeting, Tim might be willing to help us out by transporting the bikes, I asked if we could stick them in a TK&A van. Even though TK&A had a huge truck that was 80% empty. Tim Kneeland refused to take them unless we paid him $10 per bike. Yes, times are tough at TK&A and customer service is non existent as usual.

I went to Marco and told him he had agreed to take the bikes in this truck when it was only one bus, now it is two buses and we need a bigger truck. It was his responsibility to get us a truck big enough for all the bikes. Marco turned to his compatriots, all sitting around the hotel and after a long conversation with them, came back and told me he would have another truck here in 10 minutes.

It was at least an hour later when a huge truck with the words, “China Post” on it arrived. It was then I realized I was making deals with guys who were probably the Chinese mafia. The China Post is the post office not a newspaper!

It was a “good news, bad news” thing. The good news being we could probably get anything we want, as long as we had the money to pay for it. The bad news is we were at risk dealing with these guys plus we had no passports, TK&A had taken them away to get Vietnam Visas. Above all, we needed to keep out of trouble while passing through China. No problem!

My group of bus riders were terrific. It continued to rain on us while we reloaded the bikes onto the China Post truck. Before long we were ready to go. Only problem being Marco had told me we had more seats than we actually did. Well, in all fairness, he told me the number of seats correctly, it we had Chinese bottoms sitting in the seats. But since we had American bottoms sitting in the seats, we came up short 2 seats. So my bottom sat on a step all the way to Longsheng. It wasn’t soft, but it was dry! I was happy.

There’s something to be said for the security of knowing you have a ride to the next location, come rain or shine. Before we got to the next destination, several folks on the bus decided they would like to have the option to ride everyday. I was encouraged to arrange for our bus to follow us all the way to Nanning, our last day in China.

I passed around a sheet and once again got enough signatures on it to fill 2 buses for the next 5 days! I went back into negotiations with Marco. This time he wanted more money per day then before. I balked at the concept telling him it the job security for him and his drivers should be enough that they should be reducing our price. Of course he didn’t see it that way. We finally settled on the same price plus a fee for accommodations for the drivers. The fee was 100 yuan ($12) per day for 4 drivers. W e had a deal.

Marco really wanted the business and every time he saw me for the next 24 hours, he wanted to know “how many have paid.” I would give him the count and I could see the little dollar signs rolling around behind those round glasses of his. We were putting his first born through college, for sure!

In true Chinese fashion, he continued to try and nickel and dime me. At first he wanted me to fill more seats, then he wanted me to fill the seats in the truck that carried the bikes. Then he needed more living expenses for the 5th driver of the bike truck. I got very good at saying “No!” At one point I had to demonstrate just how many Americans can actually sit on the very rear seat in a bus. The number was a maximum of 4, not 5 like the Chinese.

The biggest surprise in store for Marco was when he discovered that even though we boughtChinese saleswomen approach the bus and paid for seats in the bus, we would not necessarily be using them. I likened the bus ticket to “bus insurance”. If it rained or if riders wanted to cycle only half a day then ride in the bus the rest they could. So when the first day came and we only filled half of each bus, Marco was curious and anxious. He wanted me to sell the seats, again. I had to explain as best I could, “no, we are done selling!”

Marco’s English was better than my Chinese, but we still had a huge communication gap. Our universal language was money. We both knew how to count it.

So now instead of me riding a bike and working on my site, I am know bargaining, organizing and collecting money. I also load bikes, make rules, tell people what time we leave and why we can’t wait just for them because they don’t like getting up so early or late or whatever! All this I’ve done for fun and fun it is. It has given me a feeling of satisfaction, just knowing that I have provided a needed service. It is just another step in my great adventure.

October 23, 2000 Longsheng Layover
Day 297
There are some great jokes going around today. My favorite is regarding Tim Kneeland’s choice of layover days. “what would you choose, a half a day in Paris or a full day in Longsheng?” Of all the places in the world to ask a group of people for more money to continue a trip that the majority feel has been substandard to begin with, Longsheng would not be my choice.

As we entered the city, we passed through miles and miles of construction. The road continued to be very busy, but the only clue that it was a road was the fact that there were no buildings in the way. It was a mass of muddy ruts, holes and bumps. It looked as though it had been that way for years, with no hope of improvement. In Longsheng we were quartered into three separate hotels for housing. One hotel had 10 stories but no elevator. Luckily I got the one with the elevator!

My hotel was at the end of a dusty, dirty street. Like most places in China the lobby was entirely open on the street level. Because of this fact it was impossible to keep clean. They tried to do so however, because the lobby floor was always wet from the constant mopping. It was a battle no one wins in China.

Also true in this country is the unusual way they operate room entry. There are no keys to give out. On every few floors there is a “proctor”. When you need to enter your room, you go to that floor, find the proctor who will come open your door for you. You must do it this way, that is if you want your door locked. The other alternative is to not lock your door. With 1.2 billion people in the country, I guess it’s a way to give out more jobs! Never mind the amazing hassle for the customer!

Our room could be described as “primitive”. The floors were clean when we arrived, relatively speaking, but by the time we traipsed in with the dirt on our shoes it was a mess. The bathroom on the other hand was still wet from a cleaning (or at least that’s what I preferred to believe!) Later upon closer inspection I discovered that wasn’t so.

The hot water system in the bathroom was interesting. To have hot water in the shower, we had to open a trap door under the counter, reach into the bowels of the building and turn the knob on a propane tank. Once on, within a few minutes I would have hot water. It was an interesting shower hose too. The hose was clear, so as I turned on the water I could watch it’s progress through the hose and up to the shower head, or rather the place where the shower head should be. Ours was long gone.

The most important thing to be careful of in our shower was to watch out for the squat toilet. Since it was located directly beneath the shower head, it was easy to fall into the toilet. I lost 2 bars of soap down that darn thing! But hey, they saved money on a tub, shower curtain and additional drain! What a system!

Oh! I almost forgot to mention the value added feature only available for night time showers. I turned on the propane tank, forgetting to close the trap door, because of this I was able to hear the “Live Music” resounding up the center of the building from the disco 2 floors below. It was so loud I felt present in the disco. Showering became a musical experience!

Later I learned that my hotel was considered the best of the three, so I guess I should feel privileged. The main hotel was so disgusting. They served us food there. After the first night of nothing but cold food, I went out to a restaurant to eat. So many riders have been getting sick in this country. I know the way to insure sickness is to eat cold food or fruit off the street without washing it. I refuse to take any chances. What amazes me is that the tour director does nothing about it. Even after handing out a “health warning” paper on how to survive in this country, they do nothing to insure that we are protected. Many tables were left with plates of cold food on them. We are surviving on rice.

The “Kristal Buses” took our group of people up to Longi where the famous “Dragon’sChina rice paddiesBackbone Rice Terraces” are located. The narrow road was mostly under construction as we climbed to an altitude of 800 meters. The views were astounding as was the primitive method used for building it.

I found myself holding my breath as we climbed the mountains. Looking down, I wondered if I should have had everyone sign a waiver of responsibility. This road was the most dangerous piece of work I have traveled on, ever. It was also the most exciting.

Once we arrived at the parking lot for the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces, we wereTrail to the top of the rice gardens greeted by a group of Yao women. They were selling trinkets, but also gently insisted on accompanying us up the hill. At first glance I thought these women were wearing hats. Then upon closer inspection, I saw it was their hair that was piled upon their heads. It was impressive.

Yau Women and Kristal KraftI pointed at the women’s hair, remarking how long it must be. She motioned toward the ground and told me it went to there! She then took out a picture of herself, taken for some brochure, where she was washing her ground length hair in a stream. It was obviously her pride and joy. She let me photograph her and then I was able to get in a picture with a group of these gentle ladies.

I loved their choice of colors. They all wore that bright hot pink color with black skirts. I wondered if they choose that color combination to wear as a uniform, or if it was a traditional thing. Lau woman with very long hairThey were obviously used to tourists, as they were ready and waiting for us when we pulled up.

Let the bargaining begin!We had to continue our climb from the parking lot to heights way above. I was surprised to see so many very nice looking wooden houses. All the materials had to be carried up these paths, there were no natural building materials used in them. On the way down I passed several men carrying cement blocks on the end of a yoke, up the stairs to the clouds. I wondered how long it takes to build a house up here.

Water systemIt took at least 45 minutes to climb to the top. Along the way we passed the village homes and several guest houses. This photo shows the water system coming down from a mountain spring. When we were on our way back, a couple young girls were washing their hair in this stream. It looked rather refreshing on this hot and muggy day.The mountains are covered with rice terraces in every direction. It is quite a feat of farm engineering, not an inch is wasted.

The Yao women were delightful. They were the most persistent, but gentle saleswomen I have ever encountered. They did not take “no” for an answer. I don’t think one of us left the mountain top without purchasing something from them, whether we needed it or not.

SeanSean was surrounded by Yao women, he ended up buying 2 purses. Just what every well dressed guy needs!

I came back from this day feeling very enriched. It was a rewarding experience with primitive people, one that I’m glad I’ve braved the dirt, dust and mystery food of China to receive.

Yao Grandma

Tags: China · SE Asia