dispatches aperture poste restante etcetera

A Tepid Return
By Evelyn - 27 Mar, 2000

Page 4 of 4

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We *have* had meaningful positive experiences (they happen to all be in remote villages where things *haven't* changed for some time). So as with anywhere else, why can't I let them outweigh the petty annoyances? Probably because China for me is a personal experience—being Chinese, having spent time here before, and understanding the language makes it different. Unlike travel in countries truly foreign to me, I can't just mystify a situation, give people the benefit of the doubt, and practice being patient in trying situations.

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Our seventh week in China brought us to western Sichuan province, to a town called Kanding on the road into Tibet. Though a heavily hanified city, it still has a wild feel to it, with lots of character. Khampas (known to be the 'toughest' Tibetans) swaddle around in big coats and elaborate furry cowboy-like hats, selling hunks of butter on a market street that stretches the length of town. Picnickers are strewn along the vertical uphill climb to the city's public park. A number of Tibetan monasteries dot the landscape in and around town, itself surrounded by high mountain peaks.

The day we were leaving Kanding, we purchased tickets in advance for an overnight bus back to Chengdu—Sichuan's capital city—leaving at 4pm. We arrived at 3:45pm to find two competing bus companies at an otherwise empty station, both going to Chengdu, both only partially full. By the time the other bus left at 4:30, ours still had only five passengers. I asked the attendant when we were going to leave. He replied stonily, "6pm. This bus was scheduled for 6pm." I pointed out that the ticket we were sold was for a 4 o'clock bus. He ignored me. Minutes later another passenger asked when we would be leaving, to which he replied "After 6pm." I debated a long instant whether to raise a stink only because I knew he was lying. So I raised a stink.

Back and forth from the ticket counter demanding an explanation or a refund ("If the drivers change the departure time, that's their business... I'm the afternoon shift; I can't give you a refund... Go find the manager and see what he says."), to the parking lot to find the manager (it was Sunday, the day the manager has off.), back to the bus to retrieve the torn-off part of our tickets ("We're just the drivers. We go whenever the office sounds the bell."). The Chinese passengers were probably laughing at me as I stormed to and fro, but I didn't care. I didn't like being lied to by defenders of a broken system. In the end (maybe because steam was coming out of my ears) the engine started at 5pm, still only partially full, and departed with us on it.

Perhaps it is I, more than China, that has changed.




  In a Naxi Village
A Tepid Return

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