How Can They Sit While the Bus is Burning?

Trip Start Feb 03, 2008
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Flag of China  ,
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Our bus is having trouble.

From the moment we pulled out of Anshun's northern bus station our bus has been having get-up-and-go problems.

The bus pulls out onto the street with a big whoosh of fuel, turns and then, suddenly starts to inch along. We are passed by bicycles, men wheeling carts.

The bus driver pulls over. Starts again, for awhile we seem to be picking up speed. 

My parents and I and Dan relax, chat about the countryside, look forward to the famous cave system we're going to see when we get to our destination. Our guidebooks say this cave system is out of Tolkien, a monumental labyrinth of outstanding geologic formations. Dad has circled it in pen in our guidebook, put a star beside it. This is our must-see.

As we exit the outskirts of Anshun the countryside gets higher, the elevations pick up and Guizhou's signature peaks of karst start to play games with our bus.

We stop.

We go.

We stop again.

The bus driver pulls up beside a small pile hay left near the road. He gets the hay and puts it under the bus. I think, "How smart, now he won't get dirty!"

Then, he sets the hay on fire.

Dan and I laugh. "He can't be doing that!"

Dad rolls his eyes at us.

Dark smoke curls up from the burning hay.

We figure the driver thinks the cold has iced up the fuel line, limiting the amount of the fuel that the bus receives.   Maybe warming it up will make the bus go faster and more smoothly.

We doubt it.

After a time the bus driver is satisfied and pulls us out on the road.

The bus roars to life and we breathe more happily.

We almost start to snack on the provisions we stocked up on the night before in Anshun, when the road curves up another hill.

Our bus s-l-o-w-s d-o-w-n, we sigh.

The other people on the bus are unconcerned, except the driver who is again getting off the bus and poking around under it.

We are on a long, upward-curving bridge. There's no hay this time, but the driver manages to   start a fire under the bus again, using a pre-teenage kid whose curiosity got the better of him to climb under the bus.

Dan and Dad and most of the other men on the bus get out to stand around with arms akimbo, supervising the procedures. Mom and I remain on the bus, watching the curling black smoke rise past the greasy windows.

Suddenly, Dan shouts "It's on fire! Get off the bus!"

Mom and I get off, though everyone else on the bus seems unconcerned. Sure enough, outside we see the fire licking the sides of the bus, and new charred black marks on the bus' blue paint.

I sight another bus going to Zhi Jin and we flag it down and hop on. Our first bus, the first one out of the station that morning,  has tarried so long with its fuel problems that the next two hourly buses have passed it.

This second bus is old. The seats are small and hard, the windows slide open under protest, and people are going to have to squat on the floor if we take on more passengers. But the engine purrs like a contented lion.

As we roar up the hills, going higher and higher and eventually breaching the snow line to pass Narnia-esque frozen terraces and fields, we realize our old bus would never have made it.

* * *

And we were never to make it to the Zhi Jin caves, either.

When we finally arrived at Zhi Jin village, several hours past when we had hoped to make it there, we found that the caves were closed down due to the unusually cold winter and the ensuing power outage.

We ate lunch in a restaurant that itself had a power outage, meandered down some of Zhi Jin's streets, watched a dragon dance procession doing some rituals for the new year and then got back on another bus and headed back to Anshun. As sometimes happens when traveling, you set out but never arrive.

* * *

The next day we went back to Guiyang so my parents could fly back to the US the following day.

Two of  Mom's requests for her trip to visit us in China were to see silkworms producing silk and to see wild monkeys. We had no luck finding silkworms but in Guiyangs's Qianling Park there are scores of wild monkeys.

Well, maybe not so wild. They seem to have developed a taste for peeled oranges and Coca Cola.

We were walking down the hill from the park's Buddhist temple looking for the zoo (which later turned out to be less fun than the monkeys) when we saw the first one. These monkeys were smaller than the ones I had seen at Emei in Sichuan or in Hong Kong, but they looked the same in face and their light brown color. Dad started feeding one monkey which had a baby, and soon a crowd gathered of people with oranges and fruit also trying to feed the monkeys.

Farther down the hill, a monkey sees Dan drinking the cola we bought to wash down the spicy fried potatoes sold outside the temple. He looked interested, so Dan spilled some cola on the ground to see what the monkey would do. The monkey lapped it up, and then went crazy for it.

The monkey started chasing Dan hoping he would pour some more on the ground. When that didn't work, the clever little thing saw my bottle of cola and climbed up my leg trying to get it. Dan then chivalrously sacrificed the rest of his to get the monkey off me.

Some people seemed to go to the park to visit the monkeys frequently. There was one man with a bag of apple slices who persuaded the monkeys to come onto his shoulder and be fed. This looked good, till I started thinking about lice.

As we walked down the hill the groups of monkeys gave way to crowds of people enjoying the final days of the Spring Festival holiday.   Just as we were.
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