Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ping Yao, Part VII: Toward Home

Our ride arrived at about 3:30PM, a little three-wheeled electric taxi with blankets for walls, which made for a drafty ride to the station, but it was free and we didn't complain. We had tried to get a train ticket the day before, but none were available so we were left with our backup plan, which was the bus. The staff at our hotel told us that, after taking a bus from Ping Yao to Taiyuan, we could catch a bus to Beijing every hour until 10PM, so that's where we were headed. Arriving at the station, a bus was nearly ready to go, had enough available seats, and we boarded. 20 RMB each. The price was right, we had seats, and we were happy to be on the road again. Unfortunately, with numerous stops to pick up hitch-hikers, the 45 kilometer trip lasted about two hours.

We couldn't catch our connecting bus from the station in which we had arrived, and learned that we had to walk a few blocks to another bus station, which was did. Once there, we learned that a bus would not be leaving until 10:45PM that night, which was disheartening. It was just about 6:00PM so we had some time to kill. During peak months, there probably are buses to Beijing every hour, but now, in the middle of winter, we were lucky to find one. It was an overnighter scheduled to arrive in Beijing at 5:45AM the next day, which meant sleeping on the bus. With no alternatives, we purchased tickets and held congress in the waiting room, nearly empty except for the staff sitting near the heater and cracking seeds in their mouths.

We decided to venture forth to look for a more comfortable place to wait. After walking a few cold blocks, we thought we would take our chances and see where a taxi driver would lead us. We hailed a cab, hopped in, and, in a matter of minutes, were warmly nestled on plush couches listening to live piano music while drinking Qingdaos and eating french fries in, likely, one of the only Western joints in town. Time passed quickly while we nibbled, reminisced about our short vacation and our lives, or read from our books intermittently, and soon enough it was time to go. On the way to the station, the taxi driver got lost and took us to the wrong station initially, but soon returned us to the right place. We had left our bags in the station, and retrieved them successfully. It was just about 10:30PM and the bus had arrived. We found our seats and, after a few moments, we were off again.

The lights on the bus were on for about an hour and I read during that time. After the lights were turned out, it was impossible to read. Like on any Chinese bus, the little reading lamp above me didn't work and I decided to try to sleep. I nodded off for a few hours and then came to around 1AM. The bus seemed to have come to a complete standstill on the highway. We got passed the jam, the road appeared blocked by a number of military vehicles, and began to wind our way along little sidestreets and dirt roads on the sides of hills through wherever we were. It was impossible to return to sleep. We had no explanation for what was happening and, as usual, no one seemed to want to ask. After about an hour of rickety uncomfortable and slow movement, it seemed like we were heading into the mountains. It seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere. I was a little worried and imagined the whole busload of us being transported off to some forgotten work camp.

It seemed like we were completely lost. Angela was infuriated. We didn't know where Dawn was, sitting somewhere in the back of the bus, or if she was awake or not, but she told us later that she had slept through everything. The bus stopped on a dirt road in the mountain and a number of us got off to smoke. The driver had walked up the road to see what was happening and quickly returned, herding us back onto the bus. People were a little more curious now and the bus attendant informed us that we were taking a detour to avoid the fog and snow on the normal route. It felt like we had driven for hours on these shoddy mountain roads and we could see thick motes of dust in the sporadic headlight light in the air inside the bus.

Things eventually evened out and we seemed to be back on a main road. We tried to sleep and I may have, but it's hard to say really. I woke up for good at around 6AM with no idea where we were. On we went. Eventually, we began to recognize things and by 9AM, we were within Beijing city limits. We reached the station at 9:30AM and were home by 10AM. Angela and me went up to our apartment and made a nice breakfast and then went back to bed.

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