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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bus trip to Yichang

On Friday I met Marilyn at the International Education office and a man from the Wuhan travel agency accompanied us to the bus station. As we neared the busy road that cuts through the East and West campus, the man turned to us and asked us if want to take a cab; it will be quicker than a bus, he informed us. Marilyn was suspicious, having lived in China six years. But, we agreed to do this. And, of course, when we arrived at the bus station he told us to pay the cab driver. Hum...this "fully paid trip" had an auspicious start, but it also served as the harbinger of one of our themes on this Three Gorges weekend adventure: "that's extra charge!"

We boarded the nearly full bus and took the last two remaining seats next to each other. I folded into the seat—it seems all busses are built for Asian leg length—and we began our five hour odyssey to Yichang which is the port city and entry to the Three Gorges. On the way out Marilyn pointed to all the places of interest as we went through the other two districts of Wuhan I'd not visited.

As we left the Wuhan city limits the number of blaring car horns went from zero to infinity. I mentioned the increase and Marilyn informed me there's a new law in Wuhan about horn honking. Apparently it's against the law now to do such a thing. So, this heralded our city exit and my introduction to horn etiquette.

On our four lane expressway, two lanes going each way, our bus driver neared a truck in our right lane and started to pass him. The dialog, based upon my translation, began:

Bus: "honk, honk, honk" = "I'm behind you and going to pass"
Truck: "honk, honk, honk, honk" = "Okay, I understand"
Bus: "honk, honk, honk, honk" = "I'm passing you'
Truck: "honk, honk, honk, honk" = "Ah yes, I see you are!"
Bus: "honk, honk, honk, honk" = "I just passed you"
Truck: "honk, honk, honk" = "So I see...have a nice day!"

It's a practice repeated for every vehicle passing, give or take a line of dialog. As I adjusted to this noise, the woman who served as the "monitor" for the bus crackled on the very loud, loud speaker. Thank goodness Paul prepared me for this the day before and I wisely packed my earplugs. Poor Marilyn, alas, she did not have noise reduction devices.

We determined the loud speaker woman must have stated our journey and methodology for our travel. Afterwards, she broke into song. Then the microphone started to be passed around. This was above the movie that was blaring on a small TV suspended from the ceiling near the bus driver (my head located it when I boarded). All of a sudden I had flashbacks to a '60's TV show called "Sing Along with Mitch Miller." Oh my goodness, it's going to be a long bus ride.

Happily enjoying the relative peace my earplugs gave, I gazed out the window and watched the passing scenes outside our speeding bus. This was the China I had seen in photos.

Farm after farm passed by; the scene repeated itself an endless number of times. A lone water buffalo slowly pulled a single edged plow with his farmer friend, whose head bore a round, pointed straw hat. Farm upon farm. Row upon row upon row upon row. Twice I saw a baby water buffalo following the farmer who followed the plow who followed the big water buffalo through the plowed fields. Clearly, it's never too early for on the job training of the youngsters.

Two things about these scenes struck me. First, the consistency. The pattern. Rice fields. Lotus fields. Muddy land being worked with farmer and water buffalo. Step back in time and you'd see the same image, it made no difference in century or dynasty. Timeless.

Second, the water buffalo here clearly are polar opposite of their name only cousins out on the African savannah. The Chinese water buffalo seemed tame, almost pet-like. The farmer and water buffalo shared a common bond. Needing no barns, most were un-tethered in the fields if they weren't working. In contrast, African water buffalo are among the most unpredictable and are #2 killers of unsuspecting humans, ranking just after the #1, hippos.

As I thought about these sights we drew near to our destination, Yichang. Almost immediately buildings appeared and with them traffic and street noise began. By Chinese standards Yichang is a small town with 1 million in the city and 4 million in the surrounding area. We sped through a few streets, wound left, right, left, right and found ourselves at the bus stop. A smiling young Chinese man held a sign with both of our names, so I waved through the window. Our guide for the next 2.5 days, Michael helped us with our bags and we followed him about two city blocks to the steps that led us down to the Yangtze River and our next leg of the journey.


At 9:09 AM, Skip said...

Tyler, I prefer the Bus Service in Denali Park. Wildlife, friendly Visitors and no extra charge... Skip and Yukon Ike


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