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Running away from Home

China or bust!

CHINA | Wednesday, 21 April 2010 | Views [686]

The power was restored last night, but it went off again early this morning. I am so glad that I dug out my headlamp because using the bathroom at 4:00am would have been difficult. By 6:00am there was enough light in the sky so that I could pack my bags and get out of this gross, musty room. I’ll come back to Sapa when I can get a real hotel room. My ride to Lao Cai came to pick me up at 7:30 as promised, but they spent the next 40 minutes driving around getting enough passengers to fill the minivan. On the way down the mountain, I sat next to a fellow who was a member of one of the hill tribes. I found it ironic that he had a 21st century mobile phone, but traditional clothes and primitive notions about oral hygiene judging by his breath.

I wasn’t dropped off at the border until 9:15am. Judging by the response I got from the border patrol, I don’t think that they get a lot of western tourists going through there. Fortunately, the oddity of a single American woman passing through charmed them. I got to practice my Chinese a bit, and I was amazed at how it came flooding back to me. They told me that it was a good thing that I knew a bit of Chinese since I was going to Kunming. I had heard this before from the Australian couple that I met in Hoi An. During the customs check I was asked if I had any books or maps with me. I had tucked my LP guidebook into my pair of jeans and then tucked those into the middle of my pack. He didn’t ask to search my luggage, and I showed him the other books that I had on me. I even showed him the map of Southeast Asia that I had taken from a National Geographic magazine. It was the issue about the Temples at Angkor, and there was some supplementary information on the back of the map. I unfolded it for him, asked him if he was familiar with Angkor Wat. Just sweet and innocent. I think that what they are looking for are maps that label Taiwan as a country separate from China, and they seem to be biased against Lonely Planet. I really don’t think that mine had a map that included Taiwan, but I know bureaucracies well enough not to chance it. I told him that I had no more books. He sent me on my way. Thank goodness! I didn’t want to have to buy a guidebook for the third time on this trip.

I thought that I would have a difficult time understanding the accent in this part of China, but if they speak slowly enough, I understand their Mandarin just fine. When I crossed into Hekou, I was able to find the bus station just by asking around. At the bus station, they automatically called a fellow who could speak English and I told him that I couldn’t buy a ticket just yet because I didn’t have any Yuan. He asked if I had US Dollars and I said that I did. He told me that he would come right away so that he could exchange them for me, and I told him to stay put. I would rather spend hours hunting for a bank than get a lousy exchange rate from some opportunistic parasite. It didn’t take hours, though. It took about 15 minutes of walking before I found an ATM to get some Yuan.

I was thinking of taking an overnight bus to Kunming because I knew it was a long, expensive bus ride and I was hoping to offset the cost of a guesthouse, but it was 12:00pm and I didn’t want to wait around Hekou until 8:00pm. I finally agreed to take the 12:30 bus because they promised me that it would arrive in Kunming around 8:00pm. Not so late to be out looking for a guesthouse.

The landscape in this very southern part of China in between Hekou and Kunming is actually quite stunning. It was worth the added expense to take the bus during the day instead of overnight. It reminded me of Utah with it’s red soil and scrub bushes. It also had some interesting rock formations although it wasn’t the oranges and reds that you see in the American southwest. When we pulled into a rest stop, I knew that this was not a well-tread path for westerners by the squawking of the women serving up the food. I didn’t get all of it, but I heard waiguoren (foreigner) several times, so I knew that they were talking about me. They were all so shocked to see me enjoy eating rice noodles. I did enjoy them. They were hen hao chi (good food).

I paid 137CNY (around $20) for my bus ticket to Kunming and for that price, you think that would have dropped me closer to town. They brought me to the bus station on the very outskirts of the city where I was told that I could not get a local bus that would take me downtown. How the cab drivers swarmed around me! One of them spoke some English, so he felt that I was rightfully his fare. I asked as many people as I could in my broken Chinese if there was a bus going downtown and this little cab driver kept following me around, butting in that there was no such bus. He said that he was a security guard and that I should trust him based on the fact that he had a rent-a-cop uniform. Two young women tried to help me, but they too said that there was no bus going into the city. They did, however, help me haggle with the cab driver over the fare. We all agreed on 40CNY, which he tried to change to 50 once we were walking to the cab. “But it is so far! 20km!“ I stuck to my guns, though. All the way to the guesthouse he talked about how I should trust him because he wanted happy clients. I jumped out, gave him the 40 and climbed the stairs to a guesthouse called The Hump where I would face my first night of sleeping in a dormitory.

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