Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Broken Bus

Just when we thought that bus travel couldn't get any more interesting...

After spending the day with the Great Buddha, and the surrounding parks on the outskirts of Leshan (a two-hour ride from Chengdu), it was time to head back to the entrance gate where we had bought our return bus tickets. The scene was a strip of small restaurants, a stand with a few people selling tickets, a couple of motorbikes and a Jinbei (white van) or two.

We showed up early and grabbed a quick bite to eat. At six sharp, we loaded on to one of those Jinbeis with two other men. Was this our ride back to Chengdu?

Of course not! This was the shuttle to the bus, which took us a few kilometers away to the side of a dusty main road (and an unmarked bus stop?). If we weren't used to this type of thing, we'd have definitely been a bit concerned. Yet, since bus travel, which at times seems to have no real rhyme or reason, is somehow very efficient, we didn't bat an eye.

A few minutes later, a bus pulled up with just enough seats for the four of us and a few others who were also waiting. We loaded the bus and found seats throughout. No big deal...We were all too exhausted to talk anyway!

The bus sped off and entered the gaosu (expressway). Fifteen minutes later, the bus pulled off onto the shoulder.


The driver shut off the bus. Then he tried to turn on the bus. Click, click. Grr, grr. Nope...Try again...No dice...Now what?

Without missing a beat, everyone trickled off the bus and found a place to stand off the shoulder of the roadway. Buses and cars buzzed by and the bus driver (who was on his cellphone, obviously contacting "mission control") flagged one down. A few people ran to that bus and four were able to get seats. Amazingly calm, I wondered if this was the protocol and how many buses would have to come by to accommodate all the rest of us.

Within ten minutes, another bus, this time empty, pulled over and everyone loaded. Reminded of a broken bullet boat of a few weeks ago, this time the Ballas comfortably took over the back row. Where did this bus come from? Are there just drivers and buses at the ready for this kind of situation? For an empty bus and driver to be assembled and sent to the scene in nary fifteen minutes was incredible to me. I thought we might be in it for the long haul, but the situation was quickly diffused.

And the driver, who seemingly felt the need to make up for lost time, weaved in and out of traffic like he was driving a Porsche. After enjoying "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," we were back to Chengdu in no time.

They really know how to move people around this country!



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