Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Trust Factor

Given my Type A personality, relinquishing control is not one of my strong points. Yet, while living in China, this practice has become the rule rather than the exception. In other words, to experience the fullness of what China has to offer, I have had to hand over the reins (or, in the following example, the steering wheel) to people I have never met before. Entrusting strangers with the care of my family and my self is undoubtedly something I'd never even consider in the US.

Take this past weekend. As our long distance bus pulled into the station at Miyun, we were fully expecting to disembark and head to a xiao che (small bus) that would take us on the final leg of our journey to the Great Wall at Simatai. Unfortunately, the Frommer's guide was apparently outdated because when we stepped off the bus, there wasn't a xiao che in sight...Just a flock of hawkers ready, willing, and able to capitalize on our error and pile us into their hei che (literally, black car) to make the trip to Simatai.

While self-sufficiency is usually our top priority, in this case we had no choice but to consider this option (and its hefty 300 kuai price tag). As I stepped off the bus, a woman in an official-looking uniform asked me where we were going, told me there were no such buses available, and proceeded to escort all of us across the road to the awaiting drivers.

One man, Gan Xiansheng, walked over to us and gently requested our business. This guy was very different from the normal, more aggressive hei che shifu. We all felt comfortable with him right away, loaded our luggage into his VW Santana, and took off on an eighty minute adventure.

During that time he spoke to us in very clear Chinese about the places we were driving through, people he knows from those places...And how we actually should not go to Simatai, but rather to Jinshanling, the proposed end point of our Great Wall hike, and stay there instead. He told us that the hotel in Jinshanling is bigger and it is much quieter there. He then proceeded to plan out the next two days of our lives.

His plan went something like this...

OK. I'll drop you off in Jinshanling. You can stay in the hotel there and hike tomorrow morning to Simatai. It will take you 4 to 5 hours. You can call me while you are hiking and I'll meet you at the end. Then I will drive you back to Jinshanling to pick up your luggage and take you back to your home...For 500 kuai.

Steve and I, after having planned this weekend in our own way, both thought, "Huh?" And then proceeded to say, "OK!" (And after sacking up the 300 kuai fare for this part of our trip, 500 didn't seem too bad for all that service.)

Some guy we never met before just took over all of our plans, changed them...And we went for it!

And it was awesome! It worked out just as he said. He was waiting at the end for us, just as he had promised, and transported us all the way back to Yan Bei Yuan in quick fashion.

Lesson learned? Sometimes you have to give up a little to get a lot. Carefully calculated risks can be worth taking. In this case, it certainly was for us...



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