Monday, February 27, 2012

Normal, Usual

I’m back to my normal, usual laid back lifestyle of puttering around the house or around town, riding buses and teaching my 6 hours worth of class. Actually, I haven’t started teaching class yet because my first class isn’t till Wednesday. I’m not puttering around the house too much either: the house is too cold and the heating systems are too inefficient and too expensive to use.

I am going out and riding buses though. That is a nifty pastime. And suddenly I recall…

I wanted to tell you about this long distance bus I took from Shi Shou back to Wuhan! Talk about a cool bus.

Since arriving in China I have seen these buses storm by, where people aboard the bus are laying down. The buses are outfitted with bunks instead of seats, so that, on a long trip you can recline, sleep or just lounge around. I have wanted to ride such a bus for as long as I’ve known they exist.

My first attempt was in returning from Xi’an. The train tickets were all sold out. Why not try to buy a bus ticket? At that time my language skills were not sufficient to negotiate such a transaction so I enlisted Ken, my Xi’an based friend to help me. He turned from the ticketing window, dismayed. A ride on such a bus would cost me over 300Yuan. By comparison a train ticket was about 100Yuan cheaper. I opted for the train but had to select a different day to travel. Still, I never forgot about those buses.

And now it seems, through no design or planning of my own that I will be a passenger on just such a bus! I’m so excited.

The bus is outfitted with 36 bunks. They are arranged in 3 rows, 12 bunks to a row and in two layers – top and bottom. The bottom bunks are virtually at floor level while the top bunks command a nice window view. Two narrow aisles between the rows of bunks lend access to the rear of the coach. A handy map, positioned by the driver indicates the bunk layouts.

I was assigned bunk 19, a top bunk on the left side of the bus. To get down the narrow aisle I had to turn sideways; I am a bit wider than Ye Average Chinese. I hope my size will not cause any discomfort on my bunk.

No need to worry! The bunks are set up in such a way that one’s torso is at a 45 degree angle, designed in such a way that your upper body support becomes a cubby for the person behind you to put their feet or store their goods… a bit like a NASA berth. Each bunk has its own linens provided, to include a quilt and a sheet over the thin pad that serves as a mattress.

In theory the passengers are supposed to remove their shoes before tucking themselves in. Two plastic bags are provided for shoe storage. My boots are too cumbersome to lace and unlace in such narrow confines so I simply put a plastic bag over each of my feet and tucked myself into bed with my shoes on.

My larger than ‘average Chinese’ size did cause me some discomfort, mostly because of my feet. Had I taken my shoes off it would have been easier to maneuver my feet into some kind of comfortable position. However, my boots resisted conforming to the molded shape they were confined to so I did have to struggle some to settle in. The next challenge was to arrange my quilt in such a way that I would be covered. There really is not much room on those cots!

I’ve wriggled my way into several acceptable positions. Finding a comfortable position is not going to be as hard as I expected. Now to dig out my book and spend the 6 hour bus ride reading. NOTE: I would have spent the time looking out the window but it was dark out already, and the bus window was too dirty for me to see much of anything.

Just as I was getting settled in the bus driver turned out all the lights and started driving. OK… now to dig out my book and my flashlight and spend some quality time reading.

I didn’t get much reading in. Seems like constant visiting and rounds of company and touring left me wrung out. I was asleep before the bus even properly left Shi Shou. And I remained asleep until the driver turned the lights back on and declared we were in Wuhan. It was 1AM.

The city buses weren’t running, and no taxis to be found. I didn’t even know where in Wuhan I was! I spied a sign for a chain hotel that had a branch just 200 meters away. I slogged myself down a dark street, rented a room and continued my slumber.

Comparing these long distance buses to traveling for hours on Greyhound, I think I prefer these ‘bunk’ buses. Although the seats aboard a Greyhound are a bit more amenable to someone of my size and girth, the ‘bunk bus’ allowed for a reclining position and no one infringed on my space. As always, in spite of the dire warnings by all by Chinese friends, I have no fear for my safety or my belongings. I have yet to be bothered in any way while traveling in China… unless you mean because someone wants to practice their English.

I would travel on such a bus again. Next time I believe I will plan on footwear that is easier to slip on and off. Other than that, it was a pretty nifty experience!

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