Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The fun of travelling in China....

For those of you who haven’t heard, China, over here, will be celebrating their New Year’s next week. We are going to bid adieu to the Rat and welcome in the Ox.

And in keeping with the theme, I thought I would share a story or two about the adventure one can have traveling within China during this festive week.

It started out innocently enough. Yang, my Taichi teacher, asked how long my flight back to Chicago took. I explained it took approximately 14 hours and then we had to wait a few hours before heading up to Toronto. He thought that rather quick.

The first time he left Xiamen to go to his hometown in the Henan province, he took a bus. This trip lasted 55 hours. The second time he opted for the train, which took less time, only 30 hours. After how long it took him to travel to his home province, I would agree.

The discussion then went into safety of the trains and buses in China during these peak times. According to Yang, the issue with the system here in China is the guanxi, and the the process of purchasing tickets. Unlike home, one doesn’t purchase a train ticket via the Internet or phone, one must go to the train station and queue up. Basically, it’s you and thousands of your closest friends. Bring a good book, and perhaps a meal or two. Generally one can only purchase the tickets a few days ahead of time.

Guanxi, which is common practice here in China, is basically the art of “gift” giving. This helps the person purchasing the ticket to secure a bunk (if you gave him a large gift, or a seat, if you were too cheap to cough up more money). Not that much different than Chicago politics but I digress. The trains are always oversold, and if you weren’t lucky enough to secure a bunk or seat, your only choice would be to stand, unless you find the bar car first. As for the rest of the travelers, well that means being vertical most of the trip. Yang has seen people sleeping, standing up the entire time. Some were so exhausted they couldn’t stand anymore and would fall on people’s laps.

He also told me of a story about 3 years ago, where the train was so crammed during this time, they found 7 people in the toilet, as there was no place else left on the train to stand. Apparently, if you needed to relieve yourself, you used the windows.

The buses are no better. Typically, the buses will call out to people who weren’t fortunate enough to get a train ticket, and then cram as many as 100 people on them.

Yea, I think I will stick to airplanes…

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