As public buses in China are quite a unique experience, we thought that maybe we'd present a glimpse. (Sorry -no bus photos though.) It should really be titled "Busing in Southern China", but I just wanted to get the word "Xīshuāngbănnà" in there. I think its a region of the Yunnan Province.
Firstly, spitting is very common in China, especially in the rural areas. Better out than in is the way the Chinese view it. Most Chinese begin their day with a loud HUWACK! followed by the inevitable discharge. (Ann found this Chinese custom to be one of the most revolting habits she's come across.) Being confined to a bus doesn't change this, and while some at least spit out the window, plenty do not. Needless to say, the bus floor isn't even suitable for bags!
And speaking of bags, the Chinese must have the worst luggage management system in the world. Many other countries will put bags above, below, or behind, but in China they're just anywhere -and mostly in the aisle between the seats. We've seen everything from chainsaws to pig in a poke to glass window panes to baskets full of hundreds of eggs (a sharp braking motion sent many of these to their demise!) Often it requires Olympic-level gymnastic manuevers to get to one's seat! (Think some kind of parallel bars and vault combo.) And no one from the driver to the passengers is the least bit concerned.
The Chinese also love to smoke, and as a result riding in a bus could be likened to riding in an ashtray. The ashes and butts are bad enough, but the lingering cloud can be unbearable. Fortunately, we've had some control over the state of our window, but the smell still gets everywhere. On one trip, we even encountered a large bong right behind the driver's seat -and it was still smoking. (Don't worry moms -we didn't inhale!)
Lastly, we have not encountered more than 200 meters of straight road in this area of the country. Whether the path is a serpentine along the mountainside or following a meandering river edge, its never straight. Although one might think that the Chinese are used to this -and many probably are -many aren't. Every bus has had a large cache of plastic barf bags -and thankfully so! They are well used! We've had at least a dozen people vomit on our various trips, most more than once. Sometimes, they get it in the bag (sometimes they don't), sometimes out the window (or partially so), and sometimes just on the nearest open floor. At this point, it just begins to blend in with the spit and cigarettes.
Despite all of this, its really been a great tour on the buses! The scenery has been outstanding as the rice terraces in southeasten Yunnan slowly gave way the sub-tropical forests in Xīshuāngbănnà. Our climbs in and through the mountains have had some hair-raising moments overtaking other vehicles, and once as we traveled along a thin ridge line that was only as wide as the road with a percipitous drop on both sides! Not once however did I see the old carcass of a bus that rolled over the edge.
Given that we are pretty much stuck on a bus for up to 8 hours with strangers who speak a different language, we also entertained ourselves by giving each of the passangers different nicknames. You'll remember Barney from our trip to Gejui. There has also been "Olive Green Hat Man", "Stylishly Dressed Woman", "Many Saws Man", and "Constantly Vomitting Woman" just to name a few. Its quite fun!
Enough about the buses! We made it to Jinghong, where we caught our first glimpse of the mighty Mekong. We will essentially be following the river's course through Laos and into Cambodia. Many tourists pass this way, and sadly our count of other Westerners is climbing rapidly. However, our count of English-speaking Chinese isn't. We saw a Dai Temple in the city, and spent an evening at the night market eating kebabs and playing shoot-em-up games. Another bus ride (thankfully the last in China!) had us to the Lao border where new adventures await!
After nine days here are the numbers:
Final tally of Chinese who speak passable English: 7
Final tally of other Westerners: 19 (but only 4 outside of Jinghong)
Movin' right along, hey L. A., where've you gone
Send someone to fetch us, we're in Saskatchewan
Movin' right along, you take it - you know best
Hey, I've never seen the sun come up in the West