Friday, May 19, 2006

Sichuan - Bus from Chengdu Chongqing

I took the bus from Chengdu to Chongqing, roughly the distance from Seattle to Portland. What was I thinking! I had read that the buses were modern and that a new expressway had been completed between the 2 cities. Well, the expressway isn't done yet. Construction outside of Chengdu cost us at least an hour. I also have a headache, maybe because when we arrived in the station in Chongqing the guy sitting in front of me jumped up, grabbed his bag from the overhead compartment and swung it right into my face. That's him filling up the left side of the picture above. He left a nice faceprint on the inside of the left lens of my glasses. I don't think that he even noticed, I know the Chinese term for excuse me and I certainly didn't hear it. Just another cultural thing which I may get to later.

I thought that I'd be sitting on a comfortable brand new bus with clean windows that would allow me to happily snap pictures of the Chinese countryside. What I got was an ratty old coach with grimy windows. I was sitting on the aisle and the insides of the windows had dirty curtains drawn so everybody could see the TV. It's been years since I took a Greyhound bus but I'll bet that even in anything goes USA that they don't run violent slasher movies on their intercity coaches. Both were Hong Kong cop movies in Cantonese, which means that my fellow passengers had to read the subtitles. Bonus for me, the 2nd feature was subtitled in Chinese and English. Do I even have to mention that I was the only westerner on the bus? I put on my MP3 player because my fellow passengers were busy shouting into their cell phones. I fell asleep but awoke when the bus stopped at a rest area for lunch.

No golden arches at this rest stop, there was plenty of hot fresh food but it all had that red oily breath of fire look of Sichuan cuisine so I passed. I bought a bowl of noodles topped with crushed peanuts for 4Y (maybe .35 US), wolfed them down and then it was back on the bus. The Chengdu - Chongqing Expressway is a toll road. It looks like the designers didn't consult engineers anywhere else, those acceleration lanes to get on to the toll road are awfully brief. All of the signs are bilingual, sort of. I saw the sign "Many Accidents Happnd This Neighborhood" too many times. An overpass is a "flyover". And just like on an American Interstate there were giant billboards pushing cosmetics, cars and various companies. There was one ad for a plumbing company of a naked little boy peeing in a giant arc into their western style toilet. I saw some scenery, terraced farm plots and what might've been rice paddies.

After checking into my hotel (more on that later) I went for a walk to scope the place out. Chongqing and Seattle are sister cities. Seattle is damp and cold, Chongqing is steamy and hot. Both Seattle and Chongqing have a monorail, sort of. Seattle's isn't running due to an accident, Chongqing's is partially underground.

It started to rain (that sister city thing again) so I ducked into a restaurant. They gave me a menu, which naturally I couldn't read. The dog ate my homework, hopefully Fido wasn't for dinner. I was hungry, other than my small bowl of noodles at the rest stop I had a snack of a envelope of "Chongqing Strange Taste Horsebeans". I'm not making that up, I'm going to try and get some to bring back. Sweet, salty, spicy and hot, sort all at different times. Not knowing what to do I took my waitress to the other tables and inspected what the locals were having. I ordered a plate of sautéed greens and a bowl of some kind of tofu. I don't eat red meat but I overlooked the pork, I've learned that in China there's oink in everything. It was good but while I was eating I had the feeling that I was being watched. I looked up from my meal and found 4 waitresses and the owner staring at me, obviously entertained by Grandpa Lauwai on the chopsticks. We all had a good laugh, even though they were laughing at me. I don't know what I was doing wrong (other than stumbling in there in the first place). I didn't ask for a fork, I didn't mishandle the sticks and get rice all over the table. I thought that I was doing a good job getting the food from the plate and into my face. We all had a good laugh and the big meal was insanely cheap.

I don't like my hotel. But as I'm sure the Great Helmsman Chairman Mao once said, "you get what you pay for". And I haven't paid much for this place, about $28 a night. The Chinese Internet booking service I used said that this was a 4 star hotel and although there are more expensive rooms here there are cheaper ones too. The Internet is a wonderful thing. There's a Marriott down the street that promises luxury, as in A/C that'll freeze meat and a clean bathroom. I got onto the Marriott web site and got myself the weekend special. I'm off to wriggle out of my reservation.

No comments: