Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Flood

One thing I was definitely unprepared for in China was that I would encounter quite a few Pakistanis studying at Chinese universities.

The first few I met were friends of my wife--they were studying medicine at her university in Xinjiang and attended our wedding. They were finishing up their program when we met, and they were very happy to have people with whom they could converse in English. One was arranged to be married to a woman living in Denver, and he was unsure of how he could get to the US or if she would return to Pakistan. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to see them after the wedding.

The second group of Pakistani students I met were at the graduate school in Shenzhen. The first time we met was at the campus Christmas party. I saw them a few more times around campus. And, during my last semester there, we participated in a humiliating badminton competition. They were all engineering students, and finished up their programs last year (or so they expected).

As far as I know, all of those young men returned to Pakistan. With news of the epic flooding, I wonder if they're safe. Even if they are safe, their country is in crisis and needs help. I'd like to remind my readers that toward the bottom of the sidebar of this blog is a link to the Red Cross and they do accept donations for international aid.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Bus Through Sichuan

I took plenty of bus rides during my time in China. Fortunately, most were uneventful. I don't have the horror stories of overcrowded overnight bus trips, or getting stuck in the mud like Johnny Vagabond (whose post reminded me that I hadn't written this story yet). But, my first long-distance bus trip from Chengdu to Songpan was still an experience that I recall with a bit of humor, though it wasn't quite as amusing during the trip.

Jia decided that our best route to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou was to take a morning bus to Songpan, stay overnight, and head to Huanglong the following morning. During the May holiday, the buses were crowded and tickets were difficult to come by, but Jia managed to get us two tickets on what she claimed was a "second-class" bus.

It was rather hot for an early May morning--I was tempted to wear shorts, but I knew we'd be heading north into the mountains--and I was sweating by the time I got on the bus to find that it had no air conditioning. A breeze would've been nice through the open windows, but we sat in the parking lot for more than a half hour.

For the first few hours, I tried to sleep, but the old bus shook too much for me to get more than a few minutes of rest. I enjoyed the scenery through Sichuan and saw terraced fields along the river for the first time during my stay in China (but not the last time).

As we rolled down the road out of Chengdu with a fresh breeze, half the bus lit cigarettes to help them enjoy the ride. It wouldn't have been so bad had the passengers smoked a few cigarettes on the way, but they didn't. They decided to chain smoke during the entire 11-hour ride. This included the driver who sat below the "No Smoking" sign. At least the windows were open.

The open windows became a mixed blessing as we drove into the mountains. Snow was still on the ground, and a few flakes fell along the ride. The windows would not close--they were stuck. I packed my jacket in my backpack, so I had some warmth, though I had to share it with Jia because she didn't have one.

On this trip I discovered the secret to making money as a bus driver or ticket-taker in China--pick up hitchhikers. During the first three hours, we stopped to pick up another 10 passengers along the road. The driver and ticket-taker split the cash and most of the new passengers had to sit in the aisle. As we came to a checkpoint, the passengers in aisle were told to lie down so the police wouldn't see them. We passed through the checkpoint without incident and the passengers resumed sitting on their bags.

As this was a second-class bus, there was no toilet on board (I was spoiled by the nice buses with toilets and movies on the short trips to Guangzhou) and we had to stop a few times in villages--usually when someone requested that the driver stop. I avoided using the public toilets as long as I could. On the first two stops I browsed through the local shops that sold snacks and cheap souvenirs--Jia and I bought some dried fruit for the ride. By the third stop, I gave in. I paid my 5 jiao to use the toilet housed in a wooden shack. It was dirty and dark, and the floorboards creaked. The toilet was little more than a slat removed from the floor. I looked down at the hole and peered clear down the mountainside. I laughed as I thought I paid for what I could've done outside off the edge of the cliff.

We arrived in Songpan in the early evening. We bought our tickets for the earliest bus the next day and inquired about hotels--we were pointed to one right across the street. We wandered the town and hiked up part of a mountain before dark. We slept early in our hotel that had no heat and boarded a much nicer bus in the morning that took us to Huanglong.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Evil Plot

The Republican gubernatorial candidate in Colorado Dan Maes claims that Denver mayor John Hickenlooper's quest to make Denver more bike friendly is a plot for UN control of America.

According to the Denver Post, Maes believes that because Mayor Hickenlooper agreed to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, along with hundreds of other cities and towns around the country, that anything suggested by the UN council would infringe on our personal freedoms.

Maes told his 50 supporters in a Denver suburb, "This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed." He added, "This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms."

So, Maes believes that it's a bad idea for Americans to drive less and bike more. Instead of saving money on gas and getting more exercise, we should all get fat and drive gas guzzlers because this is America and we have a God-given right to be fat and wasteful.

At least he has conspiracy theorists on his side come election day.