7,356 km so far.
Today was all about persistence and insistence.
It was another bus day for us, as we are shortening a few in-between distances so Stephen can get to Shanghai in time to teach his yoga class on November 23. Getting to the bus station, with our vague and incomplete map of Leshan, was tricky, but with the help of the kind staff at our hotel, we managed.
No, Maybe, OK
Once we got there, things got even more complicated.
Stephen marched up to the ticket window and ordered our tickets, but the cashier took a look at our bikes and called over an official-looking woman. She gathered a few more women and they came out to talk to us. We have no idea what was said, but the upshot was that there was no way we could take our bikes on the bus.
OK. Except, yes, we can. We have done it before, we insisted, miming how they would easily fit underneath in the luggage compartment. After a little more back and forth in a similar vein, the women found a nearby customer who spoke English. He spent the next 10 minutes graciously translating our argument.
“It is not possible. The bus is too full.”
“It is fine. We have done it before in many places in China.”
“No, we cannot put the bikes on the bus.”
“Yes, you totally can.”
Eventually, we arrived at the conclusion that we would wait until the bus came, see if we could fit our bikes on, and then buy our tickets if they fit.
“But you will have to pay for two extra tickets for the bikes.”
“No, we won’t. We never had to pay before.”
“Yes, you will have to pay.”
And so on.
Our helpful interpreter told us on the sly that we could almost certainly negotiate a cheaper price for our bikes when the time came.
After further discussion and reviewing of our options, we came to the conclusion that we should try to get on the bus, and try to bargain down the ‘extra’ price for our bikes.
Not 20 minutes later, one of the women showed us out to the bus stand. The bus was a lot smaller than the ones we’d ridden before, with a tiny luggage compartment underneath.
Eeep! How will we ever fit our bikes under there?
The driver helped us heave, shove, and slam our bikes under the bus, until we were pretty sure we’d be coming away with some broken parts.
Then, the woman took us to buy our tickets and charged us exactly nothing extra for the bikes! She also showed us where the toilet was so we could wash, since manoeuvring our bikes onto the bus had left us filthy.
Once they decide they’re going to help you in China, they really really help you.
You Talking To Me?
A few hours into the trip, we stopped at a roadside toilet for a potty break. I went into the toilet which had 2-foot high walls between squat pots, over which everyone could see everyone else’s business. At least it was clean.
As soon as I was gone, the bus driver took Stephen off the bus and explained to him through miming that we needed to pay him money for carrying our bikes.
Stephen, knowing exactly what was happening, played dumb. We have perfected the I-am-a-stupid-foreigner-and-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on act (it’s easy, since usually we really have no idea what’s going on).
The driver, with a little persistent streak of his own, engaged the help of an English-speaking fellow passenger. No longer able to play dumb, Stephen enlisted his next secret weapon: me. He called me over and explained what was happening.
I looked straight into the bus driver’s eyes with a “Come on, do you think we are stupid? / You are bringing shame upon your family” kind of look. He understood every unspoken word of that look, and had the decency to look slightly abashed.
Stephen, I could tell, was waffling. He is a soft touch, and I know he was thinking about the driver’s income and his family, and that it really wouldn’t hurt for us to give the man a little extra money.
“No,” I said loudly to Stephen, enunciating and speaking slowly, for the benefit of the driver’s translator. “They said we didn’t have to pay at the bus station.”
Then, we got back on the bus and sat down in our seats. No more was said about it.
On one hand, I can understand the driver’s motive, and the temptation to just give him some money. He would probably benefit greatly from a few hundred extra Yuan, and he knows full well that we can afford to spend it.
But, I do believe strongly, that as Western tourists, it’s our responsibility to not give in to this kind of underhanded dealing.
It seems harmless in the moment, but giving in to scams has the potential to hurt more than it helps. Countries that have a problem with scams are far less likely to attract foreign tourists, thereby robbing hoteliers, restauranteurs, taxi drivers, fruit sellers, and guides of income they would otherwise have earned.
As an example, remember when the taxi driver tried to scam us back in Taiyuan? How many taxis have we taken since then? None, because we are trying to avoid a repeat performance. That one guy is responsible for people just like him losing out on fares in cities all over China.
The other thing that really bothered me about the bus driver’s actions is that it completely out of line with what is acceptable in Chinese culture. Honesty and forthright dealing are the name of the game here. Sure, there is bargaining, but once you agree on a price, you stick with that price. It’s the honourable thing to do.
If the driver had helped us again with our bikes at the end of the ride, Stephen would probably have tipped him, and I would have been fine with that. But, as it happened, when we unloaded the driver was nowhere to be found, and I was fine with that as well.
The Customer Is Always Right
At our hotel, they decided the best place for our bikes was their basement parking garage, empty and wide open to anyone who might pass by.
No no no. That was not going to happen. Even with the strongest locks, there was no way we were leaving our bikes here for the night. So we told the hotel worker and security guard that we would put the bikes in our room.
We could tell that neither of them were cool with that. So we told them again that it would be OK. Still, they weren’t really going for it. Again, we said, by pointing upstairs, we’ll take them to our room. Finally, after several more rounds of this, and Stephen going upstairs to check that the room actually had room for our bikes, we got a tentative yes.
We hauled everything in and up the elevators before they had a chance to change their minds.
Now, our bikes are secure in our room, and we can sleep easy, knowing that no petty thief is downstairs with bolt cutters, making off with our mode of transportation.
Yup, we are starting to figure out how things work in China.
One rule is, if you don’t like the answer, insist on a different answer. If you don’t like what’s being asked of you, just say no. And if you want something, just keep saying you want it until the other party gives in.
You don’t even have to be a dick about it. Just smile and nod as if what you’re asking is the best thing for everyone, but always always stick to your guns. ♥