Ganzi / Garze A Night to Remember

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Ganzi is one of those towns you’ll never forget. Arriving late at night, we first tried the plush new “Golden Yak Hotel” at the bus station. Unfortunately, despite having all the mod-cons, there was not a drop of water coming out of its taps. This is how our diary describes it:

Tuesday August 31, 2004We enter our room and feel we are in heaven: brand-new comfy furniture, cosy beds, a power shower, fluffy towels, all those things we have been dreaming about. However, when we try the taps, there is no water. A minor detail the teenage girls who seem to be running the place “forgot” to mention. They claim the problem is extended to all Ganzi, something to do with the pressure, and suggest we try the hot-springs tomorrow. Angry, sceptical and covered in grime, we march into a nameless Chinese hotel across the road, whose well-lit lobby has caught our attention, to make some further enquiries. Here we are received by a large-bosomed lady with her hair in a lacquered bun and a handbag dangling off her arm, a kind of Chinese Mrs Slowcombe, for those who remember the British series “Are you being served?” She proudly assures us, and shows me personally, that not only do they have running “shui” (water), they have lots of “kai shui”(hot water) as well, because they have their own water system. Obviously, not all of Ganzi is without water! We confront the hotel girls with this news, demand our money back and move over to the other side of the road, dragging our filthy-unpacked backpacks and lots of plastic bags behind us.

Overall, independently from the water problem, Ganzi is an incredibly friendly town. For one thing, we have seldom come across more helpful and efficient staff at a bus station anywhere in China……For more go to HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

We will be updating Information on Ganzi from our 2009 Visit

Gansu Travel Insurance “Mafan” 2002

Kafka Comes to China

Mafan 麻烦 meaning:  hassle / bother/ inconvenience
Pingliang Bus Ticket
The Holy Grail: Bus ticket to Pingliang 平凉

Getting to Pingliang 平凉 to Visit Kongtong Shan 崆峒山

甘肃保险 Gansu Bus Insurance

It wasn’t as easy as we had thought. Having paid 200 yuan for the Gansu Travel Insurance, a worthless piece of paper that does nothing for the hapless traveller, but protects the bus company in case you are injured or killed on one of their buses, a possibility that cannot be excluded, given some of the driving and conditions on the roads, we expected to be sold a ticket and board the bus to Pingliang.

甘肃保险 Gansu Bus Insurance

Adam had seen on the departures board that a bus was leaving at 11.20, so he strolled over to the window, insurance paper in hand, to purchase two tickets. To our amazement, he was told by the rude attendant that there were meiyou (no) buses to Pingliang, ever, and that we had to take the train. Disbelieving, we went outside, to the departures area where we identified the actual bus and checked with the driver and conductor, who both confirmed that this was indeed the bus to Pingliang and that it was leaving at 11.20, but that we had to buy a ticket at the ticket office.

Kongtong Shan 崆峒山 the reason for visiting Pingliang

Round two: we returned to the office, choosing a different window, and asked for 2 tickets again. The second attendant just waved her hand at us in a dismissive manner and said meiyou baoxian (no insurance). So that was the problem? Triumphantly, Adam pulled out the insurance paper and placed it in front of her. Without even looking at it she just repeated meiyou and turned to the customers behind us. Though Adam insisted that our insurance was in order, she just blanked us, as if we didn’t exist. And here began one of those episodes that occasionally can drive China travellers to despair: we refused to budge, she refused to look at us, or our insurance. After a stand-off of 2 or 3 minutes, she pulled down the shutter and moved away. We tried two more ticket sellers, but met with the same response.

Kongtong Shan 崆峒山 the reason for visiting Pingliang

Eventually, we decided to just board the bus. We took two seats and waited. The conductor wanted to take us and was willing to purchase two tickets on our behalf. Unfortunately, an inspector prevented her from doing so. By now it was 11.20 and the driver was anxious to leave. However, knowing that we were in the right, we refused to get off. It was an uncomfortable situation for all, but we held our ground, locked in a ridiculous battle of wills.

Kongtong Shan 崆峒山 the reason for visiting Pingliang

As a last resort, Adam decided to appeal to the PSB, the security police. Leaving me on the bus, he went to the PSB desk inside the bus station. A friendly officer told him that he needed insurance to travel in Gansu province. Patiently, he again produced our insurance papers. Again, without looking at the papers, the officer told Adam to follow him to a travel agent’s next to the bus station. The agent pulled out some forms for us to fill in and said the insurance would cost 200 Yuan. Totally exasperated Adam showed our papers again and, at long last, someone actually bothered to look at them! ‘But you already have travel insurance!’ the surprised travel agent exclaimed, comparing the two forms. Back to the station Adam went, victoriously, accompanied by the PSB officer. He marched up to the same ticket seller, who had previously spurned his insurance papers. This time she merely smiled sheepishly and quickly sold him two tickets. Then we were off!

The Holy Grail: Bus ticket to Pingliang 平凉

Kongtong Shan 崆峒山 the reason for visiting Pingliang
Kongtong Shan 崆峒山 the reason for visiting Pingliang

Taxi Talk 2

The Opium War revisited (Camelia Hotel to the Kunming Bus Station)

Not all Chinese have a positive impression of the British (See previous posting) . This cab driver, on our short ride to Kunming’s Bus Satation, angrily reminded us that China had not forgotten the Opium war and that the time was soon approaching when those countries responsible would be held to account.

His monologue mirrored Chinese history teaching on the Opium War that paints a very black and white picture of villains, the British, and Victims, the Chinese. “You humiliated China and now China is strong again” were his parting words.

I did my thesis on the Opium War at university and know that the issue is far from black and white. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get a word in before we were dumped at the bus station. Never mind, it was eye opening ride.

Taxi Talk

Taxi Talk

If you want to get a fragment of what today’s China is thinking then speak to your taxi driver. Whether it is in Beijing, Shanghai or anyone of those forgettable towns you pass through our get stuck in on your travels in China, you’ll find, like their counterparts in New York, London or Madrid, China’s cabbies have plenty to say. That is once you get them talking!

Below are just a few recollections of some of the more thought provoking conversations.

The Beijing Warmonger

(Wangfujing to Guijie 2003)

  • “Blair is very good” the driver said immediately after I had told him I was a yingguo ren (English). This came as somewhat of a surprise, given that most Chinese I had spoken to previously, had associated him with the Iraq War. But this turned out to be precisely what he liked about Blair. “Go on” I asked inquisitively, “why?” “The English army is very good, they have a lot of experience”. I am quite aware that many Chinese are pretty nationalistic and hold their army in high esteem, so I returned the compliment with a vague reference to the increasing professionalism of the Chinese Liberation Army (The PLA). With a disdainful wave of his hand the taxi driver told me “they don’t have experience, not like the English army, the Chinese haven’t had a war and so the army is useless and needs experience.” Provocatively, I ask where they might get that experience. “We must invade Taiwan” was the answer. Having quite a few friends in Taiwan I suggested that Japan would be a more suitable target given the current state of relations. “No, it must be Taiwan, we have to invade Taiwan to get the experience so the army will be prepared and then we can have a war with Japan and revenge Nanjing”. I asked what would happen if the Americans tried to help Taiwan, but he nonchalantly laughed this off and claimed they wouldn’t. We arrived at our destination and said our goodbyes.

 

Next: The Opium War revisited in Kunming:

Gansu Travel Insurance: From Our Diary: September 10, 2002.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002, Bus ‘Mafan’, or bloody hassle!

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

It wasn’t as easy as we had thought. Having paid 200 yuan for the Gansu Travel Insurance, a worthless piece of paper that does nothing for the hapless traveller, but protects the bus company in case you are injured or killed on one of their buses, a possibility that cannot be excluded, given some of the driving and conditions on the roads, we expected to be sold a ticket and board the bus to Pingliang. Our final destination being the Taoist mountain of Kongtong Shan.

Adam had seen on the departures board that a bus was leaving at 11.20, so he strolled over to the window, insurance paper in hand,  to purchase two tickets. To our amazement, he was told by the rude attendant that there were meiyou (no) buses to Pinglian, ever, and that we had to take the train. Disbelieving, we went outside, to the departures area where we identified the actual bus and checked with the driver and conductor, who both confirmed that this was indeed the bus to Pingliang and that it was leaving at 11.20, but that we had to buy a ticket at the ticket office.

Round two: we returned to the office, choosing a different window, and asked for 2 tickets again. The second attendant just waved her hand at us in a dismissive manner and said meiyou baoxian (no insurance). So that was the problem? Triumphantly, Adam pulled out the insurance paper and placed it in front of her. Without even looking at it she just repeated meiyou and turned to the customers behind us.

Though Adam insisted that our insurance was in order, she just blanked us, as if we didn’t exist. And here began one of those episodes that occasionally can drive China travellers to despair: we refused to budge, she refused to look at us, or our insurance. After a stand-off of 2 or 3 minutes, she pulled down the shutter and moved away. We tried two more ticket sellers, but met with the same response.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Eventually, we decided to just board the bus. We took two seats and waited. The conductor wanted to take us and was willing to purchase two tickets on our behalf. Unfortunately, an inspector prevented her from doing so. By now it was 11.20 and the driver was anxious to leave. However, knowing that we were in the right, we refused to get off. It was an uncomfortable situation for all, but we held our ground, locked in a ridiculous battle of wills.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

As a last resort, Adam decided to appeal to the PSB, the security police. Leaving me on the bus, he went to the PSB desk inside the bus station. A friendly officer told him that he needed insurance to travel in Gansu province. Patiently, he again produced our insurance papers. Again, without looking at the papers, the officer told Adam to follow him to a travel agent’s next to the bus station. The agent  pulled out some forms for us to fill in and said the insurance would cost 200 Yuan.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Totally exasperated Adam showed our papers again and, at long last, someone actually bothered to look at them! ‘But you already have travel insurance!’  the surprised travel agent exclaimed, comparing the two forms. Back to the station Adam went, victoriously, accompanied by the PSB officer. He marched up to the same ticket seller, who had previously spurned his insurance papers. This time she merely smiled sheepishly and quickly sold him two tickets. Then we were off!

The Ticket
Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

From our Diary: ZhouZhuang 2001

Friday, September 7th 2001 / Nanjing- via Suzhou to ZhouZhuang (Zhejiang Province)

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As planned, we take a taxi straight to the Bank of China- with our luggage. The driver is a bit worried as he can’t seem to understand where we’re going. In the end, it turns out to be a matter of a different tone …… The Bank is air-con, modern and efficient, the clerk speaks English – it’s straight in and out! Another taxi to the train station with a nice chatty driver, who spent a mere 16 years (!) in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution and thinks some of the changes in China these days are too fast.

However, as we pass a small park where people are practising ballroom dancing in the open air, it is clear that some things haven’t changed at all... Across from the train station there is an enormous lake where you can take out different kinds of boats, including mini-mushroom lookalikes and fake submarines. There is a terrific view of the modern Nanjing skyline. On the traditional side again, breakfast of lots of cold veggies and rice in a Chinese style self-service by the station. There, our luggage is X-rayed as usual, we’re lined up between the gates and marched row after row to the train. Our seats are padded with blue cushions, there are small tables in between and it’s air-con and strictly non-smoking.

Adam immediately strikes up a conversation with two nice ladies from Wuhan ( and their travelling companion). One of them turns out to be a party cadre in a department related to Chinese commerce. They ask him a lot of questions about life in Europe, including the inevitable ‘how much do you earn?’ and a lot about our non-existing haizi’ (or children).

Two and a half hours take us to Suzhou, we only walk from the train station to the bus station, where we are immediately whisked off on the 14.15 bus. There are computers, waiting rooms and gates here too, but the bus is a piece of shit, with those foldable plastic seats in the middle of the aisle. Fortunately only one puking lady who already had her bag prepared.

It takes another hour and a half to cover the 40 kms to Zhouzhuang. Getting out of Suzhou takes ages; what we can see is all modernised, no charm left (NOTE: we actually revisited Suzhou again in 2005 and managed to find a few nice areas still holding out). Once we’re out in the country there’s more life on the lakes and canals and everything is very green. According to Adam, it looks like Holland, but without the cows.

The bus station in Zhouzhuang is not where it is supposed to be and we are assaulted by a barrage of hotel women and cycle rickshaws. One obnoxious one keeps following us until I turn on him and send him packing. I’m quite proud of that, Adam, using his Chinese, is obviously too polite.

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In the old town, a woman who wants us to stay at her family house leeches on to us, but I’m still determined to find ‘my hotel’. She keeps tagging along, confusing us and making us lose our way. We seem trapped in a maze of tourist shops and can only vaguely appreciate that the place must be pretty.

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