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A Guillin Bus Ride

By Suzanne Schefcik

            As our ship docked into Hong Kong Harbor, my group of traveling companions and I decided that mainland China would be our next destination. Due to the fact that our ship hit a typhoon and detoured from the coast of Qingdao, China, my travel plans to Beiijng were also detoured. The cost to get to Beijing from Hong Kong was a little out of our price range and we decided upon the next best thing, Guillin. An overnight bus ride seemed like an easy route into the country. As we bought our tickets, we realized that the language barrier was terrible. The women behind the desk did not speak a word of English and we did not speak Chinese. Chinese symbols were completely foreign to us and we had no idea what our ticket read in English. We were unsure where our tickets would bring us as we hopped on the bus that evening.

The bus contained rows of bunk beds containing a single pillow and blanket. The beds were about two feet across and five feet long. I was far too large for the beds, but I made my best effort to fall asleep. I awoke to a terrifying site; darkness, dirt and army trucks. Where were we? There was no real road outside the bus window and the potholes felt like small earthquakes as we drove over them. I looked down from my top bunk and realized that we had picked up a number of native Chinese men who now slept soundly in their beds. This apparently was routine for them, so my terror at this unfamiliar sight subsided.

 As I pondered the situation, I began to realize that many Chinese citizens do not have the opportunity to buy their own cars, afford plane tickets or have alternative ways in order to reach their final destinations. The train system in China was nothing compared to Japan. The Japanese rail system covers nearly any destination within the country for a fairly low rate in record time. In China, this was quite the opposite. The price of train tickets in China was unreasonable and trains took days to reach their destination. Along with this, the conditions of the Chinese trains were dirty and unsafe. Japan, on the other hand, was immaculate and secure.

As I compared the two opposing countries, I began to realize how little the government was doing in order to maintain roads and give people access to discrete locations throughout the country. “Transnational social networks are both rooted in localities and part of global circuits,” according to Alan Smart in his article titled Participating in the Global: Transnational Social Networks and Urban Anthropology. This statement applies to public transportation as a global circuit. Although the context in which Smart uses this sentence defines a slightly different problem, it correlates with my experience.  The reality of my situation really rang true as we walked through the impoverished streets of Guillin. Many citizens were sleeping on the streets and had little or no money. By no means would they be able to afford a plane or train ticket to far away destinations in China. It dawned on me that we were seeing more of their country than they were and it made me feel terrible.

By using my own previous knowledge of transportation within different countries outside of China, it is easier to make note of differences and underlying factors that shape the public way of life. Chinese buses, which remain an important mode of transport for many, are very different from any I have ever encountered. With rows of bunk beds as seats and a large number of passengers, I feel that this vehicle apparently services lower class people to job sites, families and friends. It provides transport at a lower cost that more can afford, but not all.

The social and economic conditions in which China is in can be reflected through the movement and transportation efforts of its people. With the opportunity to see the world, or even one’s own country, opens the mind to new ideas and opportunities. Those who do not have this opportunity have little experience outside the small village or city in which they live. This could prove to be a problem for many Chinese citizens.

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