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Adele Arthur
"The Bin Yang Experience"
Part One

Copyright © Adele Arthur, 2004

The Bin Yang Experience - Part One | The Bin Yang Experience - Part Two

David and Adele Arthur

We woke around 7.00 the next morning to the sound of real rain – just what we didn’t want. Yesterday David had had a lot of pain in his left knee so combined with rain and cold and mucky roads it didn’t take too much persuasion to decide that a bus ride to Liuzhou might be a wise choice. Another contributing factor was the fact that the next town down the road was 90kms away – a long day’s ride.

We decided that we would go for a bit of a walk and try to find the bus station – I had seen lots of buses parked behind the main road the night before so we were hopeful that it would be an easy task. Not so! The place that I had noticed was obviously only for special occasions and was now quite empty so we continued on down the street. There were lots of minibuses passing by but no larger long distance buses.

Bin Yang Intersection

Bin Yang Intersection

Finally we decided to ask using the phrasebook. After several useless attempts we met a very enthusiastic lady who understood the word for bus and rushed out into the middle of the street and tried to flag down a passing minibus!!! I don’t know what she would have told the driver if she had been successful in stopping it. We were unable to explain that we didn’t want a bus NOW. In hindsight it is possible that the minibus was actually going to the bus station but we will never know.

We walked quite a long way and once even glimpsed a larger bus but eventually gave up our quest and returned despondently to the hotel in drizzly rain. We had had enough of wild goose (bus station) chases in the cold and mud. By now it was 9.00am and we were cold, damp, frustrated and hungry. We thought we might cheer ourselves up with the very last packet of Granola we had brought from home but the ‘hot water lady’ was conspicuously absent after a big night. Oh well, back to the mandarins and biscuits.

Then with a brilliant flash of inspiration David remembered that he had a mobile phone number for our friends from yesterday – Lu Xi Man and Wu Li Zhen. With one easy phone call all our problems were solved and they readily agreed to meet us outside the hotel at 10.30 and lead us to the bus station. It turned out there were two bus stations, one for ‘local, stop at every town or wherever there was a potential paying passenger’ type buses and one for the fancier express buses. Both were a considerable distance from the centre of town.

We suggested the ‘local’ bus station might be better as we were doubtful that our bikes would be accepted onto the other buses so we negotiated our way through town keeping a close watch on our motorbike guides. We would never have found it on our own – it was at least three kilometres away and down a side street.

Our arrival caused considerable excitement. Within a few minutes we were in the middle of an inquisitive crowd and our situation was animatedly discussed at great length. We commented to our friends that they obviously didn’t see many foreigners. Yes, they agreed, it was quite possible that we were the first they had seen! That explained the many stares we had received the night before as we had wandered around town.

After much debate and a call on a mobile phone it was established that the express buses WOULD accept our bikes so we were encouraged to travel in a manner more befitting a foreigner. Bus station # 2 was located two or three kilometres down another side street so to save time David rode on the back of the Mr Lu’s motorbike while the ‘ladies’ guarded the bicycles. He returned a considerable time later cold but triumphant – we had tickets for the 1.30pm bus to Liuzhou!

As it was only 11.30 Mr Lu suggested that we might like to have some lunch with them so we followed them to a restaurant and locked the bikes together out the front. They had never met any vegetarians before but they were happy to order rice and vegetables on our behalf – they also insisted on paying for the food. The ‘vegetables’ consisted of ordinary cabbage and Chinese cabbage, both dishes very oily and liberally doused in garlic – my stomach reminded me about it for hours afterwards!!

Lunch with our friends.

Lunch with our friends.

We had only just begun our meal when Mr Lu’s mobile phone rang (everybody seems to have a mobile phone in China). It was his head master calling from school. Even though there were no classes today because of Chinese New Year the teachers were expected to be at school (just like Australia!). He told his headmaster – ‘I have found some foreigners!’

This was a big coup and the headmaster recognised it as such. He was very excited. ‘Could you persuade them to visit our school? Maybe we could take some photos of them to prove that we actually had some foreigners at our school.’ We said that we would be honoured to visit the school and consequently found ourselves following the motorbike again this time in a different direction.

The school was located one hundred metres down a muddy laneway and consisted of a two storey concrete building surrounding a concrete courtyard – very typical. Mr Lu proudly showed us to his desk in the ‘staff room’ where we inspected his English textbook and he learned a new English word – koala. They were using new textbooks from America, previously their books had come from England.

Half a dozen small boys excitedly accompanied us on our school inspection and lined up for photos at every available opportunity. The headmaster was keen to show off the more scenic parts of the schoolyard and we all posed in front of a rather picturesque mural of Guilin type scenery as well as at a more obscure metal sculpture.

At the school.

At the school.

We were impressed by the boys’ enthusiasm and asked Mr Lu if they had met many foreigners. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you are the very first foreigners they have ever seen in the flesh.’ Previously their experience with foreigners had been via television and movies only! We found this piece of information to be absolutely mind blowing. We had expected this to happen in remote country areas but here we were in a town of 100,000 only 80kms from Nanning, the provincial capital.

We would have liked to have spent longer at the school but unfortunately our time was running out and we needed to leave for the bus station. David shook hands all round to the boys’ great delight and we were farewelled like departing heroes! Then it was ‘follow that motorbike’ time again.

It was a long way to the bus station. The decision to use the motorbike on the previous visit had been a good one. Once again we caused a sensation as we wheeled the bikes through the depot and we were ready and waiting when the 1.30 bus pulled into the parking bay. Then it became a replay of our Chiang Mai experience – too many people with too much luggage and not enough space. The driver didn’t even contemplate putting our bikes on board. The difference this time however was that we had some locals with us who spoke the language – always a valuable resource. Unfortunately their best efforts failed to change the situation and the bus left without us.

Putting the bikes on the bus.

Putting the bikes on the bus.

Mr Lu was extremely embarrassed. He kept repeating ‘They said they would take the bikes. I asked them three times just to make sure.’ A change of staff in the last two hours had made the earlier promise useless. At least a ticket refund was easily obtained and we still had the local bus option to explore.

Our friends were anxious to make amends so arranged for us to travel to the other bus station in a three-wheeled taxi – similar to a Thai tuk-tuk. Amazingly we were squeezed in with both bikes and all our gear and ten minutes later found ourselves back where we had begun the day’s adventures – the local bus station.

There was a bus almost ready to leave and Mr Lu announced ‘You can go on this one!’ – it was going to Liuzhou. Things happen quickly in China – the bikes were tied down on the roof of the bus, tickets were purchased and the famous foreigners were given pride of place in the bus – seats behind the driver were immediately cleared for our comfort. All in all we received a royal sendoff from Bin Yang – it had been a remarkable visit to a very ordinary town and we were reminded once again that it is the people you meet who make the places special. We will always remember Bin Yang fondly because of two wonderful locals.

We settled in for the 170km ride to Luizhou. Amazingly the bus provided seat belts but we didn’t see anybody using them. The window beside me wouldn’t latch properly, gradually letting in more and more cold air. There was a television provided for the passengers’ entertainment which was playing music videos complete with scenery from around the world - we quickly recognised the Blue Mountains and Canberra! It was very strange to be seeing sights from home while travelling on a local bus through rural China.

The bus was full (ie the seats were all occupied) but that didn’t stop the ‘conductor’ from stopping for anyone who displayed even a remote interest in travelling towards Liuzhou. Also adding to the local flavour was a cardboard box containing two chooks which had to be kept upright. About half an hour later the bus stopped at a village and the ‘conductor’ and four protesting passengers alighted and boarded a three wheeled taxi. We were very puzzled by this behaviour as their luggage was still on the bus. The reason presented itself a little further down the road where several police cars had set up a road block and were checking buses. We passed by without being checked and ten minutes later pulled up on the side of the road to wait for our missing passengers – we presumed that our bus had been overloaded. Mobile phones figured prominently in this little escapade!

And so the cyclists arrived in Liuzhou.

The Bin Yang Experience - Part One | The Bin Yang Experience - Part Two

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