The long way back
Not knowing exactly when I would get back, I did not book any tickets back to Haikou before I arrived in Hong Kong yesterday. Once I made my way across the border to Shenzhen, I immediately made my way to a bus station in Shenzhen. Rather than the normal price of 260RMB (slightly cheaper than a 60% off plane ticket with taxes), the price had jumped to 440RMB. I did not have enough cash on me to pay that, so I had to go to the ATM. The first one was out of bills to dispense. The second one gave me money (but later hit me with a 5RMB transaction charge, since it was not my bank’s ATM). So if I had had the foresight to book beforehand, I could have saved money and time by flying from Shenzhen rather than taking a bus. I also trusted the newspaper which said that prices were not allowed to be raised during the Chinese New Year period. I suppose another reason not to trust everything I read.
So, this bus actually took a lot longer. Even longer than the normal buses. The bus I normally would take would leave around 6:30PM. I took the first bus that had seats and that the attendant would allow me to buy tickets for. I could see the buses had seats, but apparently there were some back door deals going on. The bus I got tickets for finally began accepting passengers about 40 minutes late. So everybody was there. But we didn’t move for awhile. We had 3 empty seats. If the greedy prices weren’t enough, they wanted to fill all the seats at those outrageous prices. Seats filled by what seemed to be many migrant laborers who don’t have much money to spend. After waiting awhile, and not getting more passengers, the bus went to two other bus stations in Shenzhen looking for passengers, wasting 2 more hours in the process.
Next, we seemed to be on the move… for 10 minutes. Thus bus got off the expressway and went into a world most foreigners do not see when they come to China. The factory world. By then it was around 5PM, and many young women (the most willing to put up with the crappy conditions in the factories) getting off work. The bus picked a few of them up, making the bus over capacity. One of them proudly proclaimed what seemed to be the two English words she knew, and apparently had just told her boss: "I quit."
We stopped at some other place to pick up some more passengers, filling the aisle.
The scene could not be any more different than where I had been less than 12 hours before. Taiwan also has many buses, but many of those have only 20 seats, with a lot of legroom and personal TVs. This bus which finally left Shenzhen had at least 50 passengers, not all with seats. The air was mouldy. There were no beds on this bus (though I actually preferred this, since I am too tall for the beds on Chinese buses). The lone TV monitor at the front of the bus had Chinese tropical music karaoke, but images of Japanese AV stars in bikinis making various suggestive poses.
At some point, we made it to a rest stop all the buses stop at. I assume they get kickbacks, because the prices are always very high. They did not give us any indication exactly when we were supposed to get back to the bus. After using the toilet, I returned to the bus and waited awhile, getting some Chinese practice in the process. When the bus was finally opened back up, it wasn’t surprising that not all the passengers came back. So the bus driver decided to wait for them. They did not end up showing up. Perhaps they decided to save some time by walking to Haikou, given the progress of the bus to that point. We waited 2 more hours before finally leaving.
We had to take our things off the bus and carry them onto the ferry. This bus was too lazy to actually drive us to a bus station once we would be getting to Hainan Island. So I didn’t have the opportunity to leave my things behind and enjoy the fresh air at the front of the boat like I normally do. On the good side, the ferry stops at a place where I can catch a bus that goes close to my apartment (unlike the main long-distance bus station). Nor did I use the services of the taxis that were waiting. I know the whole collusion of transportation services to rip off people during Chinese New Year, and I wasn’t going to support it.