The driver emphatically gathered the mucus that he had been building up all morning especially for the occasion and discharged it through the sad spot left after the upper incisors, which was also a perfect fit for the almost smoked-out cigarette.
He nodded at the hesitant passengers, not sure whether that was the right bus (that’s us), and got rid of the butt. We took that for a good sign (most drivers just keep smoking while driving) and crammed ourselves into the vehicle to soon arrive by the gate to the national park.
The process of visiting Chinese national parks is quite predictable. There is usually a public bus that takes the visitors directly to the ticket office. Every local person, except the lady in the tourist information, knows this. You cannot miss the entrance or the ticket office, not only due to the hyperloud Chinese crowd, but also because it is wide enough to occupy the whole road which leads to the park. After getting to the ticket office, we discover that the extortionate price is only a part of the expenses, because you are still 30km uphill away from the park itself and you need to take a separately ticketed bus. Sometimes the return is included, sometimes it’s not. After you’ve reached the trail, it should be the time to start walking on your own. Yet, sometimes the path leads up hundreds of frozen steps or the area is locked down by the police. The resourceful Chinese engineers still have cable cars and electric carts up their sleeve, all of which additionally overpriced.
You will reach your factual destination an amount sufficient for two weeks of enjoyable life off your pocket. Living in China is cheap, it’s the sightseeing that leaves your pockets dry. Whether you’re there to see a waterfall, hike a holy mountain, admire a colourful rock formation, climb desert dunes or walk around sandstone pillars, China will charge you heavily and then guide you by the hand over wooden footbridge reminding you about health and safety rules (Caution, wet floor! – especially useful on the planks leading through desert sands) and leaving poetic notes (Let’s say no to uncivilized behavior! Cherish warm hearts!) every step of the way. You’ll also have directions on a straight road, souvenir shops, stalls selling coins, padlocks, wreaths from artificial flowers and toy monkeys, as well as bars serving wholesale amounts of the Chinese gastro-miracle: instant noodles. The reaction of tourists coming from different provinces to this fascinating infrastructure is most… ahem… lively, reaching decibels to which a western ear is not accustomed.
You will curse at them, at first under your breath, then openly, but the moment you stand eye to eye with the vista that brought you there, everything else just stops being important…