Friday, May 23, 2008

Chengdu Trip #5: Zigong

Since Leon is taking off on Friday, I decided to go visit Zigong with a friend. Zigong is about 3 hours southeast from Chengdu and has a population of 3+ million. I think the most famous thing about Zigong are the salt mines that have been in operation for centuries.

North Gate bus station. Buses to different cities depart from different places so you need to know where to go. My bus ticket was RMB75 but they also added RMB2 for travel insurance... not reassuring. There is no timetable either. You buy your ticket, get on the right bus, and wait until it fills up. We ended up waiting about 20 minutes before departing. While we were waiting, lots of people came by selling drinks, snacks, newspapers, and even roasted corn-on-the-cob. Hmm, I just noticed that the characters on the building are traditional characters (simplified = 北门车站); maybe the station was built before the communists took over though it doesn't look that old.

The bus ride wasn't too bad. It was a typical tour bus so there was plenty of leg room. The entire trip took about 3 hours with a rest stop. My problem was that my stomach was acting up and I did not want to try squatting at the rest stop bathroom. There were TV monitors in the bus and they showed a couple of movies.

A traffic accident, I think. Maybe the truck was like that before... sometimes it's hard to tell in China. There are many vehicles on the road that belong in a junkyard.

Once you get out of Chengdu, the landscape becomes more rugged and mostly agricultural. There were a lot of billboards along the road to spoil the view though.

Typical farm house along the road

After arriving at the Zigong bus station, we had to take a taxi to the hotel. Like at an airport, there was a line of taxis and we got into the first one. As soon as we pulled out of the bus station, the driver says, "Um, I have to run an errand... it won't take that long." What? Why can't you do this on your own time? Anyhow, he pulls onto a side street and starts talking to a motorcycle policeman. After a few words, the policeman gets into the front passenger seat. I didn't get the entire conversation but it appears that the taxi driver's friend got in trouble and had his documents taken by the police. It would cost a lot of money to resolve officially plus leave a record. The driver wanted the policeman in the front seat to "take care" of it and he agreed to do it for RMB200-300. So here we are driving down the street, the taxi driver on the phone with his friend, the policeman on the phone with someone in the police station, and me in the back seat amazed at the level of corruption on display right in front of me. All this while the meter is running on our short taxi ride.

I'm staying at the Huidong Hotel, a 4-star hotel and supposedly the best in town. The room cost RMB410 per night. It's not that nice; I think they added 2 two stars too many. They're also doing construction so there's loud banging all day. At least the Internet connection works.

Intersection outside the hotel. This is the new section of town; the old town is up higher on a hill and the buildings are much crappier.

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