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The passengers cried out in alarm. But fortunately, the earth was only half a meter below the pavement. The bus was leaning, but it was upright. Still, it would be difficult to start it up again.
Everyone was livid as they got off the bus. The bus driver stood at the door with his arms on his waist as he shouted back, “The bus didn’t even flip! What are you scared of?”
It seemed that rollovers were quite commonplace, and this incident was the abnormal one.
Ji Tangtang was speechless. Standing on the ground below the road, she looked around her, at the lack of signs of humanity. She couldn’t help but ask the driver, “How else can we get to Ganai?”
“It’s not very far,” the driver replied, annoyed by everyone’s fuss over nothing. “You can ride a yak or a horse, or you can even walk. It won’t take more than an hour or two. If you’re lucky, you might find a tractor that will take you to town.”
And that’s how things were taken care of.
The passengers yelled a bit before getting tired and going their own ways. Some carried their bags and walked. Others met a herd of yak and went along with them. Others yet talked to passing horseback riders.
The ludicrous thing was that the driver irresponsibly left with the horseback riders too. Ji Tangtang was dumbstruck.
Ji Tangtang had a 60 liter backpack with her. She could walk a short distance with the whole thing on her back, but her waist would give out if she had to carry it a long distance. She would just have to wait patiently for a tractor to pass by. The seconds and minutes passed. The only ones left by the leaning bus were her and a rather intellectual looking young man with glasses.
Ji Tangtang started the conversation.
“Are you traveling?”
“Where are you from?”
“That’s a nice place.”
The man smiled. His thin face was a bit flushed.
The two of them must have been lucky, because after a short while, a tractor tooted on over. The Tibetan driver could speak Mandarin, and he agreed to take them to town for 5 yuan each.
Ji Tangtang ended up resting on the tractor for the next half hour. When they arrived, it was already past 5pm, though it was still as bright as early afternoon. The large clouds in the distance cast shadows on the green grass. Even further out, on the mountain peaks, a herd of yak were feeding on the grass. From far away, they just looked like little black specks.
When they arrived at the town, Ji Tangtang hopped off back of the tractor. The man with glasses followed suit,
Ganai was a tiny town. There was just one main road, and from the entrance, you could see the entire town.
The man with glasses inquired of Ji Tangtang, “Where are you staying?”
“The youth hostel,” she replied with a smile. “It’s cheap.”
After traveling together a bit, Ji Tangtang found out the young man’s basic information. He was a fourth-year student at Xi’an Electronic Science and Technology University. Because he wanted to have some fun before graduating, he decided to travel Gannan by himself.
But, as she looked at the dust all over his shoes and clothing, Ji Tangtang could only sigh to herself, “Those are definitely not suitable clothes to be on the road.” His so-called Gannan travels would likely be limited to passing, superficial glimpses of the scenery.
As they continued walking, they came upon a building to their right. Painted on the door was a blue triangle with a small tree and house inside of it. This was the logo for the International Youth Hostel Federation.
Ji Tangtang stepped inside and looked around. “Is this the youth hostel?”
A few tables were placed in the simple reception hall. One of the tables was filled with small backpacks. Next to that was a kettle and also bread wrapped in plastic.
Ji Tangtang walked up to the table. In the pile of backpacks, there was also a pair of black walkie-talkies.
It was probably for groups heading out to explore. But… where were the people?
Suddenly, she heard footsteps shuffling from above, mixed with male voices arguing. “If we’re going to search, we have to hurry. There’ll no chance when night comes…”
Their discussion immediately stopped when they spotted Ji Tangtang and the young man with glasses.
At the front of the group was a short but fierce-looking man. Tan and bald, he wore a sleeveless shirt that revealed his muscular arms. Ji Tangtang couldn’t help but admire his strength. Behind him was a young man in a blue jacket. He was quite handsome. And behind him was a sloppy-looking man with disheveled hair. His head drooped and he didn’t seem very alert…
A short and fat middle-aged man was at the very back. With a smile on his face, he asked, “You want a room?”
“Yes,” Ji Tangtang replied with a smile of her own.
Their smiles seemed to end the deadlock situation. The group, minus the middle-aged man, walked over to the table and grabbed their bags, water, and walkie-talkies. The guy in the blue jacket took up the rear, and as he exited the hostel, he glanced back at Ji Tangtang.
“I have rooms for four, six, or ten. Top and bottom bunks. Men and women share rooms.”
“How much for a bed in the ten-person?”
“I have a card from the youth hostel. Can I get a discount?” Ji Tangtang reached into her waist pack to find the card.
The middle-aged man shook his head. “We’re not the youth hostel.”
“But the logo on the door…”
“A chain used to rent the place for ¥2,000 a year, but they stopped. You can see where we are. Not a lot of people travel to these parts, so they weren’t making enough money.”
The place was surrounded by mountains after all. Since the owner was so candid, Ji Tangtang didn’t both dragging things out. After she pulled out her ID card and booked herself a bed, she realized that the boy in the glasses was standing stiffly to the side, as if he had no intention to stay there.
Ji Tangtang looked at him, and he stammered, “E-everyone lives… together? The men and women?”
Before Ji Tangtang could respond, the owner shouted, “Everyone lives together! There are no single rooms! Stay or don’t—your choice!”
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