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The next morning, she got on the 7:10 bus and arrived in Xiahe a bit past 11.
The moment the passengers exited the bus, several drivers crowded around to find some business. “Going to Ganai? Four people in a car, 350 per person!”
They had their arms open wide, like a mother hen guarding her chicks, afraid the travelers would run off.
Ji Tangang frowned. She pushed away an arm and shoved her way out of the circle. The person was angry at her but also worried about losing other customers, so they let Ji Tangtang walk off.
She carried her bag and headed over to the exit. There, she saw a cart filled with food. There were vacuum-sealed boiled eggs, cookies, and things like that, but the packaging seemed old and dirty. There was also a steamer filled with corn. After looking awhile, Ji Tangtang bought a steamed corn.
When she exited the bus station, Ji Tangtang saw a girl sitting on the steps to the right. She had short hair and a round face, and she wore a blue-green jacket. There was a backpack at her legs, and she was also nibbling on corn.
Ji Tangtang smiled, walked over naturally, and took a seat. She pulled off the bag on her corn, about to take a bite, when the girl asked her, “Here to travel?”
“Mm.” Ji Tangtang took a bite. Her voice was muffled by the food inside. “You too?”
“I’m about done. Getting ready to head home.” As the more experienced traveler, she gave Ji Tangtang some tips. “Don’t be fooled by those drivers. They’re real bad. 350 yuan and they squish four people into a car?! There are cars that come in the afternoon and charge a little more than 40 a person.”
“Thanks.” Ji Tangtang was very grateful for the information.
The girl smiled. Then she looked over Ji Tangtang and gave a frown. “Did you bring enough clothes? You’re not going to go dressed like this, are you?”
It was May. Ji Tangtang was dressed in a rose-colored long-sleeve shirt, jeans, and Nike running shoes.
“All set!” Ji Tangtang pat her backpack. “Hiking shoes, jacket, fleece, waterproof pants. I’ve got it all. Is it very cold over in Ganai?”
“It’s 3,000 meters above sea level. It snowed a few days ago. Not a lot, but it was freezing. Every day, we huddled around the fire for warmth.”
At that, a regretful expression crossed her face. “If only you’d come a few days earlier, you could have caught the crowd from the May Day holiday. Now that it’s past May 1st, there won’t be many travelers to Ganai. It’ll be hard to team up with others.”
“I read that August is the peak season for travelers to Ganai. So there aren’t many people now?”
“Yeah, not a lot. There are only a few people staying in each of the hotels.” She paused a moment and then added, “I’m talking about travelers. There are some Han Chinese folks who started a business here, but most of the people are Hui or Tibetan.”
“You’re kidding me!” Ji Tangtang couldn’t help smiling.
The girl got back to the point. “This is a pretty remote place, and it’s at a high elevation. A lot of travelers suffer from altitude sickness and other uncomfortable things. But don’t worry. Ah! My bus!”
Before Ji Tangtang could react, the girl grabbed her backpack and dashed into the bus station. The bus from Xiahe back to Lanzhou was slowly on its way out. It seemed like the big horn on the bus was just for decoration. They didn’t even notify the travelers that it was leaving.
Halfway to the bus, the girl turned around and waved to Ji Tangtang. She quickly returned a nod and mouthed to her, “Thank you!”
The girl probably understood her. She boarded the bus in a happy mood.
Ji Tangtang watched the bus depart and didn’t look away until the smoke trails disappeared into the distance. When traveling, you often ran into enthusiastic, though passing, friends. Even though you didn’t know each other’s names, after having a conversation together, you were left feeling warm inside.
After consuming her corn, Ji Tangtang wiped her mouth with a napkin. Then she walked over to the ticket counter to buy a ticket to Ganai.
A bit past 2 in the afternoon, the dirt-covered minibus arrived to shuttle everyone to Ganai. Most of the passengers were Tibetan, dressed in sheepskin gowns over one shoulder, tied at the waist, the fleece cuffs faded, neither black nor grey.
Ji Tangtang sat at a window seat. In front of her was a small man, a lama, chewing on a chicken leg, his dark hand covered in grease. Ji Tangtang watched him awhile and thought to herself, “Can a lama chew on a chicken leg like that?”
Ji Tangtang didn’t know too much about Tibetan culture and religion. She thought that that lamas were like monks and nuns, that they were indifferent to worldly temptations and didn’t eat meat.
The bus moved slowly and stopped often. Most of the time, they were yielding to crowds of yak or cattle or sheep, which also moved very slowly, as if they were making a trip to the coffee shop. They were so leisurely that it irritated you. And sometimes, the animals would just stop in the middle of the road and look into the bus full of people.
The driver couldn’t do anything but honk his horn. Ji Tangtang had heard about this before. In Tibet, the cattle and sheep were above all else. Not only were there special paths for the animals, if a car crosses paths with them, the car always yielded. Sometimes killing the animal was more serious than killing a person. Naturally the driver was more careful, and he’d rather hit another car than hit one of the animals.
For the second half of the bus ride, they were finally on a paved road. But another problem presented itself. The bus driver’s head bobbed back and forth, as if he hadn’t slept in several days. The bus kept swerving right and left.
It wasn’t only Ji Tangtang who was worried. Several other Chinese passengers seemed anxious too. “Sir, don’t doze off. Take it easy, huh…”
Speak of the devil… After making a turn, the driver lost control and the bus went straight onto the side of the road.
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