Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sleeper Bus

Guangdong people can sleep anywhere.
We need more crab in the hold!
Click the pix for larger picture.
Sleeper buses are a conveyance here in China that give the impression that when you book one, you will be reclining in comfort, and then sleeping in a prone position during the night, rather than upright getting a kink in your neck. Having taken these beasts before on an 8 hour trip, I knew this not to be true but we booked one anyway on our trip to Xiamen, since we knew that it would be a minimum 12 hour trip (plus there are no other direct buses).
Sleeper buses have three rows of two tiered bunks running the length of their rather tall selves. You get a blanket and pillow, and a little rack to put your personal belongings on. You remove your shoes upon entering and place them in a plastic bag which conveniently hangs on the little knob on the rack. There is a restroom with a squatty potty in the rear, and video screens for entertainment.
I understand the beds are quite comfortable if you are under five and a half feet tall and weigh less than 100 lbs, otherwise you don't quite fit on the 66 inch by 20 inch platform. You also need bound feet in order to fit them under the little gear platform. It's not completely hopeless if you are 6 feet tall since you can curl up on your side, or lie on your back with knees raised. You can also use your blanket for extra padding in order to sit semi upright. It's something akin to laying down in the back seat of a Corolla. It's not bad if you want to read or watch a movie, although most of the offerings are Chinese, so it's best to bring your own on a laptop.
I knew the 12 hour trip would take longer since this was a major holiday, National Day, but they managed to exceed my wildest expectations in this matter. The bus left promptly at its announced time of 11:45 am, and immediately detoured from the normal freeway route to take the more scenic coastal drive. This enabled the bus to stop frequently to wait 20 minutes for late passengers in every farming berg and to take on cargo too. The novelty of the various rural bus stops and quaint stations wore off after about the tenth stop, and no one was ever on time. After about four hours, we were only about 120km down the road, when we finally got on the freeway, although they did manage a couple of more stops to stuff some more cargo into the holds. I had to admire the way they maximized profits on this trip.
We had a dinner stop at 5, then on to Xiamen, ETA now 6 am. After about 10:30 or so I managed to fall asleep. However, passengers soon began to get off at other obscure stops which were announced by the chubby, shirtless "conductor" who used his foghorn voice to inform the entire bus of whatever cow town or toll station a certain passenger needed to get off at. They would often be replaced by another, who then was yelled at by the "conductor" until he or she figured out what space they were supposed to occupy. This, combined with the cramped bed, gave a night's rest somewhat akin to to that of parents of a croupy infant.
The trip back home a few days later was similar, although they brought on more passengers and less cargo. These unfortunates got to sit on the floor, and one guy got to sit in front of the bathroom so he got to get up every time somebody wanted to use it, enabling him to keep from getting too cramped. Our "conductor" was the same guy as on the previous trip, but he decided he needed some help keeping everyone awake, and played at loud volume some very shitty Chinese cartoons, and old comedies that featured shrill voices from nearly every character, shrill voices being an integral part of bad Chinese comedy. He kept this crap going until about 11:30, and I found that my earplugs did little more than prevent damage from excessive volume.
The only thing that made this trip more tolerable, was the fact that it only took 16 and half hours instead of 18.
Sleeper bus is a bit of an oxymoron, but in our case it was the quickest way, other than flying, for us to get to our destination. If you are short, have earplugs, liquor and Vicodin this is not a bad way to travel. You are intimate with your traveling companions, and you develop a great appreciation for just about anything that isn't cramped.

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