I am in Weifang, Shandong Province of China, the “Kite Capital of the World” and the International Kite Festival was last weekend. I decided to go.
I had a heck of a time figuring out where it was (one might reasonably argue that I still don’t know) and how to get there. The internet was no help, since “the beach of Happy Sea of Binhai development zone in Weifang city” doesn’t show up on any maps as such. It is over 40 miles from the center of Weifang, as near as I can tell.
I wanted to take a bus and nothing I could find said how to do that. I had assumed, incorrectly, that the hotel I was staying at could get the information for me.
By map study I figured that the No. 78 bus that had a stop by my hotel was a good candidate. The concierge said yes to the 78 bus, then he got vague about what to do next, checked on his computer and finally he said “we do not recommend taking the bus”. He suggested that I hire a car for the day at 300 yuan(I assume, but, am not sure, that would have included a driver).
I couldn’t get back to sleep after I woke up at 3:45 am. My son had to work so I was flying solo on this excursion, meaning that my inability to communicate (or even know) where I was going to a driver had some serious potential for winding up somewhere else. I was debating whether I should go or not, bus it, try to take a taxi, see if it was too late to hire a car for the day…
We conferred via text message with our friend, Emily. She said it wasn’t a good idea, it was raining and it would take three hours to get there by bus. However, she also sent the number of the bus, 83, to switch to after 78. I have had great experiences with the Weifang bus system, so I bravely (or foolishly, sometimes there isn’t much difference) set out.
A 78 came along just a few minutes after I got to the bus stop. Standing room only, cost was 5 RMB. The ride was pretty uneventful. Most everyone on the bus was going to the same place I was, although I didn’t know it then. The result of that is that the bus got fuller and fuller as it traveled, no chance of grabbing an empty seat. The ride on the 78 took about an hour and a half.
At the end of the line everyone piled out, joining a bunch of folks already waiting for the No. 83 bus. One No. 83, stuffed to the gills, left as our bus arrived but there were still many people waiting. A fresh No. 83 arrived, it stopped with its door near me, the crowd I was in headed for its door. In situations like that my Boston experience kicks in. I tried to put myself in the midst of the mob so that I would get pushed onto the bus. But the experienced Chinese bus riders (mostly older men with geezer stools) actively push people out of the way. As I felt this happening I was close enough to grab the handle on the bus door and managed to get pivoted in by the crowd. I had a few moments of wondering if I was going to have to let go, but in the end I was propelled into the midst of the bus.
The 83 ride was about a half an hour, so my total travel time was just over 2 hours when I stepped off of the No. 83, trying to note where it was so I could retrace my steps.
It was raining, and windy (it was a kite festival) at the beach.
I wandered about. I assume (there’s that word again) that if I could read in Chinese I would not have been so clueless, and would, for example, have figured out how to watch the opening ceremony instead of realizing that it was going on when I walked behind it, then nearly getting myself blown up by the fireworks (policemen kept the crowd from getting within about 10 feet of them so I was about 15 feet away when they went off).
The kites were beautiful and interesting. I really wanted to stay longer but after about 2 hours I was starting to feel hypothermia set in.
You know you are miserable when a squatty potty stall seems like a pleasant respite.
I finally gave up and went to search out a No. 83 bus (ba shi san ba shi). The bus line up was confusing. I found a group of younger folks, college students, and a lovely young woman conversed with me a bit then said “do you have some money?” I said “a little”, she then said that, based on where I wanted to go, if I had 10 yuan I could take any of the buses in the line-up. She went with me and found one that had a seat, they even wiped it off for me, although I was so wet that it probably didn’t make much difference. It felt good to sit down out of the rain for a bit. The buses ooched up one by one to the turn around and headed south. The bus I was on went directly to my stop, no bus change. Just being able to sit felt like a luxury.
So for 15 yuan (less than $2.50) I had an adventure. Everyone who warned me off was right. Traveling up by bus was not comfortable or for the faint of heart. It was cold and wet and, by then end, miserable.
On the other hand I saw some neat things, and a hot shower followed by dumplings and a glass of red wine had me as good as new (asleep as well). I don’t think I would have lasted much longer if I had gone by another mode of transportation.
The following day was sunny and would have been a totally different experience but there was a kite flying field day at the school where my son teaches, Smart Vision International Kindergarten, that we had said we would attend. Another story for another day…
If he is still living in Weifang next year I may try again. Now I know what buses to take.