You get what you pay for...

Tongluo Travel Blog

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Today's trip to Tongli started early morning 2 hour boat ride.  This is after endless waiting around for the boat to fill up with passengers.  Once the boat took off, it seemed like we would enjoy the trip. And then all of a sudden I started to smell cigarette smoke.  I am highly sensitive to cigarettes.  I do not like being around it one bit! (which is kind of unfortunate, since my Chinese boss is practically trying to kill me with the second hand smoke from his office)  So I looked around and found a group of middle aged Chinese men smoking away.  Normally I grumble to myself and not do anything.  This time, I have no idea what came over me.  Maybe I felt more brazen because I was under the protective care of my two Chinese friends?  I marched over the men and said in English, "Sir, you cannot smoke in here.  The sign (I pointed to it) says no smoking.  Can't you read?  Please put your cigarettes out."  Afterwards, I thought to myself, who is this person talking to these men as if she owned the boat?!?  Anyhow, the men (whether intimidated by English or just out of embarrassment) put out their cigarettes.  No harm done.  I was extremely self-satisfied.

When we arrived in Tongli, we visited one garden, and by then we had lost our tour group because I was lolly-gagging (i.e. shopping, taking pictures, etc.).  So we hired a rick-shaw and did a tour of the city.  Tongli is by far one of the most traditional (well-preserved) river cities in the province.  Although a tourist attraction, there are permanent residents who live there and carry on daily activities.  This is the best part of the town.  You really get to see what life is like for them.

As we passed by one river bend, I saw a woman with a boat full of Ospreys.  A sign said for 20 yuan you can watch an Osprey show.  I was curious and so I paid the lady.  She unleashed two of the Ospreys and started slapping the side of her boat.  Whether out of fear or some other internal motivation, the ospreys dove under water and caught a fish!  And then to my horror, the woman grabbed the osprey by the neck and yanked it back on the boat, and choked the fish out of its mouth!!!  At this point I felt horrible about contributing to such animal cruelty.  But by then the show was over and I was out 20 yuan.  I consoled myself by believing that I contributed to the local economy.

We didn't spend too much time in Tongli - only a total of 4 hours.  We took the two hour boat back to Suzhou.  My friend asked the tour guide again and again about our return train ticket only to be told that she would get them later.  When we arrived in Suzhou we were swiftly carted off in a minivan.  There was a lot of confused yelling back and forth between my friends and the driver.  My friend Laura translated that the driver didn't have the train tickets.  After prodding him, he told us that we would be travelling back to Shanghai by bus.  Ok, that was not what was agreed upon prior to our trip, but I'm not so inflexible as to insist on a train ticket. But when Laura asked about the bus ticket, the driver was mum.  He refused to speak to us.  I found this very strange.

I started asking the driver in English about out bus ticket.  He ignored me too.  So I went up to the front and tapped him on his shoulders.  I politely asked him about our bus tickets, only to be yelled in Chinese.  Probably a good thing I don't speak Chinese since if I had understood what he said I would be given him a black eye.  From his gestures I interpreted that my talking was going to cause an accident so I should shut up and go back to my seat.  At this point I was annoyed so I spoke again in not so polite way (but I didn't swear) about our bus tickets.  I was going to get our tickets one way or another.  He then asked my friends to get me to go back to my seat since we don't need tickets for the bus.

We arrived at the bus station and were escorted to the bus headed for Shanghai.  Something didn't feel right even though we were seated.  Not too long after, three Korean tourists came on.  At this point the Chinese driver started screaming at my friends.  It looked as if he wanted us to get off the bus.  To make matters worse one of the Koreans started yelling in Chinese at my friends too!  It was a huge mess!  To make a long story short we didn't budge and the Koreans sat down and we were soon on our way back to Shanghai. 

What surprised me about the Koreans were that they insisted that we give up our seat for them.  I didn't understand.  We had our seats and they had their seats.  Nobody was standing up.  What was the problem?  They said that they paid a lot of money for the front seats and that they arrived in Suzhou in those seats, they were entitled to those seats.  I didn't think that these buses had assigned seating.  As I looked, the seats had no numbers.  Listening to the Koreans talking amongst themselves was even more infuriating.  They were disrespectful and rude.  One kept trying to scream at my friend.  So I finally tapped him on his shoulders and told him to stop trying to fight.  I don't know if it was the English (I was too embarrassed to associate with these Koreans that I pretended to be a foreigner), but after I spoke to them in English, the Koreans quieted down.

Our weekend jaunt to Suzhou/Tongli cost us 368 yuan (about $53 US).  So I can't complain too bitterly about the lack of reliability.  Traveling in China follows the same economic prinicple: you get what you pay for.  Too bad for the nasty Koreans - apparently they paid a lot of money and got shafted.
fransuavo says:
wow sounds like you've been having some misadventures over there - when I'm over there in 08 I'm really going to need a mandarin speaking friend to come with me!
Posted on: Aug 12, 2007
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