Reflections on a Wandering Life.....
I hadn't really planned to go anywhere today, but some folks at the youth hostel had hired a taxi to go out to Hulun Lake. The taxi seated seven people and cost 400 RMB. There were six of them, and they were looking for a seventh, so I relented. I hate tours like that, but in the end, I guess it's a good thing I went along with it, because it's just not a tour you can do individually. We stopped at the park that has a whole bunch of Matryoshka dolls, the largest of which is a restaurant. Then we went to the port of entry. Except it's not the actual port of entry. It's the old one, and there is a museum there of some kind. But they don't allow foreigners. I had mixed feelings about that, because it was obviously a racist policy. Several people told me they did not have their ID with them, but they were allowed in because they "looked Chinese." I would have a tough time "looking Chinese," although I could pass myself off as a Uygur or something I guess. But it was 60 kuai for something that was obviously fake. So I stayed behind, hired a cab and went to the real port of entry. The taxi driver who took me out there was driving a regular taxi. It had all the markings, including the price per kilometer. But no meter. I didn't notice that until she dropped me off, because it looked completely normal from the outside (and inside, for that matter). When I got out she quoted me a price of 40 RMB. I was aghast. I said, "What about your meter?" She said, "I don't have one." I took out 10 kuai and gave it to her. Boy, was she angry! She slapped the seat and said, "No!" But she could see I was going to leave. She said, "Ten out there and ten back." I relented. I would have paid 15 kuai without complaining, and she had waited for me at the port of entry while I took pictures (which almost got me arrested). So I gave her the 20 kuai.
When the other members of my tour came back, I told the driver what had happened. He defended her. Sort of. He said that 20 RMB was a fair price, which means that he would have agreed with me that 40 was too high. But I don't see how you can defend someone who drives a regular taxi with all the markings, and tries charges inflated prices. I could understand his position, though. His car didn't have a meter either. He was charging by the trip. And his price wasn't cheap. But at least he told us before we departed what the price was going to be, and he allowed us to pack seven people in his minivan to get the price down. I don't like black taxi drivers. Especially black taxi drivers who pretend to be legitimate.
Becky, an art teacher from Shanghai who was is traveling in Hulunbuir for the summer, sent me these pictures (thanks, Becky). These pictures show the grassland area near Hulunhu ("hu" means lake). To be honest, there's nothing that sensational about Hulun Lake. It's very large, so that's why people think it must be something to see. The grassland is pretty, but I lived in North Dakota for many years, so it doesn't seem that out of the ordinary to me. But to an average Chinese person who has grown up in a gray Chinese city, it's sensational. And one must say, it really is pretty.