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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Hulunbuir Grassland 

Finally got out of Beijing. Man, it's getting hot! I found a nice, quiet youth hostel in the middle of nowhere. It's in a very remote area of the Hulunbuir Grassland near the Russian border. I should say that I use the word "quiet" a bit loosely, because these young people do like to listen to loud music once in awhile.

Hulunbuir is technically regarded as a municipal district, but that is misleading, because it is larger than 42 states, and is mainly rural. The urban center of Hulunbuir is Hailaer. Couldn't get a train ticket out of Beijing, and it turned out to be a good thing, because I had originally planned to go to Manzhouli, and then work my way up here. Instead, I found a discount air ticket to Hailaer. Thursday I took the Line 4 subway down to the old military airfield south of Beijing. It was built during the Sino-Japanese war, but is now being used more and more as an auxiliary airport for China's rapidly expanding aviation industry. I have only flown out of that airport once before--also for a trip to Inner Mongolia.

When I got to Hailaer, I went to the place where the taxis congregate. My Lonely Planet guide had warned me that there is a racket going on at the airport. Apparently there is no regular taxi line at the airport. What you find is a bunch of minibuses, and they tell you the price is 80 RMB. I called the youth hostel, and they told me I should be able to get a ride for 35 or 40, so I was holding to that price, but to no avail. The driver insisted on 80. I called the youth hostel again, and he said I should be able to offer the driver 45. He was wrong. The driver was getting more and more irritated, because what they do is wait until one minibus is full, and then take off. Finally he came down to 60, and I decided to take it. It was almost midnight. If it hadn't been for that, I would have started walking, and then caught a regular metered taxi as soon as I got close enough to town to see one. I got in the minibus and then had to listen to the driver apologize to the other customers for the delay because of the stubborn foreigner. I have mixed feelings about this. I don't like having to pay more because I am a foreigner. But it isn't right for me to pay less, either. Still, the price is clearly exorbitant in relation to the local economy. Yesterday morning when I left the youth hostel in Hailaer, I walked out to the road and hailed a taxi to the long distance bus station. The metered price was 12 RMB. Those airport minibuses are clearly a racket. 80 RMB. And that is the price for each customer.

There's no bus directly from Hailaer to the remote location where I'm located, so I had to change buses in a town between there and here. I got to that town in plenty of time to make the next bus, but they told me the tickets were sold out. Disgusting. There is no youth hostel in that town, and I wasn't looking forward to having to wander around and try to find something that wasn't too expensive. There was another guy there who wanted to get to the same village, and he suggested we try to hire a taxi. I was not enthusiastic when he told he could get one for 200 RMB. A bus ticket is 25 to 30. He went out and talked to a driver. He came back and told me that the driver would try to get two more people. That would bring it down to 50 RMB per person. I told him that was acceptable. I really did want to get up here, since I had a reservation for a bed here at the youth hostel for 50 kuai, and that was a lot less than a motel room would cost me. As it was, we didn't have to wait more than an hour for him to stand in front of the bus station calling out the name of the town to get the other two passengers, a young lady with big green fake fingernails and an old lady with a very young child. Last night I met another guy who came up from Hailaer, and he told me that in fact, they added another bus at the town where they had told me they didn't have any tickets. If I had just waited around, I would have been able to take the bus. But I didn't know that, and I might have headed out looking for a place to stay. The other guy saved a little money by waiting. But he also told me that he had to pay 100 RMB to get from the airport in Hailaer to the youth hostel. You win some, you lose some.

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