A couple of days ago, I traveled with a friend by Da Ba Che -- Big Bus -- from Kunming to Dali. It takes about five hours or so, two hours less than the train. Note to self: What it saves in time, it makes up for in added discomfort and occasional terror.
You get on this thing and are immediately bombarded with a safety video instructing you to wear your seatbelt, not to smoke on the bus, and for reasons which are unclear to me, don't drop luggage on your baby. This repeats every 15 minutes or so. All well and good except half the seats don't have seat belts, or arm rests in some cases. The highways are very narrow, crowded with big trucks, close enough that you could reach out the window and touch one in the next lane.
At one point, we made a sharp turn, and my friend Richard went flying out of his seat, landing in the aisle. Both of us were so shocked by this that we didn't quite know how to react. This was topped a few minutes later when another bus nearly merged into us, our driver had to swerve and then he fell out of his seat. I guess he wasn't paying any attention to the safety video.
When the safety video wasn't playing, we watched strange Chinese comedies about a magical cellphone and another where a schoolteacher pretends to be a playboy's girlfriend for a visit to his parents, who run a martial arts school, for reasons that are unclear to me. Also, music videos. Like, "My Heart Will Go On," which is pretty much unavoidable in China, years after the film. As Celine Dion sang the chorus, a young couple behind us started singing along. Until it was interrupted by the safety video again. Wear your seatbelt. Don't smoke. And don't drop luggage on your baby.
We had one traffic jam, where lanes were closed due to construction. The barriers are bright colored plastic that look like the components of a child's fort, nothing that would actually stop a car. Meanwhile, we're barreling up a series of mountains, into greener and greener country dotted with Bai villages -- traditional whitewashed houses with gray roofs. Round mandala-like paintings under the eaves, like Amish barn signs. On the long walls, murals, some elaborate scenes of traditional subjects, dancers and musicians gathered around a bonfire, dotted with a series of small blazes, white geese taking flight around them. Others have paintings of dinosaurs. One village's murals are entirely different varieties of mushrooms. This part of Yunnan province is famous for its mushrooms, I'm told.
After this ride, I resolved to avoid the Da Ba in the future and take the train instead, even if it's two hours longer. But I expect I'll be going this way again, and soon, I hope. Because when you get there, it looks like this…