Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Pass at Caradras

To pass the time in Taiyuan, we visit temples. There isn’t a whole lot to do in that part of Shanxi Province, or, as Andrea says, “if the most exciting thing in Dodge is a double pagoda, we’re gonna go see a double pagoda.” The double pagoda is beautiful but ultimately not at all story-worthy. The other temples we visit, however, are.

We begin the journey by taking an hour or so ride. Normally I choose not to mention our driving. The drivers thus far have all be excellent, strong-silent types, and I have liked each one. But our driver in Taiyuan goes above and beyond the call of duty, and thus his actions deserve mention.

Normally, our drive would take an hour. It involves taking one relatively new road to another relatively new road that leads more or less to our first destination, a temple dedicated to a former governor of the province (and by former, I mean several centuries former.). The first road, however, is under reconstruction, and thus we need to take a detour. We do, straight through the woods to the side of the roadblock.

No, I am not kidding.

The driver takes us off-roading in an eight-passenger van. And he is not alone. Several other drivers follow suit, including a small truck that somehow ends up in front of us. As we approach a place to re-enter the blocked-off roadway (the road, by the by, is totally fine, completely useful, and has almost no workers on it. Yet it is blocked off. Hmmm….), some laborers from a little nearby village appear. We are using their little road onto the main road. They want compensation.

Again: no I am not kidding.

The driver and Niu Yun, along with the drivers of other vehicles, begin bargaining with the villagers. We sit for fifteen or so minutes. All parties strike a deal; Coasian bargaining works even with transaction costs. Yay!

As we pull out of the woods, our driver hands payment to the villagers. Five yuan; a little less than seventy U.S. cents.

[Had I known, I would have offered to pay everybody’s toll, just to get moving. By my reckoning, that little stop cost me seven dollars as is!]

We ride to the main highway. The driver enters the highway. As we approach a toll booth (most, perhaps all?, main highways are toll roads), he turns around and begins to drive backwards on the highway. Let me emphasize this.

He drives backwards on a highway. Got that? Good.

We pull off down an entrance ramp. The driver drives us back around the “roadblock” on the other side of the road. The side where the village isn’t.

The whole point of the exercise is to turn around on the non-village side of the road. He knows this the entire time, but we don’t. “This is why China will rule the world!” Andrea exclaims. Indeed.

That kind of ingenuity to avoid a roadblock? They can do anything.

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