The Road to Dengfeng

DENGFENG — 31 October 2012 — There are no trains to Dengfeng. To get there, you either drive, take a taxi or ride a local bus.  I had hopped on the bus — the cheapest (36 yuan, or about $5.70) and hopefully, most adventurous option — and it did not disappoint.

First, it made many stops along the way, picking up passengers standing by the side of the road.The lady in the center of the above photo (with her back to the camera) rode in a jump seat in the front stairwell of the bus. And jump she did! She sold tickets and helped the passengers stow their bags under the bus and in the overhead rack. She changed the large cardboard sign in the front window now and then. She shouted out the door at people standing at random places along the highway to see if they were waiting for our bus. She adjusted the volume on the Jackie Chan video that we were watching whenever someone shouted that they couldn’t hear. If we were on a plane, she would be the co-pilot. Here she is in her jump seat:At one point, a passenger vomited in the aisle, and she put newspapers over the mess. You can see it here in the photo I took over my shoulder (I’m in the left foreground, hiding in the dark sunglasses, completely grossed out):Riding the local bus, I got to see many things.

Like a farmer who got on with heavy sacks.And a farmer’s wife who didn’t get on.Pedestrians on the highway.Cars going down the wrong side of the road. Which meant that our bus was often on the wrong side of the road too! We kept swerving into oncoming traffic to pass slower moving vehicles. There were no traffic lights or signs during the three-plus-hour ride. The only rule of the road was to keep moving.

That is, until we stopped for a smoking break in the middle of nowhere.Actually, it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, it was in front of a HUGE, industrial plant spewing out fumes. I didn’t think to take a picture of it. But I did take a picture of the nuclear reactor cooling tower next to it as soon as we got moving again:What??? A cooling tower? That means they were smoking in front of a nuclear reactor!!! Yikes! Well, that explains a lot of things. Like the Chinese invention of fireworks 2,000 years ago. Some things never change.

The sun was setting by the time I got my first glimpse of Mt. Song, a mountain range that stretches for about 43 miles from Luoyang to Zhengzhou; Dengfeng sits in the middle of it, and according to Wikipedia, ancient Chinese literature called the area the spiritual “center of heaven and earth.”When I got to Dengfeng, which sits at the foot of Mt. Song, I had to get on the local-local bus to go up the mountain:This smaller bus also had a driver’s assistant, pictured above, who collected fares (2.5 yuan, about 30 cents) and helped passengers with their bags.

When the bus filled up, up the mountain we went!

This little girl sat in front of me:Half-way up the mountain, she screamed, “XIA!!!” — down — at the top of her lungs. And the bus came to a screeching halt. The doors opened and she hopped off. It was her stop. A little later, a boy about the same age did the same thing, but he shouted too late and the driver had to put the bus in reverse and back downhill to where the boy’s mother was waiting.

I wondered if I was going to have to shout “XIA!” when I wanted to get off.

But I had no idea where I was getting off.

Until the bus stopped and everyone got off. Then the driver pointed at me and told me to get off too. Okay.

Cool mountain air washed over me and filled my lungs.

A fellow passenger asked where I was going and immediately started negotiating with an unmetered cabbie for my fare:Another fellow passenger took my bag and started rolling with it, unasked:Two others wanted to know where I was from and how old I was:And in no time at all, we were friends posing for a group shot:And that was how I got to Shaolin Temple, birthplace of Kung Fu and Zen Buddhism. My new friends worked on the grounds behind us.

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