Eng: Tongren, Qinghai, China
At one of my window beds, i found the guy next to me puffing away on a cigarette. Since it was freezing outside and heated inside, all the windows were closed and his smoke soon became suffocating. Like I did with Em I poked him and said "hey! you know if you smoke on the bus, then everyone is going to smoke on the bus and that's not fair for us non-smokers." No Response. "hey! I have breathing problems! don't you care about anyone else? Oh, I guess you only care about yourself!" No Response. "hey! I'm speaking to you! do you understand me?" He nodded and put out the cigarette. I expected to find that butt and man cigarette butts like it stuffed inside my sleeping bag at some point on the trip. I never did.
On the other hand, I got excited and thought that this was my chance to be a hero. Ignoring the fact that we had plenty of blankets, drinks, and lighters on the bus, I began looking around to find things we could use to procure water, start fires and make shelter with. Since i actually know nothing about desert survival, I didnt find much that i thought would be useful but instead i found all the trash that my fellow travellers had decided to discard on the ground of this pristine desert. I continued me crusade against inconsiderate travellers: I collected all the trash that i was willing to pick up (i'm not dedicated enough to pick up soggy cigarette butts) and broke the complete silence by rhetorically asking out loud "haven't you ever heard of a trash can? there's plenty on the bus! this isn't even my homeland and i care more about preserving it than you! My god!"
I expected to be able to go on the bus right after i said that and throw away the trash as a final demonstration and leave my fellow travellers to contemplate the epic-ness of my lesson. But instead i found the steps blocked by one of the guys who was half watching the driver fix the bus and half staring at me in disbelief, and so I was forced to stand in awkward silence with a bunch of trash in my hand until the transmission was fixed and we were finally able to board the bus 10 minutes later.
Buddha rewarded my environmental crusade and obsession with scenery by leaving the front bed in the middle aisle open upon returning to the bus - it's previous occupant had decided to get off the bus in the middle of the desert and find other transportation to a location not on our route. I was in heaven! I was finally able to capture scenery from the best seat in the house, from the perspective of someone going head first into it. The best photo I took was of one of the driver sleeping against the dashboard while the other driver drove. They switched off in this manner throughout the entire trip. During the trip one of the drivers chainsmoked inside the bus and threw the butts at the floor and it was then that i realized my fight was futile. In a complete moment of zen, i accepted the cancer, environmental and blatant fire hazards and appreciated the scenery in silence as other travellers began to light up as well. I could feel them grinning at the back of my head knowing the had won the war. As long as you keep you mouth shut about the gov't, you have more freedom in China to do what you want than in the USA.
Finally, at 6:30am we got woken up and told to get off the bus. Em remembers hearing the bus driver saying something like he's off the clock and we have to switch buses. since we were originally told that we would arrive at about 8:00am we were confused but thought this explanation had to be right.
We sleepily grabbed our snacks, bags, sleeping bags, and the mess of discarded socks, shoes and coats around us as we stumbled off the bus only to find that we had arrived in Xining! We waded through the mass of people with our stuff hanging all over the place, too tired to realize that we were now in Tibetan territory and that the dress code and dialects had completely changed.
We quickly found a taxi and drove off to the Sunshine Pagoda Youth Hostel. After tossing about in our beds for the last 20 hours, the only thing on our minds was a shower and more sleep - but we were on an epic-adventure and knew we had to seize the day no matter how painful it would be.