Once in a while when I tell people we decided to get “Jibonka” printed in China, they do a strange thing: they draw in their breath sharply and make a face as if a molar was giving them a though time. Some might ask, whether we really are thick enough to expect to hear anything from a Chinese printer after the 30% of the total balance have been paid in advance.
Yes, I do (I might also be thick as a brick, but that is a different matter all together). This all reminds me of a story that happened quiet a while ago.
The time is October 1st, 1992. Sometime around 10 a. m. The place is China, to be more precise, a little village at the foot of legendary Huang Shan, probably China’s most painted mountain range. Five German students have just arrived after a particularly unpleasant 12-hour train ride in the hart seater compartment (crammed with at least four different kinds of mammals), followed by an utterly uncomfortable 50 minute journey over pothole ridden streets on an overcrowded mini bus without any suspension. To sum it up – our five Germans were not in the best of moods.
In the four weeks they had been in China until then, they had learned already that it is always a good idea to get hold of ticket to get away as soon as you arrive some place. So they asked their way to the regional bus station and were pleasantly surprised by the non-existence of massive queues in front of the ticket windows. That is until they were told that today no more tickets were to be sold. Since our five German Sinologists had planned to climb to the top of Huang Shan, stay on top over night, enjoy the supposedly spectacular sunrise, come back down, stay somewhere in the village and catch a bus early next morning to be back at University in time for classes, they could not afford to wait until the next day to get tickets (which would not be for sale the next day anyway, an official let slip to one of them.
Considerable frustration coupled with fatigue and a couple of bad experiences let tempers rise, when an old lady approached one of the students. She led him aside and quiet simply offered him to purchase tickets for the group, two for Nanjing, three for Shanghai, for busses leaving two days later in the morning. In return she asked us to have dinner in her daughter’s restaurant the night before. The student approached was me.
Naturally we had to pay for the tickets in advance, since the total amount was way above the average monthly income in the region. Needless to say, the other four wouldn’t hear of it. They were frustrated and told me I was way too naive for this country. Maybe because there was no real alternative or maybe because I can be convincing at times – I finally talked them into it: We gave the old lady the money, she led us to her daughter’s restaurant, where we had drinks of the kind you would not really want to depend on in hot wheather and said our Good Byes.
I have no idea how often the others told me we would never see this lady again on the six hours climb up Huang Shan. So when we came back late in the afternoon the following day (there must have been a sunrise, the fog gradually got lighter) I was a bit nervous. But guess who was waiting in the restaurant, waiving with the tickets? One might say that her daughter’s only way of getting trade was her mother luring tourists via ticket services into her place – her food certainly would not attract crowds. But a deal is a deal. The old lady then also helped us to book beds in a dorm (the hotel run by a relative of her’s), which was fine because everywhere else seemed to be full at the eve of the National holiday. And later this evening we discovered that we had only paid the price that was printed on the tickets – no laowai rip off, no extra charge for getting the things.
So now it’s not tickets but books and no old lady but a modern factory – still…