Usually traveling is both fun and informative. Trains are the perfect place for conversation due to the family-style seating arrangement and the freedom to walk around. I have had some of my most in-depth conversations on trains, transcending the basic questions like, "How old are you?" and "How much money do you make?"
Sometimes travel can be more cumbersome. Sometimes the people are less willing to talk, due to shyness or lack of interest. Today's trip back from Zunyi was like this; I didn't say much more than "恩 (en4)," an affirmative response to the question from the train worker, "Are you going to Anshun?"
The people around me looked over my shoulder to see me reading my textbook (新使用汉语课本；五册）. Even a glance in this book should be enough for a Chinese person to realize that I can speak Chinese. In fact, it's typically a surprise for people that I can read Chinese even after speaking with them for several minutes. Speaking Chinese isn't nearly as difficult as reading (or writing) it in the eyes of a typical Chinese person.
I decided to go back and grab something to eat in the dining car and I walked several cars up, passing the typical stares and furtive elbow-jostlings friends give to one another as I walk by. "外国人 (wai4guo2ren2)" they whisper, "Outside Country Person." When I request a menu at the dining car the waitress happily hands one to me while 3 other train attendants sit at a table smoking and talking quietly. The rest of the car was empty. I sat down, opened the menu, and discovered why. Basic dishes were 4 or 5 times the regular price and I asked if they had egg fried rice. 没有。
"I'll just have those instant noodles," I said, giving the waitress 5 yuan and looking for the boiling water.
"It's outside," she said.
"Ok - I can just eat in here, right?" I said to be polite, not really to ask for permission - I was planning on coming back.
The waitress looked down at one of the train attendants, who was shaking her head.
"You're right, it's pretty crowded in here," I responded without thinking much. "What a strange rule," I added under my breath (again in Chinese). Just because I didn't order the expensive dishes they would let me sit in the dining room.
"Wait," another train attendant at the same table shouted to me as I was disappearing down the dining car corridor, "sit down - it's no problem." I had sufficiently upset them with my snide comments, and that was exactly the result I had intended.
I filled up my bowl of instant noodles at the boiling water container between cars and continued back to my seat through the same sea of whispers and stares. I sat down and hunched over my noodles, slurping them down in several minutes.
When I left the train station after arriving in Anshun, I looked for a cab driver and asked how much to go to the college. "20," he said, and I continued on, shaking my head. "Let him go for 15, he's a teacher at the college," another cab driver said. The first driver yelled after me and said that 15 would be fine, so I turned and got in. Before we left the train station he shuffled a family of four in the back of the cab while I looked at him strangely. "Don't worry, it's on the way," he said. I was still skeptical.
We turned off the basic route back to the college, but not long after he let the family out and we continued on to the college. The family paid 5 yuan, so it was easy to do the math. That meant I owed 10 yuan now. Right?
There's a little trick the cab drivers like to pull in Guizhou. It's happened to me a few times in Anshun and Liupanshui. Drivers will pick up multiple people and force them to pay separate fares, rather than allowing them to share a cab. If you don't know the person, chances are you will have to pay a separate fare.
Once when coming back from a trip to Guiyang something similar happened. I got in after agreeing to 15 and the cabbie said we should wait for students who were also going to the college. "Wait or not, it doesn't matter to me," I said, "it's the same price either way." He looked hurt. And then I helped him recruit a student who got in the cab with us. "Hey, it's 5 yuan to go to the college," he said to the student. "No, it isn't," I cut him off. "Don't listen to him - it's only 15 and I'll take care of it." He looked back at me, "give me something!" he said desperately. "You will get 17, and that's all," I responded, being more generous than I should have been.
And so we dropped the family off and headed back to the campus. The driver tried to make small-talk but I didn't say much but cursory responses. I wasn't excited about getting to know him if I was going to have to shatter his illusion that he was going to get 20 yuan from the combined fares of the family and me. He was still getting 15.
And when we got to my apartment I handed him a 10. He looked confused and then cleared up the misunderstanding by explaining that it was 15. "Yeah, I know - that family gave 5 and I just gave you 10."
"That's not part of the fare," he said angrily, "you can't do that - impossible."
"Pay 20? THAT'S impossible," I responded, and began to get out of the cab.
He muttered a string of dialect that was followed by “老外 (lao3wai4)" another less polite word meaning foreigner. I'm glad I didn't understand everything he said, and I was happy that he didn't get away with double-charging. Many people just fold and give them money (even volunteers). I walked back up the 5 flights to my apartment, not doing much for China during my trip home - but certainly preserving some of my own values for the day.