We stayed at Holly’s Hostel when we were in Chengdu, during Trekking the Oriental Alps 2010. There was a car wash station right next to the hostel and it was always busy. We visited giant pandas, watched incredible Sichuan opera, and did some last-minute gear preparation on the first day of the trip. We went in and got out of the hostel multiple times, and we lost track of the number of cars being washed. I vaguely remembered that Dave made a comment “it seems like a profitable business.”
I rushed out of the hostel to greet our shuttle driver early next morning, who was taking us to Siguniang. The driver was a quiet and polite young man, but I was totally distracted by his vehicle. I couldn’t help but wonder “how come his vehicle was shining and clean?!” He shuttled passengers over the rough mountain roads yesterday and his car should had been covered in mud. Why did he even bother to wash his car if we were heading back on the same roads again? But I didn’t ask.
We had another shuttle driver on our way back to Chengdu, who was supposed to drop us at a bus terminal at the outskirts of the city. I promised him extra compensation if he drove us back to the hostel. He wanted the extra bucks, but after he agreed to the new drop off location, he kept mumbling “Oh I need to wash my car; my car is so dirty. Oh..” Finally I said “come on, why do you worry so much about it?”
“Well, don’t you have to wash your car before you drive into a city in the States?”
“Who cares? I do whatever I want to my car in the States.”
“We will get fined if we are caught. The regulations prohibit dirty vehicles in Chengdu.”
I was amazed but not surprised. Actually I knocked on my head thinking that I should have guessed that. This reflects something interesting and perhaps for westerners something absurd about China. The ruling power defines policies and implements regulations for “a better big picture,” for a “good cause,” or based on “good intentions.” However, the governmental structure of China makes all these good things easily abused and there is no way to define “good” in any objective way. But many Chinese people still resort to a savior, some righteous power to solve all the problems. (A good reference: Changing, Challenging China from Harvard Magazine)
I wanted to say “don’t you think it’s really not their business?” but I didn’t. The driver used to herd yaks for a living and started shuttling passengers between Siguniang and Chengdu when Siguniang tourism picked up. He looked really young, possibly at his early twenties. I learned that he wanted to make good money and new friends from the conversations I had with him. Life was simple and the future looked promising to him and he drove into Chengdu without washing his car. However, I still sometimes wonder whether he washed his car before he headed back.