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Blocked roads, fetid quilts and smelly feet

By Wu Wencong (China Daily)

08:53, August 30, 2012

Although traveling on a sleeper bus can entail risks, the business continues to thrive for a number of reasons, mainly fiscal.

Ma Hui, 26, who traveled on sleeper buses from her home in the Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture, in the far west of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, to the capital Urumqi, around 20 times from 2004 to 2008, complained about the poor conditions. "The carriage always stinks of feet," she said. "At first, we could at least open the windows, but later the old buses were exchanged for fully enclosed air conditioned vehicles."

She said that safety concerns mean few female passengers ride the bus: the beds are so close to each other that one's hand is likely to stray onto someone else's bed if you move in your sleep. "The quilts smell, too. I didn't use them during the summer, but it's so cold in winter, especially if your bed is next to the window, when the outside temperature can fall as low as minus 30 C."

She said that when it snows in the mountains, there's every likelihood that the roads will be blocked and passengers are often forced to wait on the bus in the middle of nowhere for as long as a day before a snowplow arrives to clear a path.

Sleeper buses were the first choice for students, migrant workers, soldiers and small-business owners until July 2010, when the first public trains arrived in Yining, the capital of Ili Kazak and the third-largest city in Xinjiang.

Before that, the only alternative to the sleeper bus was air travel, but the 60-minute flight to Beijing cost 1,320 yuan ($208), compared with 160 yuan for the sleeper bus.

Rail travel is just as cheap, but there are only three trains a day. By contrast, sleeper buses depart from the local station at least every 30 minutes between 9 am and 10 pm.
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